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If you are thinking of investing in a musical education for your child – or if your child is already enrolled in music lessons-you want that experience to be the happiest, most productive activity possible. Like most parents, you hope that your child will gain satisfaction from learning to play the piano. You realize that music study can promote genuine love of music through participation and gained knowledge and you hope that music will be avenues of significant accomplishment for your child. All of these expectations are certainly realistic, but how can they be attained? How do students gain skill, enjoyment, knowledge, and appreciation of music through piano study? How can you help them to achieve maximum success at the keyboard?
Musicians and music educators agree that parents’ attitudes can make a decisive difference in the achievements of a child. Good intentions alone cannot guarantee the right approach, however. This brochure suggests some concrete steps you can take to insure the best experiences at the piano for your child. While some of the ideas may seem surprisingly simple and obvious, they can be crucial in helping to create the right atmosphere for music learning.
On the average, age seven or eight (when children have mastered basic reading) is a good time to start piano, but some children are ready earlier while others benefit by waiting until age nine or ten. A child’s interest in music, attention span, and eagerness to learn are the best indications of readiness. Older students usually progress more rapidly than the very young child. Pre-school music enrichment classes, which lay a foundation for musicianship through rhythmic activities, singing, movement, and music notation skills, often accelerate later progress on an instrument.
High school and college students often develop a strong interest in music and realize the benefits of learning to play the piano. It is never too late to start and the very desire to learn is a powerful aid to success. In fact, many parents discover the fascination of the piano through their children and decide to take lessons themselves!
The decision to study piano, like the choice of diet or bedtime, should not be left up to a young child. The child who is asked if he “wants” to study piano may well say no, for he has little information on which to base the decision. Cheerfully state to your child that piano lessons will soon begin and that they are an interesting and worthwhile opportunity. Do hot suggest that you are merely “trying” piano or that lessons might not work out. Expect good progress and it is likely to result!
Convenience and cost should not be the sole deciding factors. Allow yourself time to interview prospective teachers and ask to audit a lesson or to hear students in recital or workshop. Consider whether the playing you hear has a sense of rhythm and conveys feeling for the music. While all students are not equally talented, good teaching can result in competent and musical performance even at the most elementary level.
Don’t hesitate to ask about a prospective teacher’s educational background, about the materials used, and about the policies of the studio. Inquire whether a teacher is a member of any professional musical organizations (such as the Music Teachers National Association, the National Guild of Piano Teachers, the Music Educators National Conference, and their state and local chapters). Is the teacher certified by the Music Teachers National Association or its state affiliates? Does the teacher engage in continuing education programs such as special seminars and workshops on piano teaching and materials?
Ask for a description of the first few months’ piano study and the goals for accomplishment. You need not be a musician to judge the clarity of a teacher’s program; if the goals are not made clear to you it is unlikely that they will be clear to your child.
Finally, consider the teacher’s personality and whether it is compatible with that of your child. Does the teacher convey enthusiasm and a love for music? Does he or she make lessons interesting? Would the teacher’s attitude and approach “turn on” your child to learning music? These are important considerations since all human beings do not interact with equal success.
If you feel hesitant about asking these questions or need the names of teachers in your community to contact, call upon your local music merchant or your school music faculty for assistance. They may have helpful recommendations.
Piano teachers in your community may offer a choice between group lessons, individual lessons, and some combination of the two. While the individual lesson affords the closeness of a one-to-one relationship with the teacher, the group lesson has the potential for stimulating healthy competition among students. Group piano is particularly efficient for teaching beginning keyboard skills, music theory, and ensemble. Group lessons also provide regular experience in performing for others and in giving and taking constructive criticism.
Many teachers who give individual lessons schedule periodic student workshops-where there are opportunities to perform for peers and to improve in theory, ensemble playing, and sight¬ reading. Other teachers offer a short individual lesson plus a group lesson weekly. This combination intensifies students’ exposure to music and provides both individual attention and group reinforcement.
As you decide what is best for your child, consider all the factors mentioned above: personality, materials, goals, the age of the student, and his interests.
Good teachers convey to students their own love and understanding of music by making lessons interesting, informative, and pleasant. They build students’ self-esteem by realistically affirming progress and showing genuine concern for the individual. Piano study need not be a dreary, lonely task!
In fact, the best teachers are usually those who make music lessons exciting and fun. They establish a warm personal relationship with their piano students whether in an individual or group lesson; they select materials of high quality; they encourage musical discovery-of style, form, and procedures; and they help students to acquire the technical skills needed to project musical ideas.
When choosing a teacher, be sure that he or she selects interesting and varied pieces for study and supplements this repertoire with the “building blocks” of music; scales and chords. Scales and chords are necessary tools for improvising (playing extemporaneously) and transposing (moving a piece to a different key). Study of scales and chords helps students to grow in both piano technique and musical knowledge. Technical development is also aided by the wise choice of pieces for study; in fact, the best “musical” learning occurs through music itself, not finger exercises.
Many good teachers also emphasize the development of ear-training, sight-singing, and analytical skills. The abilities to recognize differ¬ences in pitch and rhythm, or to sing melodic patterns at sight, improve performance and musicianship and also develop habits of listening which are useful throughout life. By pointing out significant details of musical style and form in even the easiest pieces, a teacher can help your child to discover what to listen for in music. Unraveling the mysteries of a musical composition can be real fun, even as it leads to deeper musical understanding.
