Piano lessons are expensive, costing an average of $90-120 per month ($1,080-1,440 per year). And rightfully so! Piano instructors spend years studying their instruments and hours pouring into their students each week.
Unfortunately, a majority of students miss a tremendous opportunity to make the most of their weekly lessons, squandering their parent’s money and sometimes their own. It’s a sad but legitimate reality.
Fortunately, there’s hope!
You don’t have to continue wasting time and money. You don’t have to quit your weekly lessons.
For over a decade, I’ve been encouraging students and parents to take full advantage of their music instruction by following these four straightforward and practical steps.
1.) Come to the lesson engaged and ready to learn.
Private music lessons typically last between 30-60 minutes and occur directly after school. Students are tired at the end of the school day and may have difficulty staying awake or engaging in a meaningful way. A quick snack just before the lesson can help with this.
Most students should not nap prior to their lesson as they arrive in a groggy state. I remember my piano teacher scolding me for napping. I also recall thinking about sleep while playing my pieces for her. I wasn’t a stellar student!
One final and important note on this – find a music teacher that engages your child in a meaningful way and inspires her to pursue her instrument beyond the weekly music lesson.
2.) Videotape the music lesson.
Most music teachers send their students home with a weekly “things to do” list. Making a list is a good habit, but from my experience, students do not engage with the list unless prompted by a parent. For this reason, I recommend videotaping the weekly lesson.
Music teachers cover a lot of material in a lesson. The rehearsal video is a relevant way for students to re-engage with this material during the week. Review it just before or during the first practice at home.
(Side note – the first practice at home should occur on the same day as the lesson or the very next day while the material is fresh on the student’s mind.)
3.) Parent involvement.
This one seems obvious. I believe that many parents would say that they’re involved. But I would argue that most parents are passively involved and not actively involved. Let me explain the difference.
An example of passive involvement –
“Johnny, get downstairs and practice the piano. I’ve set the timer for 30 minutes. Now go!”
It’s a great thing that you’re encouraging (making) your student practice, but there’s a better approach. Here’s an excerpt from one of my recent blog posts, Understanding the Creative Child. You’ll notice a shift from passive to active involvement.
Camden, one of my past piano students, fell into the “creative” category. I was excited to take him on as a student because he exhibited more zeal for the instrument than most beginning students. I quickly became frustrated when he showed up unrehearsed week after week. I told his mother that he needed to sit at the piano for at least 30-minutes per day. She agreed, and that’s what he did. He SAT at the piano 30-minutes each day. He wasn’t actively pursuing his studies. He was bored out of his mind!
I sat down with him and his mother at the following lesson to discuss a new game plan. You see, I realized that I had been approaching our lessons in the wrong way. My approach was stifling his creativity and ability to learn the piano in his unique way. I began asking him to bring one piece each week that he was excited to play. His eyes lit up! “Really,” he said, “I get to pick my music?” Allowing him the freedom to choose just one piece per week had positive effects on his passion for learning the instrument.
I told his mother not to worry too much if he didn’t practice for exactly 30-minutes each day. I encouraged her to let him practice at his pace – 5-minutes here, 10-minutes there. I saw vast improvements in his playing and ability to focus. Most importantly, I didn’t squash his zeal for learning how to play the piano!
Quality over quantity. 5-minutes of focused practice is much more desirable than 30-minutes of unfocused practice.
4.) Practice perfectly and slowly.
My dear friend and colleague, April O’Keefe says,
We’re all told that “practice makes perfect.” But this is not true. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
I couldn’t agree more with this statement.
Students often sloppily play their pieces in the practice room. Time and time again, I’ve told students to restart their pieces and play slowly and accurately, often making them reset having missed only one note, even at two minutes into the music! This approach may seem harsh, but it works! Students engage much more deeply when forced to think about the music on a cerebral level.
There is no room for error, at least not in the rehearsal room.
Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus and faculty member Noa Kageyama has this to say about slow practice,
I had forgotten all about this [slow practice in music] until very recently, when I had the pleasure of interviewing Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim (incidentally, check out his personal jetlag remedy).
He revealed that one of the keys to his success (and building confidence as well) is super slow practice. A process of practicing in slow motion – while being fully mindful, highly engaged, and thinking deeply in real-time about what he is doing.
Will students continue to make mistakes? Of course! I’ve yet to meet a human who doesn’t. But the severity and frequency of these errors will grow increasingly small when preceded by thoughtful and efficient practice habits.