Things You Need to Know About Piano Lessons
By Attila Fias, pianist, composer, teacher and recording artist
If you are thinking about signing your children up for piano lessons or any music lessons – congratulations! This is a very smart decision indeed. These lessons have been shown to boost a child's development, to help them with their other studies and it encourages use of both sides of their brain simultaneously - creative as well as calculative intelligence.
To get the most out of the experience, it is very important to find the right teacher for your particular child's personality. You must also know what to expect and what not to expect from piano lessons, and how to maximize your child's benefit from them.
Drawing upon my 14 years of experience as a piano/music teacher, I will try to provide useful information to all potential piano students. I believe parents enrolling their kids in lessons need to be taught a few things as well, and need to understand some basic aspects of learning to play the piano. This article is written for a parents' perspective, but the advice and information is useful whether you are a parent, child, or an adult wanting to take lessons yourself.
Understanding piano lessons
So your child has come to you expressing a desire to take piano lessons, or the idea to sign your children up for piano just came to you, or you've heard about the benefits of taking music lessons, or your neighbour's kids take piano, so why shouldn't yours?
First of all, it is good to understand what it means to take lessons, what to expect, what to look for, and how to proceed in the best way with this.
What is a piano lesson and what is it not? Effective piano lessons do not merely involve the teacher and the student getting together once a week where knowledge is passed to the child's mind, and then throughout the week that knowledge somehow matures by itself and manifests into one more step towards better piano playing... That is the equivalent of putting a textbook under your pillow to awaken with the knowledge stored neatly in your brain. Although most people realize how silly that is, when it comes to piano lessons they allow themselves to believe it can work this way.
A piano lesson IS a time where a good teacher ideally passes good information, good energy, motivation and enthusiasm to a student. The teacher shows the student constructively what they may be doing wrong, how to fix it, methods of practicing, ways of motivating oneself, instilling some discipline into the student, showing different aspects about the musical material the student is not aware of and so on.
A piano lesson IS NOT a weekly event where everything the student needs to improve their skill is taught, covered, and finished, a neat little encapsulated package. It is only the starting point for that week, it is the weekly push by the teacher, nudging the student onwards. Truly, a piano teacher is more a piano coach.
The difference that parents must understand is that while you can go to soccer practices (which, aren't usually just once a week!), play in the games, then do no other training of those skills, and yet still do very nicely, this is not the case with piano lessons or any music lessons. In fact, another skill the student must have, or learn, in order to succeed, is the extremely important capacity of self-discipline! Good piano playing comes only with regular training, forward progress does not happen without time and effort put into drilling and rehearsing the things you have learned on a weekly basis. So the challenge is to get your child to a point where they learn this concept, see results from their practice, and feel the sense of accomplishment as they become capable piano players. As a parent or guardian, you have to be prepared to sit with the child and encourage them to practice, and practice correctly. In the beginning, this can be as little as 15-20 minutes a day, with good results!
Piano practicing is not a social activity... unless sitting with a teacher, or a parent, a practice session is spent alone, focused inwards and improving one's skills. It is actually very meditative, and again a very useful type of behaviour to get a child accustomed to.
Parents play a tremendous role in the success or lack thereof in their children's musical endeavors. A parent must have an interest in music also, and in fact situations where the parent is also taking piano lessons at the same time as the child work very well, as the child follows the example, practices and a healthy competition usually starts, where the child wants to be better than the parent. Even if the parent does not actually take lessons, often it is still useful if they sit with their kids during practice, and help them train the discipline required. Some kids do very well on their own, and in fact resent having someone breathing down their neck when they're at the piano. If they're practicing correctly this is ideal, but it is not good if the child just wants to be left alone so they can waste the time away more easily. The parent must be the judge of that, and act accordingly.
Correct practicing is very important, because incorrect practice is at best a waste of time, and at worst counterproductive. I always tell my students, I would prefer that you practice 15 minutes effectively than 3 hours ineffectively. The concept of correct practice is not difficult to understand, but can be difficult to implement. Essentially, it means to practice with your full attention focused on what you are playing, and to practice first and foremost the things that you are not good at. Most students simply play through their pieces from beginning to end, and think they are practicing, when in fact they are reinforcing their mistakes, and practicing them! It is crucial to identify (with the piano teacher) the passages and concepts to be practiced, isolate these problems, and then dissolve and eliminate them by focused rehearsing. This way much time and effort can be saved. Good luck!
About the author:
Attila Fias is a pianist, composer, teacher and recording artist. If you would like to find beautiful piano music recordings, original midi music files or ideas about music production,