Today I wanted to share my top five tips for parents and guardians to use and help their students do well in their weekly music lesson. These are things that would happen in an ideal world, but I truly believe the more you implement these ideas the better experience your child and you will have while taking private lessons. Some of these ideas will look different depending on how old your child is, whether school is in session or not and other factors. Please use these as a starting point to discuss with me or your own music teacher!
1.Take Care of the Basics
This might seem simple, but encourage your student to take a sip of water, have a snack and visit the restroom before their lesson. Even though most lessons are only a half hour lesson, you would be surprised how these little things can determine the course of a lesson. Though it has happened only once in my experience, students can also have accidents in lessons if they are afraid to disappoint parents or their teacher by asking for a bathroom break. Even better would be to let your students have a special snack or drink before their lesson, to help them associate a special or unique treat with lesson time.
2.Establish Responsibility for Lesson Materials
This can change depending on the age of the student, but coordinate with your student or other parent who is responsible for making sure they have all materials ready and together for a lesson time. Several times a week I see students leave a book or practice sheet behind only to immediately turn to Mom or Dad to ask where their materials are. As a general rule of thumb, I would say responsibility for bringing the correct materials can be switched over to students between eight and ten years old. This includes all the books we are using in lessons, their instrument, bow, shoulder rest and anything else we use on a regular basis. I often see shoulder rests get left behind, or a book the student doesn’t like conveniently forgotten at home. This can really slow down our progress, make an already difficult task take even longer and drain motivation and momentum more than necessary.
3.Create an Environment at Home that Supports Practice
Students know when they are prepared for a lesson and most often they feel prepared when they’ve had a chance to practice. No one ever wants to practice all the time which is why it is important to create an environment where you can eliminate as many reasons to not practice as possible. Some of the most common reasons I get for little or no practice include no designated space in the house or no time. This might be an indication that your family is too busy. But it can also be as simple as asking your child “Have you practiced today?” before they go outside to play or before they get to play some video games on their tablet. If they don’t feel they have a space to practice, find a corner of their room where they can leave their music stand up through the week and leave their instrument unpacked. These little things make the instrument seem more accessible and serve as little reminders to pick the instrument up a couple times a day.
No matter the size of the accomplishment, encourage your child whenever they make a small step in the right direction. Celebrate the fact that they practiced today. Suggest having a weekly or monthly recital on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon where they can show their siblings or both sets of parents what they’ve been working on. This can be particularly fun when siblings get in on this together. When a baby first says “Dada”, they’re not really referring to their dad, but with the consistent praise and prompting, they eventually form “Dad” or “Daddy” and go from there to form phrases and sentences. This is true for music study, too. When you shift your expectation from a matter of if to just a matter of when, you can really find joy in all the little pieces that will add up.
As a parent you are responsible for communicating with the teacher. This includes notifying your teacher of upcoming absences that might distract from or completely prevent students from practicing. Other useful bits of information for your teacher to know are diagnoses of learning disabilities, physical limitations, home life situations and more. This helps your teacher most effectively plan lessons for your child – And isn’t the whole point of a private lesson to give your student an individualized experience?
Communication is a two way street, of course. Please make it a priority to learn how your teacher shares upcoming studio events, changes in the teaching schedule and the best way to reach them. For myself, I prefer communication through email so I can stay organized and file away our conversations, though last minute notices about illness, accidents on the way to lessons or more are welcome by phone. I share my studio events through newsletters three times a year and update my studio’s Facebook with specific information for upcoming field trips, recitals and more. But that is how I operate. Other teachers may prefer texting, while others would like a phone call. I encourage all parents to talk with their private teachers to see what their preferences are. I find this can go a long way in smoothing out teacher and parent relationships, which then allows lesson time to focus on the child’s progress.
These are just my top five suggestions for parents interested in helping each lesson be a great lesson for their child at this time. Parents are so important for setting the tone for a child’s life, whether that be music lessons, school or anything in between. All of these tips apply for both parents of a student as well – I’ve seen this in action in my own studio. When students can sense music lessons are less of a priority to one parent or the other, this can be discouraging for motivated students and an easy out for students who are less engaged in their lessons. Let’s all work together to make private music lessons for your child the best and most enriching experience for them!
For parents, what are some ways you have found to work with your own child in lessons? For other teachers, what do you think of these tips? Are there other ideas you would add to this list? Feel free to share those ideas in the comments below and share this post with your own studio families!
Welcome to Shaw Strings and Things!
This blog is dedicated to sharing my teaching experiences and resources as a private violin/viola music instructor. I think most agree you can always be improving, learning and developing new techniques as a teacher - I'm glad we're doing it together!