Monday, March 23, 2009

Bagged! Pushy Parents Actually Slow Down Music Learning

Is your child's music teacher wasting valuable teaching time? I mean, really, as you sit there grinding your teeth while they let your child take FOREVER picking out reward stickers, you just shelled out anywhere from fifteen to seventy five dollars for this lesson, and here they are going at a snail's pace, and spending WAY too much time on like, three notes.

Well congratulate yourself on choosing an intuitive person to teach your child.

Good music teachers are very tuned in (no pun intended, I swear) to their students' stress levels, and understand what us music parents have a hard time getting: as your kid's stress and frustration goes up, their learning ability and confidence go down, WAY down. So chill out and listen up:

Masterful teachers use a variety of tactics to keep a lesson on an even learning pace, in fact, they are proactive and preempt stress by constantly adjusting the pace of their teaching. They are not so focused on covering a certain amount of material as they are making sure their student is with them every step of the way. Try incorporating some of these methods into your practice routine at home when you start to see signs of stress or frustration, well before your child has a "no-turning-back-now" meltdown:

Juice Break!
- Divert their focus for a few moments with a snack, glass of juice or water.

Break it Down!
- Guide them to break the assignment into a smaller section.
- Identify a small enough section that it's manageable - even if it's only three notes, and she can get it within the first few tries.

Slow it Down!
- What's the rush? Several reps can be a confidence booster before moving onto new material.
- Avoid trying to add more too quickly or speed up right away, save it for the next session.

Fun it Up!
- Be playful and add a game or creative incentive to lighten things up.

They're on a Roll! NOW STOP.

- End the practice when they've had success and their confidence is rebuilt.
- Stopping on a good note (no, I totally did NOT mean that pun either) means they are likely to approach practice the next day with a positive attitude.

Most teachers are very understanding if you explain the assignment was too hard, so you broke it down into a smaller section to "get it really good."
By doing this you are actively laying the foundation for your child to troubleshoot difficult practice sessions as they get older, and develop a practice ethic that builds confidence and success, until then, this will keep you all sane.

What have you been doing to help your child through tough practice sessions? Do you have favorite games or incentives? We love your Tweets and comments!

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  1. Thank you for this article. It reminded me of some very important reasons for doing what I do as a piano teacher. I think as teachers we sometimes feel the pressure of producing results for our "customers". Who are our customers though? Our students or our parents?
    Thanks again!

  2. Thank you for your comments Allegromouse.

  3. Great article! Now, if only I could "gently guide" the parents of my students to read it!

  4. Definitely a good one to read! I find that playing music by other youngsters is very helpful as well. I've been having my kids watch and listen Caroline Goulding, everybody needs some sort of role model!

  5. Laurie, Yes, kids love watching and listening to other kids play music (especially in person). Thank you You Tube!

  6. Check out the book "In My Grandmother's Garden at - It can give your child a fun and engaging way to begin reading music.

    It is a unique, award winning story told in song. And it is a book that might inspire kids to want to PLAY the written music that is an integral part of the book, in child-friendly format.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I am a pianist and piano teacher with a two and a half year old daughter who will probably start Suzuki violin when she is three and a half. I know I am constantly going to be reminding myself NOT to become one of those pushy parents. It's scary that we can recognize certain characteristics in the parents of our students, but fail to see them in ourselves. I hope I'm not like that.

    I think I'll print out this post for review when she starts lessons!

    - Luke Bartolomeo
    - : A weekly podcast devoted to repertoire for intermediate level piano students.

  9. @Luke You say you're not going to be "one of those pushy parents," but starting a child on a violin at age three is pushy in and of itself. It's an age at which a child is still learning how to hop on one foot or hold a pencil or toothbrush correctly. It is really appropriate to try to teach her to hold & play a violin? Why not just stick w/music appreciation & going to clap-along children's music concerts at the symphony? That would be much more age-appropriate. Save music lessons until at least kindergarten, lest you end up w/a kid who rebelliously ditches her instrument by age 12.


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