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Piano teacher sits with young student as she plays the keyboard.
November 14, 2016

Tuning Into Your Child’s Musical Journey

Finding the Right Level of Involvement in Your Child’s Music Lessons

by Lara Levitan

Photo by Boris Smokrovic

A few months ago, we published Why Taking Music Lessons with Your Kid is Awesome. Our colleague Brendan Bosworth, owner of of Meter Music School in Seattle, countered with this assertion: Leaving your kids alone during lessons is awesome, too.

This may be harder for some of us than others. Music lessons are a big investment of time and money, so naturally we want to make sure everything is going smoothly. And we want to support our children by keeping tabs on how to help.

But at what point does our support become stifling? And at the other end of the spectrum, how might our lack of involvement in music lessons negatively affect our student’s progress?

We asked a few seasoned music teachers for their advice on the right blend of parental involvement and detachment, and they were consistent across the board.

Their advice: involvement during music lessons should be minimal to none, depending on the student. But music practice is most effective–and productive– when a parent or caregiver takes an active role.

Be a Fly on the Wall

Imagine you’re in a piano lesson, nervous because you haven’t practiced since your last lesson, and not only is your teacher evaluating your performance, but your mother is sitting behind you, eager to check on your progress.

“Learning an instrument is intimidating, and a new teacher is intimidating,” said Brendan, who also teaches guitar and ukulele. “Having the audience of your teacher and your parent watching you try to play in a small music studio can be a lot to handle.”

If your student and teacher are okay with it, sitting in on a first lesson can show support and provide an extra source of background information. But for future lessons, occasionally popping in for the last few minutes of a lesson is a milder, more helpful approach.

“By the end of the lesson, often the student and I are into the groove of playing something together, and it’s fun to let a parent be a fly on the wall.” Brendan said. “Many parents I work with will do this every couple of months, as they are able.”

By making an occasional, brief appearance at the end of a lesson, you can get more insight on how to be helpful.

“Usually it helps parents gain perspective and know when to be involved,” said Piano Power teacher Alex Rowney.

If you are sitting in on a portion of your child’s lesson, though, always stay positive and be mindful of your comments or body language.

“I once had a very well-meaning parent who would literally cringe any time she heard a wrong note or rhythm,” said Piano Power teacher Lucas Gillan. “While I appreciated that the mom cared so much about her son’s performance in his lessons, she took it so far that it discouraged him.”

An overbearing parental presence might also distract the teacher, who could feel the need to put on a “teacher show” rather than focus on the student and build rapport.

Ultimately, music students need time and space to discover their instrument on their own terms and at their own pace, and to develop their relationship with their instructor as a mentor.

You’ve already given the child the gift of music lessons– once they’ve gotten started, it’s time to let them unwrap it and discover its possibilities.

When You Can’t Be A Fly on the Wall

Oftentimes, work or other responsibilities keep parents from being around during music lessons. If students are dropped off at a studio, or at home when a particular parent isn’t present, months can go by without any in-person teacher/parent interaction.

Staying in touch by any means — emails, texts, or phone calls– becomes crucial to getting the scoop on progress, successes, and challenges.

Students might keep a notebook that travels between home and lessons, which can be extra helpful in these situations. Teachers can write a brief summary of the lesson, and suggestions for helping the student practice, for the parent to read.

However, while a student can still progress during music lessons with little to no parental involvement, practice time is a different story.

A “Practice Coach” Is Essential

Students who don’t practice will not progress– or they’ll at least progress at a much slower rate.
Most students–especially if they’re young or having a difficult time getting motivated or staying focused– won’t practice on their own.

And any student in this day and age has many activities vying for their attention. Left without a “practice coach”–be it a parent or another caregiver– they’re much more likely to lose interest in lessons.

“Especially with young beginners, parent support can be crucial during practice time,” Brendan said. “By checking in regularly with an instructor, parents can learn very basic ways to support at home with technique, understanding notes on a staff, shaping a practice routine that works for their family, etc.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Scheduled, consistent practice times
  • Persistent, gentle reminders
  • Incentives
  • Guiding the student to their instrument
  • Actually sitting down with young or struggling students to help keep them on track

(For more on the importance of practice, check out this great advice from The Playful Piano).

Typically, students can expect to follow through with lessons on their own by around late elementary, middle school, or junior high– but even then they’ll probably need a little push!

The Musical Journey

Of course, all students are different. You may have a junior high kid who loves you to watch her lessons and doesn’t need a single reminder to practice. (We should be so lucky!)

The most important thing is to “tune in” to your student’s musical journey. In other words, be sensitive and responsive to what works–and doesn’t work– for your unique child.

And remember that a journey is full of ups, downs, and forks in the road.

“Making errors, recognizing them, and dealing with or accepting them is a deeply personal experience,” Alex said. “Parents must allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them on their own without too much intervention.”

Want to read more about the role parents play in music lessons? Check out this article on managing expectations for your child’s music lessons.

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