Encouraging Children To Practice Piano

Piano Lessons Surrey With Natalia Paradalis

Piano Lessons Surrey With Natalia Paradalis

“I think we’re going to stop lessons because Susie won’t practice and I can’t fight with her anymore”

As a music teacher, I hate hearing these or similar words, because I feel that it reflects on me – since in truth, it means that I have failed as a music instructor! I have failed to pass the love of music to the child who then WOULD desire to practice and to learn how to create music.

Going through my mother’s notes, from her studies with piano educator, Francis Clark# and writer of the Music Tree series, Ms Clark is quoted as saying, “Practicing piano is like brushing teeth, kids won’t do it on their own.” Spring 1975

So how can we get students to practice? How do we go about creating life-long habits of loving and creating music? Often the most important lesson in my teaching is the first lesson. At the end of the first lesson, I present to the parents an information package I have developed. I explain that my task is to teach their child but it is their responsibility to make sure that the child practices. Like brushing teeth, children will not always want to practice, so the parents are entrusted with the task of making it a part of the child’s life. Parents need to be actively involved with their child’s lessons. Until the child is in middle school, (except some rare cases) the parents are expected to sit in all the lessons. Besides the encouragement and the child’s innate desire to please the parents, I find that it eliminates any negative behavioural issues. Although this practice is of critical importance once the child becomes older, especially during their teen years, it is also critically important that the parent does NOT sit in the lesson. Children during those years become self-conscious. This prevents them of demonstrating all they are capable of. But even during the teen years, I remain in constant communication with the parents. I keep them updated on our progress and I involve them in our plans.

In the past, when I taught at a music store, in most cases I did not have the opportunity to meet with some of my students’ parents. So to sidestep this obstacle I would send off little cards, inviting parents to attend their child’s lesson. I would also remind some parents to drop their child off and see me for a few minutes. In some unfortunate cases, after the lesson, the child would wait for a long time in the waiting room watching cartoons. That gave to the child the subconscious impression that the music teacher is nothing more than an educational babysitting service. And even worse that music lessons are not important. This conduct from the parents invariably will affect the child to take the lessons less seriously with the inevitable result of loss of interest and diminished practice time. When I started at my own studio, I made it a requirement that until a certain age one of the parents had to sit in the lessons.

In my information package, I specify the approximate required practice times for the different levels and ages. I also explain to parents that every child is different and as a result learns differently. Practice habits that will work with one child may not work with another child. In finding a system that will work with their child I present to parents different ways of practicing. For the first few months of lessons we will try practicing at different times. We will try practising in the morning or in the afternoon or in the evening. Split practise during the day or even practicing every other day and so forth until we achieve an acceptable practise plan for the child, and the parent. Sometimes, like anything in life, a child may become bored with a certain practice regiment so we will improvise and mix it up; never giving up and always with the supervision of the parents.

Another important point is quality versus quantity. During my teaching career I have encountered teenagers who would practice while reading mystery novels! This type of practice can be done for hours on end but invariably achieving very little. These teenagers would “practice” for hours yet nothing would work. They would practice two to three hours a day but it would take them forever to learn anything. When they eventually realized the futility of their “method” and revealed it to me I explained the importance of focused practice and they discovered that they did not have to practice as long. Parents sometimes make the mistake that it is long hours of practise that will bring forth proficiency. I have met parents who were persuading five year olds to practice for an hour each day. Less practice but with a strong focus is often more. It is about consistency but it is also about focused practise.

There will inevitably come days or even weeks when little or no practise at all will occur; as in the event of an illness or time off for a vacation. Some missed practice time should not cause a panic. It can be made up. It is more about constancy in the long run. Perhaps the child may not be able to practice his pieces but he/she could check YouTube for recordings of the pieces. Receiving such “encouragement” from outside sources can be very beneficial. Last year, when Taylor Swift was on tour, one of my students had not practice much during the week of the concert. Seeing Ms. Swift play a white glistening grand piano with such proficiency, she was inspired. With renewed determination and fervour she focused on every phrase and every note of her pieces and on top of that she doubled her practise time. Her progress was unprecedented and she is now experimenting with composing.

It is critical that music is incorporated into the child’s daily life. The parents need to endorse this as well as the teacher. One parent, as discipline, took his son’s internet privileges away. The father was rather displeased when I told him that I needed his son to check YouTube quite often. We came to the compromise that his son would go to YouTube under supervision. His son, for encouragement, needed and needs to watch great pianists play. It will not only inspire him to practice more but it will also help him in procuring musical ideas intuitively. I constantly email my students different YouTube videos. I also encourage my students to attend concerts. Often when I attend concerts, I invite my students to come along. There will inevitably be down times, but if we endeavour to arrange opportunities for the student to be musically inspired nothing is lost. Of course we are not talking about missing practise time due to excessive activities. In such a case the parents need to understand that for progress to be made, they may need to limit the amount of activities their child is involved with.

It is also helpful to ensure that children are excited with the material they are learning. I recently got a transfer student who told me that I am the “coolest” because unlike her old teacher, I knew who Demi Lovato is. It is crucial to keep in touch with all the popular music out there. My mother always used to tell me, “I will teach a child any style of music as along as it helps them in enjoying and playing the piano.” The longer I teach the more this rings true. I always encourage my students to bring in their favourite songs as long as they make a deal with me, to promise that they will learn some of “my” favourite music as well. Slowly, their musical knowledge expands, and suddenly their new favourite piece is a Mozart’s sonata or a Dean Martin oldie. Initially children may not like classical music. Either because they do not understand it or because they do not feel a connection to it, but as their music mentor it is my mission to guide them; to help them become competent in their playing and make music a life long friend.