A well-tuned piano, a bench or chair of appropriate height, good lighting, and a quiet room are essential to good practice. Try to avoid interference from family “IV watching, radio, or other distrac¬tions. Make your child’s daily practice a family priority. If you do not already own a piano, you may wish to consider a rental-purchase plan from your local piano dealer. Under this arrangement you rent a new piano for a monthly fee plus delivery charges. If you decide to buy the instrument, most dealers allow you to apply the delivery and rental fees for a specified time to its purchase price.
Remember that even the finest instruments require regular tuning and adjustment. Protect your investment by proper care!
Consult with your child’s teacher about the amount of daily practice expected. Quality and regularity are just as important as duration. A shorter practice period when a student is well rested and fully concentrating will accomplish more than a longer period when he is tired or distracted; early morning practice (before other activities vie for attention) is the answer for many children. Several short daily practice periods can be more effective than one longer practice session.
Avoid needless arguments about practice. Post a schedule and have your child record his daily practice time. Establish a rule that missed practice will be made up within the week. Talk to your child to be sure that lesson assignments are clear and that parent and teacher expectations are understood.
Make regular attendance at piano lessons a rule. Avoid over-scheduling your child’s activities. Good health, social life, and real accomplishment all suffer when a child is committed to too many extra-curricular projects. Try to schedule piano lessons on a day when there are no other major after-school events.
Listen to your child’s practice and make encouraging suggestions. Make music at home for fun. Duets and other ensemble playing can be a valuable source of learning and enjoyment. You can learn alongside your child, or share your previous musical experience with him. Ask the teacher for suggestions of music that meets your special family needs. Encourage your child’s friends to join in the recreational music making.
Attend student workshops and recitals whenever you’re invited. Your presence is a demonstration of interest and support. Take your child to concerts. There are many free programs at colleges and museums and student tickets are often available for symphony concerts and other recitals. Attendance at musical events can inspire and encourage your child.
Promptly purchase new materials requested by the teacher. Make regular tuition payments for lessons. If there are family financial problems, arrange for alternatives with the teacher. Avoid involving the student in these concerns. Encourage your child to be creative at the piano to improvise, to compose, to experiment with new sounds. (The initial results may not suggest a young Mozart, but the experience is important to an understanding of the elements of music, with which everyone should be familiar.)
Buy records or tapes or borrow them from a library. This is a good way to celebrate the mastery of a particular piece or the assignment of a new one. Many fine recordings of teaching pieces are available as well as standard works of piano literature.
Be open to contemporary music. Students are generally interested in new sounds and respond positively to twentieth-century music. Discover with them the styles and techniques used by modern composers. Resist the urge to impose your own values on the curious student!
Think of performance as an opportunity for sharing, rather than showing off. Put performance into perspective; it is only one of many learning experiences available through music. Encourage your child to participate in performance oppor¬tunities provided by the teacher and obtain the teacher’s consent for other performances. He or she will know the exact state of a student’s preparedness. Too much performing can actually retard the progress of the most gifted children, so let the teacher decide when enough is enough. Maintain good communication with the teacher and support his or her objectives!
Students do best who learn the satisfaction of (mastering material which is challenging, yet within their technical and musical grasp. Works of moderate difficulty, well played, provide a greater sense of accomplishment than masterpieces that lie beyond the students’ full comprehension.
Success at the piano, as in other aspects of life, depends on concentrated effort. This is one of the reasons that children who do well in music often achieve academic success as well. The habits of self-discipline that they learn in music carry over into other areas of their lives. They develop the confidence to master difficult tasks and to pursue challenging goals.
Strong motivation and good habits are more important indicators of musical success than that elusive quality “talent.” While special musical aptitude is certainly needed if one is to make a career in music, it is not a requirement for success in piano lessons. All children (unless they have a hearing disability) have some degree of responsive¬ness to music and this can be encouraged and developed.
The piano is an ideal instrument on which to start music lessons because it produces tones on pitch by the mere striking of a key. This gives an immediate sense of accomplishment. Because the piano is capable of producing many tones simul¬taneously it is more versatile and has a far larger repertoire of solo literature than any other instrument. There are always new pieces to learn and new ways to improvise at the keyboard, so the child who studies piano will never lack for something interesting to do.
Even if a student decides to take up another instrument, a background in piano will provide an important foundation in the fundamentals of music. The ability to “get around on the piano” will be a valuable lifetime skill.
Piano study can be a happy, rewarding experience and the basis for a lifetime of musical understanding and enjoyment. Sharing music can bring parents and children closer together and can provide the foundation for many friendships. Listening to music, performing, and attending concerts with family and friends increases one’s enjoyment of these activities.
Children learn parental values by observing how adults spend their money, their time, and their energy. By investing in piano study for your child you are making a positive statement about the value music can have in one’s life. Encourage and support your children’s deepening understanding of music and you will have given them an incomparable gift-a vehicle for self-expression, responsiveness to beauty, and personal achievement. Piano study is a sound investment in your children’s future, for it provides access to the world of music, lifetime access to a basic form of human expression.