by Jamey Mann
When a child is taking music lessons the role the parent needs to play cannot be overstated. The younger the student the more important this role becomes. In the Suzuki method the parent is referred to as the home teacher. In this role the parent is taking lessons with the student; taking notes on concepts, posture, and what to practice. At home the parent is practicing with the student making sure the student is practicing correctly and consistently.
Students whose parents take on this role have a high rate of success and are able to start practicing independently in a fairly short period of time. However, throughout my teaching career, I have run into parents who wants to take “The hands-off approach”. To me this concept, especially in music, is seriously flawed.
I often learn about the parent’s level of involvement as the student is starting to struggle within the first couple months of lessons. I will notice the student is not practicing the correct assignment, lesson books do not make it to the lesson, essential items (tuner, music stand, footstool) are not purchased for practice at home and posture is poor. Unfortunately, unless parents take an active role, lessons will continue to degrade.
So, why are parents needed for music lessons?
- Attention span– The attention span of the average adult is only about 20 minutes and for children it’s much less. With most music lessons being 30 minutes, a young student may be missing half of what was taught in the lesson even if the teacher writes out assignments. Add to that sports, school work, and missed days of practice and we are lucky that a student can remember anything from one lesson to the next.
With a parent taking notes the child can review and remember all the crucial points of the lesson. Furthermore, a parent can be there to help correct and remind the student about posture and technique. At the very least a parent should meet with the teacher regularly to know what the student should be working on at home and to be able to monitor progress.
- Building Good Practice habits- Just because a 7-year-old has the idea to play guitar, does not mean they understand the idea of practice or practicing consistently. Many students including teenagers are shocked by the idea of daily practice. This is something that needs to be taught. Sitting down with your child to practice will demonstrate the importance of practicing. This can also be a great bonding experience which will have your child looking forward to practice time.
- Consistency – Even if students are good at practicing independently, complacency often sneaks up on them. Students might start spending less time on their instrument or skipping days of practice. They may start missing assignments or tend to only play what they are comfortable with. Parents must be aware of their students practice routine and what they need to be practicing.
- Encouragement- As painless as we try to make it, learning an instrument is not an easy task. It can be an arduous sitting down to practice and difficult for a student to tell if they are making progress. Loss of enthusiasm is one of the main reasons why people fail at learning an instrument. Having a parent nearby to remind the student they are doing well and making progress is one of the best things a parent can do.
It is important to understand that music teachers do want their students to be working independently as they progress. And we know parents want their children to learn on their own. However, music lessons are not the place to let a child be on their own. Music is a difficult subject with many complex details that need to be done correctly.
Parents should understand that a teacher only has the student for about 30 minutes a week. This leaves a lot a room for error when the student goes home to practice. Hours of time and money can be wasted if a parent is not able to do their part. Teachers must also make parents aware of what their responsibilities are and keep them updated of the child’s progress and assignments.