Supporting Student Learning

Supporting Students' Learning

If you feel a little out of your comfort zone when it comes to supporting your child’s music learning, you are not alone! However, you, the parent, are one of the most important assets a child has. Most of a child’s learning happens at home, among the family. They are only at piano lessons for a short time each week. Thus, it is important that you embrace your own innate musical talents and any trained skills and interests and share your child’s piano adventures with them. A genuinely involved, supportive parent nearly always distinguishes students who continue playing piano for many years to a lifetime from those who stop playing piano and lose interest, especially when lessons start at under 10 years.

Trust your own abilities: Some parents have no formal music education. It can be intimidating to see your young child develop skills you don’t have. However, your child has almost certainly inherited their interest in playing because music has been part of their world, including in your home. You do have innate musical abilities. For example, many areas of speech are built on the same principles as music – pitch, duration of sound, articulation and rhythm. Most people can speak and understand speech. Many people can also identify a more melodic, poetic sound – even if they don’t know what makes the speech more pleasing to hear. Since you have language ability, you also have musical ability. Explore this and share your experiences together.

If you are passionate about music, your enthusiasm is sure to communicate itself. What is more, no one knows your child better than you do. You are best placed to encourage them, and help them get the most out of music.

Here are some suggestions for parents:
Play a variety of recorded music in the house and the car, of different styles and origins. Talk about what you like and why – e.g. the beat, language, manner of expression, the way sounds work together.
Purchase piano recordings of famous composers, download music files or tune into an FM radio station. Have piano and orchestral music in the background as often as possible.
Attend professional and amateur piano and ensemble performances with your child.
Sing, dance, clap and have fun – children often love music even more when they know you are willing to sing even if you are off-key. Music is great and should be fun.
Try to learn some piano yourself, or have your child be the expert and teach you a little. Music notation is very logical and simple enough to be understood in a short lesson. Decoding pieces takes a little practice, but most adults can play a simple melody in a very short time.
Children often think you are fabulous if you can play a little bit by ear. If you have ever picked up the theme from Fur Elise, Hot Cross Buns, Twinkle Star, Chopsticks or anything else, play it. Share what you can do and what your child can do – play together.
If you know any of the popular duets, such as Heart and Soul, teach your child how to play the other part and play together.

If you have music learning that can be applied to the piano, you have even more that you can share with your child.
Play your own pieces, when your child is noticing (and when they aren’t). Be a model of practice, enjoyment and involvement with music.
Play for one another, acting as each other’s appreciative audience.
Play duets or ensembles.
Play accompaniment to your child’s lesson pieces.
Play pieces or sections of the pieces your child is learning so they can hear how it sounds. Brainstorm together different approaches to a piece of music, such as exploring the effects of different dynamics or phrasing. You can model the different results so they can choose what they like best and talk about why.
Be willing to make suggestions if your child asks a question.

Teach your child how to approach learning: At home, you are your own child’s teacher and role model. You provide structure and reward. You supervise and support.
Schedule practice routines and times with your child and stick by them. Make them a priority. For a young child, several short periods a day is recommended. A teenager might need reminders and positive encouragement, but might decide on routines themselves. Discussions with teenagers about routines should still occur for accountability.
Help your child organise a practice plan and keep a diary of what they have learnt from a practice session. Normal routines start with some exercises, then work on reading and new pieces, next on detail of pieces and finally on pieces that are well learnt and liked. At the end of practice, help your child write what they improved on during the session and listen to them play a piece they choose.
Be active with lessons – if you are not sure, discuss the appropriate level of involvement with the teacher. It is recommended for most young children that parents attend lessons and are involved with the learning. Parents can be advised on how to teach or monitor learning between lessons.
When you don’t attend lessons, ask your child what they enjoyed most, what they were encouraged about for doing well, and what their practice goal is for the next week.
Avoid negative criticism of your child’s playing. If you hear something is not sounding right, ask “have you tried ….” Or “have you talked about this with the teacher? Maybe they can help you find a way to make it easier.”
Never use practice as a punishment – always keep it a positive experience even if there is some grumbling about stopping other play activities.
Praise and reward effort as well as progress or achievement.
Encourage your child to play for others at every possible opportunity. Be a supportive audience.

Provide necessary resources: All children are dependent upon their parents and carers for access to financial and practical resources. Children are limited in their access to learning if they have inadequate access to resources. Some of the important resources are:
A tuned, fully working instrument of appropriate quality for the level of performance. (Development of technique, articulation, dynamics and aural skills is significantly affected by the instrument quality.)
A location for practice and an environment free from disturbances and noise interferences. The practice room should be warm, comfortable and well lit.
Equipment for recording and playing recorded music.
A metronome.
Transport to recitals and other performances – and a supportive audience.

Your support and involvement is very important to your child and to their learning. Children want to know that their parents are proud of them and value what they are doing. Share and enjoy music with your child. I am sure you will find it is definitely worth the investment.