What Do We Hope for in "Piano Parents"?
By Rhoda Rabin
From: Keyboard Companion, Summer 1996
A successful piano experience for the young child
includes the child, the teacher, and the parents.
Like a three-legged stool, the student and the teacher are two of
the legs, but the parents balance and support the whole endeavor.
If young children sense that their parents respect
and like the teacher, that we’re a team, it infuses the whole atmosphere
with a fine sense of cordiality.
In the best of all possible worlds, parents
participate actively in their child’s music study – not in the studio
lesson itself, but in the support, encouragement, and monitoring that
take place at home.
As teachers, we owe it to parents to let them know
that they will have to work alongside the child to make this whole
process successful. They will be
our eyes and ears at home. We
will have to rely on them to let us know all the changing influences in
a child’s environment that will have an impact on the study of music.
Parents are partners in this enterprise, and they usually are
eager to do all they can.
When we discuss what we need to provide for
parents, it is important to consider:
- The introductory interview
- Informing the parents of their roles at the lesson and at home
- Establishing an
atmosphere of free communication
The Introductory Interview
Before the first lesson ever takes place, before
the child and the teacher even meet, the teacher must have a good idea
of how well a child will “take” to the piano.
Even though children are not auditioned, I rarely refuse or
discontinue a student. It is
possible to obtain much of the information needed to work with the child
from early discussions with the parents.
In a sense, it is the parents who are auditioned.
What do we, as teachers, hope for in “piano
We hope to find parents who care about music,
whether they play or not, and who are deeply interested in the
experiences they give to their children.
Fortunately, the parents who bring their children to us for
lessons are usually such involved, supportive parents.
At some point before the first lesson, it is
necessary to meet with both parents, without the child if possible, to
learn about the prospective student and the environment in which he or
she lives. This also is the time
for parents to ask questions about your philosophy and policies.
This meeting is an occasion for making everyone feel comfortable
in the context of sharing information.
There are some questions to ask, as well as points
to be raised, and they are outlined in the sample interview that
follows, along with their rationale behind each of them.
- How Old Is The Child? Find out not just the age, but the child’s birth date and whether he or she has had any exposure to nursery school or kindergarten. It’s not necessary for them to have had any schooling, of course, but it’s useful to know in planning lessons and scheduling.
- Are There Brothers and Sisters? Determine how old each sibling is, what schools the other children attend, and whether they play instruments. This is valuable information for role modeling, evaluating other influences, and even for arranging future ensemble playing.
- Do You or Your Spouse Play Any Musical Instruments of Do You Enjoy Singing? Again, reassure parents that it’s certainly not necessary that they be accomplished musicians to help their child succeed with piano lessons; it’s not necessary that they play at all. But if one parent plays a saxophone or a harmonica, or sings, you can help construct opportunities for them to play or sing along with their children. If the parents took piano lessons as children or express interest in learning the piano, make it a point to arrange a way for them to learn some rudimentary things to play along with their child. It’s a delightful plus for both the student and parent. Parents’ interests in exposing their child to music frequently leads them to study piano as well.
- We Meet for At Least Two Sessions a Week. Parents who expect the traditional model of one piano lesson each week need to understand how difficult it can be for the young child to be exposed to something new and extraordinary, and then be expected to work alone on that task for seven long days between lessons. Explain that even three short lessons are not uncommon in the first years, and that multiple sessions allow the young child to “practice” at the studio. Explain that all lessons are one-on-one at first, and the second lessons becomes a group lesson after the first several weeks.
- This is the Waiting Room Where You’ll Spend Time When Your Child is in the Studio. Let parents know that they’ll always be nearby during the lesson, but that it is important for the lesson itself to take place in a private setting that emphasizes the intimacy between teacher and student. Point out the books, toys, and other materials available for parents, students, and younger siblings to use while they wait. Include the location of the telephone and restroom. Emphasize that the waiting room is a place to be comfortable. Explain that questions and discussions about the child’s progress are best handled on the telephone instead of at lessons, because children often grow impatient with “adult” talk, and the teacher often needs to move along to the next lesson.
