This is a guest post written by Doug Hanvey. Doug offers online piano lessons for adults at Creative Keyboardist.
I was fortunate to be raised by parents who were themselves teachers and understood intuitively, or by experience, how they could best support my learning projects. One of the most beneficial results of their support is that I’ve always been and will always be a “lifelong learner.
There are at least four important ways that parents can inspire and support their child’s musical education:
- Listening to great music
- Singing music
- Learning the fundamentals of reading
- Supporting practicing
None of these requires extensive musical skills or experience, although they may involve a little practice or research. But the payoffs are likely to be immense. Children who live in a musical home, i.e. a place where one or both parents demonstrate their love of music, and proactively support their children’s musical education, are much more likely to be successful music students, and to stick with lessons instead of quitting after a year or two, as all too many do.
Listening to Great Music
It’s a profound philosophical question as to whether there is such a thing as “better art” and “worse art.” It’s also beyond the scope of this article to argue the point, though it’s obvious that people who are well-educated about a specific form of art usually consider some works to be “better” than others.
Not too many people would argue that a five-year old’s finger painting is the equal of a Rembrandt. Few would insist that the latest hit romance novel is comparable to Hamlet. Not many would say that the current #1 pop song is a match for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Which isn’t to say that many people might prefer a romance novel to Hamlet, or the latest pop song to a Beethoven symphony. But that’s more a matter of exposure and education than anything else. I was fortunate that my parents were relatively well-educated about music including (not surprisingly) the Beethoven symphonies, great jazz music, and more.
And through my much older brother and sister, I was exposed at an early age to some of the best pop music like the Beatles. When I was five years old, my parents took me to see a production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. They also purchased the recording, which I listened to over and over until I could sing many of the songs. As the years passed, I started exploring their record collection including the Beethoven symphonies. Being exposed to some of the greatest music at a relatively young age was certainly influential in my musical education. Indeed, I was inspired to begin composing at the age of 6!
As a parent, your willingness to learn more about the art of music, and to listen to great music regularly (whatever that means to you), is likely to inspire in your child a deeper love of music.
Unlike painting or literature, music is, of course, an aural art. The primordial musical instrument is the human voice. While my father wasn’t a singer, my mother enjoyed singing folk songs with me when I was young. This surely stimulated my love of music, specifically my appreciation of a good tune! Some of the most famous piano teachers in history have taught their students to sing before teaching them to play!
Singing trains the musical ear, which is incredibly useful for every music student. As a young adult, I took a few voice lessons and was told by my teacher that my good musical ear was half the battle in becoming a good singer. Unfortunately, the other half, learning to sing “correctly,” hasn’t yet happened.
Some people find it uncomfortable to sing (at least around others), especially if they doubt their ability to sing in tune. But your child will not judge you, well, at least if they’re not a teenager! By singing – or at least attempting to sing – simple songs with your young child, you’ll demonstrate that it’s “safe” to be vulnerable by expressing yourself musically in this ancient way. You’ll also support the development of their musical ear, building a sturdier foundation for piano study.
Learning the Fundamentals of Reading
Even if you don’t read music, learning a few fundamentals about reading will give you the confidence and ability to help your child as they gradually acquire the skill. While becoming an excellent music reader takes many years of practice, you might be surprised to
learn that adults can acquire an understanding of the basic concepts and symbols relatively quickly.
Learning the fundamentals of reading on the grand staff (the two sets of lines and spaces on which piano music is notated), interval recognition (the distance between two notes on a staff or two keys on the piano), and basic note durations are all potentially useful.
Supporting your child in learning how to read music is incredibly useful in unlocking the door to the piano and the complex music written for it. What a gift!
As a young piano student, my mother would often sit with me while I practiced (and I have the pictures to prove it!). Learning to play a complex and challenging instrument like the piano can be intimidating for people of any age. It can also be a lonely endeavor. There you are with your two hands, your music and your wits. It’s my guess that younger music students whose parents sometimes sit with them as they attempt to master new concepts and music are more likely to succeed in the long run (and to enjoy the process). Naturally, this doesn’t mean being demanding (which is likely to be counterproductive), but simply
being available and present for questions and/or the frustrations of a young learner.
As part of occasionally being present while your child practices, you can help your child learn how to practice better. So much of piano study is learning how to practice well. “Practicing” how to practice well at home, between lessons, is essential for good progress. There is much to learn about how to practice piano well, but taking note of the practicing suggestions in your child’s lesson books, as well as suggestions offered by their teacher, and reminding your child of these approaches as needed, will certainly benefit them.