 

 

Natalia Pardalis


Natalia Pardalis is a 2nd generation piano teacher. She teaches through her studio, Pardalis Music Studio in Surrey BC. Her studio in in the Surrey Central area right by Gateway Skytrain. For information on lessons, email her at npardalis@hotmail.com www.nataliapardalis.com

More Ways to Motivate Your Kids To Practice

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Image of a little girl playing piano

Motivate her to practice!

As a follow-up to my recent article, How to Motivate Your Kids to Practice Their Instrument, I thought it would be helpful to post some additional readings on the subject by other teachers.  After all, and unfortunately, this seems to be one of the hottest topics with most music teachers!

Continue reading “More Ways to Motivate Your Kids To Practice” »

How to Motivate Your Kids to Practice Their Instrument

Motivate your son to practice piano

Motivate your son to practice piano

Fact is, I don’t know any one way to motivate kids to practice, which will work on any kid. Furthermore, every other music teacher I meet is facing the same problem of motivating their kids to practice their instruments during the week. I do however, have some ideas and some insights into how different strategies have played out over time with different students and families.

Solutions that have been tested by parents and teachers include offering incentives,  or telling them that if they don’t practice, a kitten will die. But the problem remains, kids are not that easy to manipulate.  Most kids are happier to tell their parents what they want to do and when they want to do it, and many will not back down until they get it, or face punishment. I know that’s how I was!

Still, the problem remains, you see value in education and want them to be enriched by the experience of learning to play music but this can’t be done without practice.  Achieving milestones in any subject area takes hard work and dedication, and practicing an instrument CAN BE hard work for a child who is full of energy and would rather play DS.

Here are some ideas that you can try:

1) Practice with them

In my opinion, this is absolutely necessary up to the age of about 12. After age 12, this should still be practiced about half the time.  Think of it this way: You are taking piano lessons with your child. So you need to be there when they practice.

Tips:

  • Don’t be bossy, but be firm when insisting that they focus. Fun is good, but you need to stop it from becoming overly silly.
  • Learn all the music too and play it along with them. You can play one hand while they play the other or just play the same part one octave away.
  • Ask them what they think could be improved upon. Some prompting may be necessary (“How was your rhythm, note accuracy, dynamic expression,
  • Have them teach the piece to you.

2) Participate in performance opportunities

When a student displays interest, but can’t seem to pass a certain practice threshold (maybe once or twice per week), this may help motivate them.  It can however, have the opposite effect on the student who is not showing any interest in practicing.

Tips:

  • Participate in formal recitals though your music teacher, local festivals, competitions and through organizations.
  • Make sure that the outcome is positive. Prepare thoroughly, invite friends and family and tell your little star how proud you are!
  • Create informal recitals with friends, family and other students from your music studio or school.
  • encourage them to use their skills to improve the world we live in by raising funds for charity, creating awareness of important events or playing for the sick or elderly.



3) Use Theta Music Trainer

Almost everyone of my students plays either a DS or ipod touch games while waiting for their lesson. Video games are very engaging – even addictive! There are many online games out there, but I’ve found Theta Music Trainer to be extremely intuitive, progressive, in-depth and best of all engaging. There is a couple weeks worth of free content and for next to nothing, you can play up to 25 levels of very creative, engaging and educational ear training games.

Tips:

  • Encourage your teacher to get a studio account to offer %50 off to every student.
  • Give them challenges (your teacher can actually give challenges through the teachers console).
  • Remember that music is at least half (probably more like %90) mental. When your children become comfortable with the concepts featured in the games, they will have less barriers at their instrument and may be more inclined to spend time playing the actual instrument.

4) Time Is the Only Guarantee

But it IS a guarantee. Not everyone will become Herbie Hancock or Yo-Yo Ma, but anyone, I repeat, ANYONE can learn to play an instrument at a high level. When your child struggles with subjects in school or maybe with learning the difference between right and wrong, you don’t try once and then move on. We all know that good parenting goes on and on until the job is done! Don’t forget how much and how quickly children change.  They can go through periods of being very interested or not interested at all, but if you stick with it, they will get something out of it and almost surely begin to truly enjoy what they have learned. This is one of the lessons we hope to teach through music, that hard work, dedication and PERSISTANCE pay off, even though sometimes we feel like quitting.

5) Stack the Deck

Create a musical home. Play music in the house and enjoy it! Play their music in the house and…ENJOY IT TOO! Help them to learn about the music that they are hearing. Go on Wikipedia and teach them little facts about the music that they enjoy. Take them to concerts, and let them be immersed in various styles of music performed at a high level.

And the last one for today…

6) Know Your Child’s Teacher

Remember that you are a member of a team engaged in educating your children and enriching their lives. Teams only succeed when they work together and your child’s  music lessons are no exception. I make a point of talking with every parent on a weekly basis. If your child’s teacher doesn’t make time for this, I suggest that you try talking to the teacher after lessons. If the teacher still doesn’t have 2 minutes a week, maybe the teacher is in it for the wrong reasons.

Tips:

  • Know him/her by first and last name.
  • Be pleasant when interacting with him/her.
  • Don’t waste your teacher’s time by coming late for pick-up or drop off, or by rambling on when there are other students (or lunch time) scheduled,  but do expect a couple minutes after the lesson. In many cases this means ending the lesson 2 or 3 minutes early. This is okay!
  • Be open and honest about how things are at home (in relation to the lessons of course!).

I hope you’ve found these ideas useful. There is no secret formula, but if you make sure to engage yourself in the process, and give it enough time (several months or years), your child’s lessons will surely pay off.  Oh yeah and one last thing….when you’re helping your child with his music, TURN OFF YOUR IPHONE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!

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