One student came in saying the reason she couldn’t practice was that her two year old brother kept banging on the keys while she played. Another complained that her father wouldn’t turn off the TV, which was in the same room as the piano. Yet a third told me that the piano didn’t sound good because mice had eaten away all the felts. Another couldn’t hear the wrong notes because the piano was so badly out of tune.
I wish I were making these stories up, but I’m not.
For most children, piano lessons take place once a week for perhaps a half an hour. In between is where the important work comes in. And that takes place at home.
Practicing the piano is as difficult a habit to get into as daily exercise. Having a good instrument and a quiet, distraction-free space to practice are two important factors in establishing good piano practice habits. By providing a good instrument and a quiet space for a piano student, parents can help make their children’s piano lesson experience more enjoyable and productive
Choosing an Appropriate Piano for Students
Buying a new piano can be expensive, and parents may be excused for being reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on an instrument their child may not enjoy. On the other hand, the child is practically guaranteed to not enjoy playing on a poor-quality piano that sounds and feels bad. Before buying an acoustic piano (or even a digital keyboard), talk to the teacher about exactly what is required of a student piano. Some teachers come down heavily on one or the other side of the digital piano versus acoustic piano debate.
Here are a few issues that most piano teachers tend to agree about:
- Parents who own an old acoustic pianos should make sure it is in working order, which means that all the keys work (with no sticking and no clicking noises), the pedals work, and the instrument can stay in tune for several months (assuming a stable environment, without great fluctuations in temperature or humidity).
- Tune acoustic pianos twice a year. Instruments subject to great variations in temperature and humidity need to be tuned more often.
- Buying a used acoustic piano can be a good and economical choice, if the instrument is functional. Ask a piano technician or a teacher to check out the piano. Technicians and teachers may charge for this service. Not all piano teachers feel qualified to evaluate a piano, but any piano teacher should be able to recommend a technician.
- Digital pianos run the gamut from cheap toys to complex and sophisticated synthesizers. If the piano teachers approves of using a digital piano for classical music, be sure the piano meets the teacher’s requirements, which will usually include that the digital keyboard has 88 weighted keys, at least one pedal, and touch control.
- Don’t be tempted to skimp on a digital piano that’s on sale if it doesn’t meet the teacher’s specifications. There is a reason teachers recommend weighted keys (They provide resistance, which develops correct hand position and finger strength), touch control (which develops a student’s ability to shape phrases using varying dynamics), and 88 keys (the student’s peripheral vision contributes to a sense of keyboard geography. With a piano with different end points, the student’s spatial perception is affected
Create a Distraction-Free Practice Space
- Even a child who loves piano is not going to love practicing when there is a rousing game of Wii going on in the next room, or when siblings are giggling at a cartoon is blaring on the T.V.
- The piano or keyboard should be in a quiet place where the child can practice undisturbed.
- Acoustic pianos take up a lot of space and must be situated so they are not sitting on heating vents or right next to windows in direct sunlight. So there is often only one place in a home an acoustic piano can reasonably go. In that case, the student’s practice time should take priority over other activities in that room.
- Small siblings are often curious about music and about an older sibling’s lessons, and show it by trying to participate – usually by banging on the upper or lower notes while the student is trying to practice. Siblings should be otherwise occupied during a student’s practice session.
- The practice area should be well lit, with room for the child to place notes, music books, and a CD players or iPod, if the teacher asks the student to practice with backing tracks.
- A bedroom is private and quiet, but may not be the best place for a small child to practice. The ideal spot would be in a parent’s earshot or line of sight, so the parent can supervise or encourage when necessary. A child behind closed doors may not be practicing correctly – or at all.
By setting up a special space with a good instrument for piano practice and making sure the practice session is undisturbed, parents are helping to establish how important practicing the piano is and also making the process as productive and pleasant as possible.