- Tell Me About Your Piano. This is the time to ask parents where their piano is located, when it was last tuned, and whether they are satisfied with the tuner they currently use. Parents need to embrace the importance of having the best instrument they can afford. They should understand the necessity of tuning it twice a year, and that the piano tuner can be a good source of information on products such as pedal extenders and special tools that give young children the best access to the pedals and support their feet. You can tell parents about various types of pianos. You also can recommend A Piano Book: A Guide to Buying a New or Used Piano by Larry Fine (Brookside 1987: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts) and provide a list of reliable dealers for music products and instruments. Explain, too, the importance of location of the instrument in the piano-friendly household.
- I’d Like to Tell You About Lesson Scheduling and Commitments. In general, it seems that parents who are led to understand the importance of showing up regularly do just that. Children usually can’t “make up” missed days of nursery or elementary school if they go on vacation with the family or have another reason to be away, and you should stress that music lessons are similar to other educational experiences.
- Let’s Discuss Tuition. Payment is made in advance, with no refund for missed lessons (see above). But parents have the option of paying for the entire school year, by semesters, or monthly. In any group of parents, several choose each of the options. You may have other methods that work well for you.
- I Want to Tell You About Some of the Most Enjoyable Events of the Year, Those Times when Students Have the Chance to Play for One Another and for Their Families. We Call Them Piano Parties. Explain why the term “recital” may not be the most appropriate for the young child, and how you consider these periodic celebrations of music occasions of joy, not exams. The children look forward to piano parties with great anticipation. Give parents some idea of when they are scheduled – for example, at Halloween, before winter holiday break, on Valentine’s Day, and just before school ends in the spring.
- You’ll Want to Know About Materials. Use this time to explain your procedures for providing printed music, assignment books, and other materials. It’s best for the teacher to purchase and provide music and other materials at the lessons and bill parents later. That way students receive all their materials without delay when they need them.
Tell parents the child will need to bring little slippers, clipped together and labeled with the child’s name, to wear in the studio. These protect the piano from shoe tips and also provide a ritual of entrance into a new environment, like removing shoes before entering a Japanese home. Also inform the parents about providing blank cassette tapes for recording the child’s performances and playing in certain lessons throughout the school year. The child will also need a bag for carrying his or her supplies.
- Now Let’s Schedule the Lesson Times. You can make suggestions about the regular times that work best for you each week, but in general it’s up to you to adapt your schedule as best you can to the schedule of these busy families. Since you are working with young children, many of whom may bot yet be in full-day school, you may not need to schedule as many evening and Saturday hors as teachers of piano traditionally do.
Another matter about which parents express concern is summer lessons. Although some teachers make summer classes a great occasion for music fun and experimentation, many others find it works best to schedule piano class alongside the traditional school calendar with a break in the summer. You can assure parents, however, that children don’t lose their piano knowledge over the summer and return refreshed and ready to work when fall arrives.
I’m Very Interested in Knowing
Just What your Hopes are About Your Child in Studying Piano.
This is your golden opportunity to find out just what parents
expect and hope to realize from music lessons.
Do they hope to raise a prodigy?
Do they think their child has musical talent?
Do they think music is simply an enjoyable and important part of
life? Since the attitude of the
parents is so critical, they reveal a great deal by their answers, and
you, in turn, have the chance to explain your philosophy of teaching the
young child. This also can be the
opportunity to reassure parents that children who can participate in the
simplest preschool setting often are ready for piano lessons, and to
share with them your definition of musical mastery and musical success
as they relate to the young child.
In sum, the
introductory interview is the place at which all of your instincts and
people-sense come into play. When
I tell teachers that in my years of teaching I’ve declined to teach only
a very few children, they’re often surprised and curious.
