A Parent's Back-to-School Guide to Music Lessons
As adults, we remember our own childhoods with a mixture of nostalgia and dismay. The world changes and what we know about raising children shifts, making now-parents reevaluate how they were raised. Specifically, there is a lot of confusion about how involved a parent should be in their child’s learning process. Previously,
we lived in a world where we were sent off to practice and the experience was generally pretty negative. “Go to your room and practice” or “you’ll sit there until 30 minutes is over,” both very common phrases. It makes today’s parents cautious when enforcing practicing at home. However, as a parent of a younger child (under 14), your at-home guidance and involvement is crucial.
Unlike learning in school, private music teachers have your child for an average of 45 minutes a week. Out of a year, that’s 2,340 out of 524,160 minutes - 0.44% of the student’s time versus 99.4% of the student’s time. And THAT is only if the student comes in EVERY WEEK. Let’s visualize:
It’s barely visible on the graph. This is why it’s so crucial for the student’s support system to be involved in the practice/play part of learning music at home. While I know your time as a parent is valuable, and you may fear creating a negative musical experience, I instead give you another option: create a positive learning environment at home. It teaches consistency and accountability, which will help your child learn about goal setting and long-term focus, and it will make them feel like their music is part of the home-environment rather than an isolating punishment away from everyone else. What can you do to create this environment for your upcoming musician?
Have them help you set up a “special space” to practice that
is distraction free from siblings, family, TV, etc. If space is limited, it can even be a community space, but designate a certain time of day where the rest of the family engages in other tasks elsewhere. Asking the child to work and focus when everyone else is having fun in the same space or nearby will seem unfair, so space and tone-setting is crucial to help them get in the mode.
Be a cheerleader and help them “play.” And when I say play, I mean it. Even if you, the guardian, don’t understand how to use the instrument, goof around with them at the end of their practice session. Create silly songs by plucking random strings or hitting random keys. This spikes their creativity and reminds them that music is about being playful. Not to mention, if you’re willing to try and even fail then it’s less scary for them to try as well.
Encourage (don’t force) them to play what they’re working on in lessons. Does this add a bit of pressure? Yes. Is that bad pressure? No! Music is performance, and the more you encourage them to “share” the performance, the less stressful playing in front of others will be. Remember, process is great but it needs direction in the end and music requires ears. Honestly, if a musician is playing in an empty forest, are they even making music? … you get my point…
Avoid over-scheduling. Many parents account for the hour once a week when planning other activities for their child. In reality, you should plan for an hour once a day. Not all of that time is filled with playing, especially when they’re young, but they need that time to:
Unwind from school/social activities/etc
Gather their practice materials and get “set up” in their space (this increases their focus)
Practice what the teacher gave them
Ask questions, get frustrated, and then problem-solve (part of growing as a musician)
PLAY for fun - with you hopefully!
Put away materials so they don’t get lost for the next practice/lesson
If you account for that at-home supported practice time, let’s revisit our learning pie-chart:
Oh my - the music section is visible! While it still looks small in comparison to other areas, it increased 7 fold, which means they are actually building muscle memory, musical skill, and frankly, fond memories associated with the instrument and their home/support system. All of these things continue to inspire students to practice and play more, which means they’re musical skill improves. By the time they hit their teenage years, they shouldn’t require heavy handed involvement, they’ll have learned the skills necessary to learn. And you will have unlocked the next level of parenting, congrats! No one said it would be easy.