As many new students are getting started with piano lessons, and many old students are starting back up for another year, I wanted to give parents some ideas of things that they can be doing to help their students be successful at the piano.
1. Make Sure Your Child Has A Good Instrument To Practice On
It is really important that students start out their piano careers with 88 full-sized weighted keys on a fully functioning instrument. This can be on a keyboard, digital piano or acoustic piano. Smaller, unweighted keyboards or pianos in disrepair can cause a lot of frustration and discouragement.
I can understand how many parents want to purchase a simple keyboard before they make a big investment on an instrument. However, students really need an adequate instrument from the start for these reasons:
- Some keyboards do not have all 88 keys. Even beginning students will be using the full range of the piano.
- The keys are not weighted like a piano key. The student’s fingers will not learn the strength required to play the keys of an acoustic piano.
- They keys may be smaller than a normal piano key. When learning the piano, your hands quickly learn the feel of the topography of the piano and distances between keys. It can be confusing to learn this in the wrong proportions.
- They often are not capable of producing the same quality of sound as an acoustic or digital piano. A huge part of playing the piano is learning that striking the keys in different ways will produce different sounds.
- Keyboards often are not capable of producing the same range of loud and soft tones as an acoustic or digital piano. Piano keys are sensitive to touch – playing firmly produces a loud sound; playing gently produces a softer sound. On an acoustic piano, there are unlimited possibilities for dynamic range. On a keyboard, sometimes there is no dynamic range, or very limited dynamic range.
Similarly, older pianos that have not been maintained are often very frustrating to practicing on: the tuning may be off, keys might stick, the action of the keys may feel too loose.
My favorite, affordable instrument to recommend for beginners in the Yamaha P115.
2. Be Involved With Your Child’s Practice
Beginning students will likely need a lot of guidance and encouragement in their at-home practice. This might seem intimidating for parents with little or no music background, but fortunately, beginning students are learning pretty basic concepts that most parents can probably figure out! Your student will probably mostly need guidance following directions and finding their way around the piano. Sitting down with your students for a few minutes each day will help your student learn to practice correctly and to become an independent practicer.
3. Find Ways To Keep Practice Interesting
Practicing can easily start feel like a chore and become a dreaded task. With a little creativity, you can find your student’s spark and keep things exciting.
Here are a few tricks to have up your sleeve:
- Make a practice counter. You can use this to count repetitions of a song. It’s a great tactile and visual tool to help students see what they are accomplishing.
- Use motivation medicine. As a parent, this has been my number 1 trick for successful practicing. It works so well that I don’t even have to remind my daughter to practice.
- Have some fun piano-only props, toys or teaching aids that make your student want to be at the piano. My favorite prop is Iwako erasers. These have tons of uses at the piano and they turn into intriguing little puzzles that students can’t put down.
- Check out 101 Practice Tips by Tracy Selle. Tracy is full of innovative ideas. All of her suggestions in this book are doable and simple and great way to prevent piano practice burnout.
4. Communicate With Your Child’s Teacher
As a piano teacher, I truly want to (and enjoy!) troubleshooting problems. No two students learn the same, so if something isn’t working for a student, I want to know why and find a way to make it work.
If it seems like piano isn’t going well for your child, don’t give up too soon! Let your teacher know what is going on and work together to find a solution. It may be as simple as finding a new music to work on, having different expectations or setting different goals.
Good luck with your practicing! I wish you a productive, musical year!