In those cases, it was really the parents with whom I felt I
couldn’t work successfully. You
should rely on your intuition; if the parents are uncooperative and you
don’t feel they support you fully, then you should consider not working
with them. In general, “piano
parents” are the best kind of parents.
Bear in mind you’re working directly with one young student, but
in the larger sense, you are educating a whole family.
Additional Information for the
Teaching piano to
the young child is an involved, holistic process.
Parents need to know what will be expected of them in this
context. There are many things to
absorb at the beginning.
At the lesson
Parents wonder why
they need to be present for every lesson.
One reason is to nurture the confidence of the child; another is
to enable parents to hear what their child is learning and how, so they
can offer support and encouragement on the days between lessons.
Many parents have
asked me why so much talking and so little playing seems to go on during
early lessons. In time, parents
fully endorse the idea that everything that goes on in the lesson, no
matter how seemingly unrelated, nurtures the study of music.
They need to understand that the teacher is an important adult in
the child’s life, a confidante and friend, and the relationship becomes
a vital part of the learning atmosphere.
It is important, then, for you to ask how Grandma’s visit is
going, what’s new at school, how the tree house is progressing.
teaching methods themselves might result in opportunities for increasing
parents’ understanding. A father
once questioned me about requiring his young son to stand rather than
sit at the keyboard while the child played.
When I explained that standing, far from being awkward or
uncomfortable, actually affords a three-year-old the best position for
negotiating the entire keyboard, he accepted the need for this.
There are many other chances to share the reasons why the methods
we use are so helpful in giving the child the best possible experience,
even though those methods may seem untraditional at first.
Though a half hour
is allotted for each lesson there may be times in the early days when a
child stays in the studio only eight or ten minutes.
Parents who feel concerned about a lesson that seems too short
need to understand how important it is to let a child leave before the
child is bored or overwhelmed, and how the involvement with the lessons
grows rapidly with time.
Parents are our
best sources for information about the child’s life outside the studio.
If Susan has just been to the zoo and has had and exhilarating
but exhausting time there, we may need to make some adjustments in the
progress of the lesson to accommodate her mood.
Does Josh have a cold coming on?
Family troubles, however minor, something special happening at
school, excitement over an impending vacation or a visit from
grandparents – all have an impact on lessons and you need to know about
them. Telling parents that
children may need a snack before lessons so that growing tummies won’t
demand attention is a useful practice. I often keep a bowl of healthful
snacks on hand for such urgencies.
That practice led to a new nickname – Mrs. Raisin.
educating about the piano at home, and it can be a delicate subject.
Piano lessons shouldn’t be available only to middle-class
children whose parents can afford a relatively costly instrument, but
often that is the practical reality.
Even with the best intentions, the situation in which a child has
access to a piano at Grandma’s, at a neighbor’s, or at a community
center simply doesn’t work well.
Many piano teachers hope for the day when some sort of scholarship
system will allow every family with the desire to give this wonderful
gift to their children.
However much you
empathize with financial constraints, you can feel confident encouraging
parents to purchase the best instrument they can afford.
A superior instrument graces the efforts of the child and the
whole family and this should be explained.
Occasionally, pianos can be “rented to own,” and you often can
help families find good used instruments through your community
networks. Sometimes parents may
worry that the instrument will end up being an expensive relic if the
child gives up piano. Few
children abandon the piano, however, and those who do may return to it.
I’ve rarely know a case in which a piano was purchased only to be
surrendered later. Parents need
to know, as well, that the visit from the piano tuner isn’t the time to
show the young child from the room.
Watching the tuner can be an enriching experience for everyone.
Location of the
piano is very important. Parents
eager to provide their young musician with every opportunity for
concentration may be inclined to place the piano in a basement family
room or other quiet, isolated place.
Let them know that the piano should occupy a place of pride in
the home, and that the flow of natural family traffic around the
instrument is desirable. Children
don’t want to be alone or separated form the life of the family while
they play. If they are, how will
their naturally exuberant desire to “show off” their growing skills be
encouraged? You should assure
parents that a child’s playing can be a happy accompaniment to preparing
meals or other work around the home.
