“I’ll practice later!”
“You’ll practice now. I’m not spending $92 a month on piano lessons just to hear you practice once a week!”
If you are a parent who has started his/her child in piano lessons, you have either already had this confrontation, or you soon will. Even when the kid is genuinely interested in learning to play, there will be times when his/her schedule is out-of-whack with what you expect for practicing. The real danger here is, if these little power struggles occur too often, your promising young Liberace may develop a bad attitude about the entire project, and decide to scrap the whole idea of learning to play. It is, after all, a fairly lengthy process, and there is ample opportunity for the child to find some excuse to bow out of the process. Considering that you may have already invested in a piano, and at least several lessons, you probably want to make sure the child sticks with it.
I’ve played the piano since childhood, have always enjoyed it, and have had a lot of opportunities to play in public. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times someone has come up to me after listening awhile, and said, “I took piano when I was a kid, but I quit. I’m sorry now that I never really learned to play.” And I agree, even if you just play for your own enjoyment, in the privacy of your own home, playing the piano can be very therapeutic. You can pound away at some loud piece of music to take out your aggression, or you can soothe your own soul with some soft slow melody. You can play to match the desires of your own mood.
And there are other reasons for your child to complete his piano lessons throughout the years. Playing publicly at school, church, at a recital, or just in front his/her own few friends can be a real confidence builder. Success at the piano can give the student a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps give him the drive to succeed in many areas of his life. This is why your drive to get him/her to practice the piano can be so important.
As parents, we all hate the arguments. We hate the fuss that will come from setting up rules and then enforcing them. So be smart about it. Schedule practice times for your child on a regular basis, the same time every day, and at a time when it will not interfere with their other activities.
So…when and for how long? I highly recommend 30 to 45 minutes per day, to be completed before the child leaves for school. This has several advantages. The child is fresh, and can concentrate, so his practice time will be efficient. It gets the practice session out of the way, so that it doesn’t conflict with after-school play time and sporting events. It is short enough that the child can “see the light at the end of the tunnel” (meaning the end of his practice session) from the very beginning, and yet long enough that he can get some serious work done on each of his assigned pieces.
Should the student have some control of what he/she gets to practice? Yes. You may have to check with the student’s piano teacher on this one, but I always found it helpful to have one song on the list that the student really enjoyed practicing. While the piano teacher may be concentrating on the classical pieces, it may be important to also have a modern song that the student can use to impress the group of friends that will occasionally gather around the piano. The classical pieces often do a great job of teaching fundamentals and the history of music, but a good old boogie-woogie will keep the interest level pretty high. Just be sure that the “fun” song is practiced last in each session.
What else? Occasionally, after the student has managed to learn and polish a good piece of music, arrange for him/her to play in front of a group of friends, for a social club, a church gathering, or something similar. Too many piano teachers have only one recital at the end of a year, and the student gets exactly one chance to get it right. If they mess it up, it can scar their confidence in a huge way. However, if they are provided multiple opportunities throughout the year to present their progress to small groups here and there, they always have a chance to redeem themselves from a poorer performance. If the teacher doesn’t arrange for these “mini-recitals” at the piano, make sure that you do it.
This seems like a struggle. Will it ever get easier? In most cases, when you are able to stick with it, the student will turn the corner, and find out that playing the piano can set him apart from other kids. It makes him/her a little bit special. And, like anything else, the better you get at something, the greater the chances are that you will enjoy doing it. If there is more enjoyment in the first place, the student will be more apt to go to the piano on his own, without prompting, practicing longer than the assigned period of time.
Hang in there piano parents. If you can negotiate a regular regimen with your young players, you will eventually enjoy what you hear from the piano, and you will be giving them a gift that no one can ever take away.