You’ve probably heard of the Mozart effect: Music lessons correlate with confidence and success in a variety of areas, from social skills to teamwork to math performance — even to acceptance rates in medical school! Who knew that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was the first step in a road to success in a variety of endeavors.
And of course, there is the personal satisfaction: Of people able to express oneself through music. Accompany a friend singing. Play in a rock band. Or just noodle around.
So you’re thinking of piano lessons for your child, and wondering what to expect. This is a brief summary of what you’ll encounter in my studio. Each teacher has her (or his) own way of doing things, but I think it’s safe to say that we all share the goal of providing a supportive environment for learning an art that can sustain our students for the rest of their lives.
A Practice Instrument
A practice instrument. Students in my studio are expected to have a practice instrument at home. While I prefer that it be an acoustic piano in good shape (not to mention in tune), a keyboard is acceptable for the first year or two of study (depending on how quickly the student progresses.) The better the instrument, the better: You wouldn’t send your kid to learn tennis carrying a badminton racket, and you wouldn’t give them a bicycle helmet to play football. It’s the same with piano. For digital pianos, I prefer that you have 88 keys with weighted hammer action (I’ll give you more info when we meet), but a basic 61 key keyboard is okay for the start — as long as you understand that you’ll have to upgrade if your child sticks with piano. The damage to technique and finger development from practice on a substandard instrument cannot be overstated.
I do expect regular practice. In my fantasy world (and in the world I grew up in), a beginner would practice 1/2 hour a day 6 days a week. That’s what I did, but I know, I know, things were different back then. Kids didn’t have as many choices, moms didn’t work outside the home, there wasn’t as much homework, and people’s schedules weren’t as busy. Nonetheless, if you can make practice a regular part of your family’s schedule, the progress you see will be remarkable. And it’s a virtuous cycle. As one nine-year old student told me “The more I practice, the better I get, and the funner the songs are.”
If you can manage to get a young beginner to practice 15 – 20 minutes 5 times a week, I promise you’ll see progress. For older students, I like to see 1/2 hour to 45 minutes a day 5 or 6 times a week…. although I rarely get that. I do have some dedicated students who want to be music majors who are practicing 2 – 3 hours a day in high school, but they have made that decision for themselves in order to meet their personal goals.
I work with what I get… but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you what I think optimal practice times are for various levels.
Parental encouragement during daily practice is helpful if you and your child have a relationship where that works. Not everyone does: Sometimes children assert their independence at the piano, and refuse the help. You are welcome to sit in during lessons so you know what I am assigning students to do. Even if you don’t know a thing about music, there are ways you can help… if it works for you.
All kids need to be reminded to practice. I needed to be reminded until I was in high school. Some parents say “as long as she wants to do it, it’s fine, but I don’t want to be the bad guy.” We need to stop framing practice in terms of “being the bad guy”! Practice should be fun. It is solving problems. Even so — you have to remind kids to brush their teeth and you probably get pushback from that once in a while! So expect pushback regarding the piano. Like any good habit, practice takes a while to set in.
I only accept children younger than 6 if parents agree to assist with supervising practice at home. Children that young simply cannot (in my experience) be expected to manage their own practice.
Like many professional piano teachers, I have a studio policy that tells you how many lessons you are getting in a school year, what that will cost, when payments are due, and how and under what circumstances I handle make-ups. Piano teachers can only teach during a limited number of after school hours,. In order for your child to make progress, regular attendance is required. Please try to pick a time you won’t have to constantly change. I try to be as accommodating as possible, but unlike Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books, I don’t have a time turner.
Please talk to me! I have taught hundreds of students. Some have gone on to be music majors. Many have stayed with me for many years. Parents recommend me to other parents … and perhaps even more important, students recommend me to their friends. I can help you work through problems your child may be having. Most of all, I want my students to both enjoy their lessons (which is the easy part) AND enjoy their practice time (which can be more of a challenge). I personalize lessons and repertoire taught to adjust to different student personalities and preferences. Open conversations help me understand your child better — and they help you understand why I teach certain skills and pieces of music to your child at different times.
Learning piano is a long-term, deep-end-of-the-ocean type of activity. That it is worth it seems obvious to me (of course it does — I’m a piano teacher!) — but also to my students, who often stay with me for 6, 8, 10, or even more years. Perhaps the greatest evidence I can offer is that frequently, my graduating high-school seniors ask if they can come back for more lessons during their vacations! For me, this is the greatest honor I can imagine — that piano lessons and their playing now mean so much to them that they independently want to continue — with me — whenever possible. (And what a kick it is to see a kid I knew as a 6-year old driving up my driveway in their own car for lessons!)
I look forward to seeings you in lessons — or hearing your child at a recital one day!