Parents often mention that their children are drawn to touch the
piano, even for a moment, whenever they pass through the room – they
just cannot resist playing. This
is, of course, the idea.
Besides the piano,
parents sometimes ask if there are other musical toys and play
instruments they can offer their young children (and their children’s
siblings) to help encourage a musical milieu.
The toy store shelves are filled with a veritable orchestra of
instruments, most of which offer more in the way of imaginative play
than musical learning. But there
are lovely sounding tubular bells pitched to a scale and bells arranged
in a circle that can provide a certain amount of learning and listening
fun. Good quality toy xylophones
are nice to have at home and in the studio.
They may not be perfectly in tune, but most of them closely
approximate the sound of the scale.
Music boxes can be fun, too.
If possible, each
child should have his or her own music
Once, this was a turntable and records, an anachronism in these
days of compact discs! Encourage
parents to invest in inexpensive tape players as gifts for their
children. They often become the
most used objects of childhood.
Making recordings of the children playing in the studio provides them
with an audio recording of their progress.
Years later, they delight in playing the tapes of their first
sounds, just as they delight in seeing movies of themselves taking their
first steps. Of course, the piano
is the greatest musical toy of all.
Beyond the piano
and recorded music, you can encourage parents to expose their children
to music performance in all its varieties.
Even a two-year-old can experience the enjoyment of a concert,
although, as common sense dictates, certainly not two solid hours of
however, to school or community concerts in casual environments, choirs
at church, family “sock hops” in the living room – all of these can be
wonderful opportunities. Attend
the first half of a concert, followed by a trip to the ice cream parlor,
and you’ve concocted an endearing memory for a young child, reinforcing
the art habit in ordinary life at the same time.
appreciation that begins in earliest youth can continue through life in
a seamless fabric. Even though
the teacher has no direct influence on offering a broad musical base at
home, we can point out that the art habit has a way of rippling through
the family. Older siblings may
sometimes join in performing with the new student, and younger siblings
who hear a brother or sister play may be encouraged to play themselves
when they are old enough. Father
may pull his guitar out of the closet where he’s stored it since college
days. Mother may remember a duet
she played with her sister as a girl.
Expertise is less important than joy – than the parents’ positive
response toward music. That love
is communicated naturally.
Parents often are
also concerned about their role in practice at home.
You can assure them that they need not break out the stopwatch
and enforce a rigid half-hour of practice at a certain time every day.
If the piano is part of the child’s home and life, the desire to
sit down and play each day, even if just for a few minutes, will grow
naturally, and may require only the gentlest reminder or none at all.
Suggesting a regular practice period is helpful.
often are pleasantly surprised by the scope and depth of their child’s
repertory, you need to emphasize that repertory is not the goal;
artistry is. Any time a child
sits down at the piano, that child is doing well and deserves praise
from parents. You can encourage
parents to give their highest praise to the child’s attitude toward and
involvement with the instrument rather than to her skill at executing
any particular song. In the
earliest years, most of the child’s piano playing will be done during
the framework of lessons. Playing
at home should be a healthy, stress-free habit, an opportunity for
private enjoyment or family performance.
Children usually will be proud of what they’re learning and more
than willling to share it with the family.
Parents want to
talk about how their child is doing.
It is important to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to
their observations and concerns.
But the moments after the lesson, with the child present and often
impatient to get on with the day, are not usually the best time for
sharing with parents. Give
parents generous permission to phone you at home.
Let them know the best times to reach you and assure them that if
you are busy or unavailable, you’ll welcome the opportunity to talk at
Parents sometimes hesitate to “bother” the teacher at home by speaking to him or her by telephone. Try to dispel this concern, because a full and mutually supportive atmosphere of communication between parents and teacher is the best reinforcement a young student can have.
"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2
"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4