15 Things You Need to Know About Supporting Your Child Learning to Play the Piano

This list was first published in It Takes Two Generations at the end of 2013. 

If you’re a parent who has no background in playing a musical instrument it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of things the piano teacher accidentally takes for granted along the way. Don’t be overly worried about this – the teacher won’t have enough time in each lesson to fill in all the gaps and still keep your child engaged and enthused about their learning, but as time passes you’ll become expert at supporting your child’s musical education.

Here are the absolute basics that you need to know to be able to support your family’s journey into profound musicianship:

1. You simply cannot miss lessons. Unless you’ve just had a car accident, your child has a communicable disease, or your grandmother’s funeral couldn’t be scheduled any other day. Your child having extra homework that night or wanting a playdate with a best friend simply doesn’t cut it as a reason to consider skipping a lesson.

2. Practice has to happen every day. Even if it’s just for three minutes. The act of commencing practice every day precedes the act of engaging in prolonged practice every day! Get your child into the habit of playing her or his instrument daily and to a certain extent the practice will take care of itself.

3. Practice might not mean playing through a piece from beginning to end. In fact, practice rarely means playing through a piece from beginning to end. The teacher will give your child clear instructions each week as to what is required, and you need to respect these instructions – which means you need to know what they are. Teachers traditionally give written practice notes, but these days some teachers may even make a quick video demonstrating the correct practice approach. Use whatever the teacher gives you as a guide for what will take place that week at home.

4. You need to have books of music at home. The best indicator of a child’s capacity to develop literacy skills lies in whether the home has books, and the same holds true of musical literacy. If you try to insist that the teacher work from one book instead of three you are deliberating limiting your child’s capacity to learn. The price of music keeps changing in today’s internet-distributed book economies, but a rough guide is that you should be budgeting between $A125 and $A200 (that’s Australian dollars) for each child’s annual print music spend. Less than that and you know your child isn’t making particularly good progress! This amount will change from one country to the next, but I’d suggest $US80-150 would be about right for students in the US (music is just cheaper in the US, less to pay for postage/shipping), and about £55-90 in the United Kingdom.

5. Your beginner student child should be learning new music almost every week. If your child isn’t learning new music almost every week (there will be weeks when new music isn’t assigned, but these should only be from time to time, not every second week) it means something isn’t going right with your child’s learning (probably due to issues with practice at home). Talk to the teacher about how you can better support the practice for pieces assigned for a second, third or even fourth week.

6. Writing the names of all the notes in is a total waste of time and will drive the piano teacher completely nuts. Sometimes a piano teacher will write in the name of one or two notes, but writing in the names of all the notes is like asking your child to read a book one letter at a time: it’s boring and it doesn’t even make any sense. Being able to read music at the piano is about seeing the shapes and knowing what that will feel like to perform, and even having a clear sense of what it will sound like (the word for that is audiation – imagining sound). Don’t ‘help’ in ways the teacher hasn’t asked you to – and when you have a brainwave it will almost certainly be a good idea to discuss it with the teacher during the lesson before putting it into action!

7. The lesson time is when you should talk to the teacher, not afterwards. The teacher will either have other students, other appointments, or a really short dinner break at the end of your child’s lesson. It’s not OK to expect the teacher to discuss matters with you outside of the lesson time as a matter of course. Make the odd phone call, feel free to send an enquiring email or text message, but the time directly after your child’s lesson is sacrosanct (and not dedicated to you). It might be the teacher’s only chance to use the bathroom in five hours. 🙂 Of course, if the teacher wants to talk to you then by all means, chat away, but don’t assume that the teacher has this time available otherwise.

8. Just because you need to remind your child to practice does not mean that they don’t want to practice or that they don’t want to play their instrument. Just as you don’t give your children the option of failing to brush their teeth, bathe, eat or get dressed, so doing practice is not optional, even if that means you remind your child to do it every day for a decade. You are the parent: you make the rules. No one ever reached adulthood and said “I wish my mum had let me stop learning the piano”…

9. Think long-term. In other words, don’t plan to ‘try’ piano for six months to see if it’s a good fit – if you want your child to learn to play the piano you need to be internally committing to at least three years of lessons and practice. Then you can reflect on how things are going. This isn’t about being a tiger parent, it’s about being realistic about what’s involved in gaining musical skills. That 10,000 hour rule? You can have an awful lot of fun during that first 100 hours of piano practice, but you’re still only 1% of the way (if that) toward being amazing.

10. You may not realise how easy it is to play the piano, and at the same time how hard it is. There are very cool things students can easily learn to do at the piano which may give you the impression your child is a genius. Feel free to enjoy this sensation, but don’t be disappointed if the next week your child reverts to just being the cool, fabulous kid that you know and love. Some things that pianists do that appear easy are actually very hard, and some of the impressive things pianists do are ridiculously straight-forward to execute (if your teacher just shows you how).

11. If you want your child to learn to play the piano, then get a piano at home for your child to practice upon. Seems kind of obvious. Sometimes there are great reasons why you end up choosing to buy a digital piano, and these days there are just fantastic digital pianos available. But often parents choose woefully inadequate pretend pianos and think it will be as good: it won’t. If you can’t afford lessons AND a piano then postpone lessons for six months and use the savings to buy a decent instrument (digital or acoustic). Practicing on an inadequate instrument will set your child back by years in the long run – get this sorted as quickly as you possibly can.

12. Grab every chance you get to sit in on your child’s piano lessons. You will be a hundred times more likely to be able to support your child’s practice if you’ve been observing the teacher working with your child throughout the lesson – from how to use the body (shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingertips, proper seating position, etc.) to how to practice each piece to getting to understand the lingo (staccato, arpeggio, inversion, etc.). You have the chance to get your own free tutoring just by sitting in on your child’s lesson!

13. Participate in studio recitals every chance you get. You will be amazed how much your child is motivated by playing at and attending recitals – they get to hear music being performed by more advanced students, and they begin to build programs of pieces they are comfortable performing. And don’t project any nervousness you may feel onto your child – children don’t know they are supposed to feel nervous unless you tell them (or they have an anxiety disorder, which is a completely different matter), and you have an opportunity to develop confident public presentation in your child in this musical setting.

14. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. This one makes me smile, of course, because one assumes you’re reading this on the internet, and believing it. 🙂 The truth is that your teacher is going to be able to give you much better advice for your child than you will find chatting to random people/teachers on an internet forum or by searching YouTube for tutorials. If you don’t have a background in playing a musical instrument you won’t know what to trust and what is nonsense. Find a reputable teacher who you trust and like, and get educated (along with your child) and develop your capacity for discernment.

15. Share what you know about your child with the teacher. Does your child have a morbid fear of spiders? An allergy to cats? A learning disability or a processing disorder? Don’t wait for the teacher to figure it out by themselves – by sharing what you know about your child you won’t be preventing the teacher from building a positive relationship with your child, you’ll be facilitating immediately great learning experiences. Thing is this: piano teachers are fairly canny – because playing the piano is so holistic a learning activity you might even find that the piano teacher is alerting you to quirks in your child’s learning behaviours that will help you finesse their school-based learning! Piano teachers are often the first to notice problems with vision, dyslexia, problems with proprioception, processing problems, pronounced learning styles (which may be the basis for trouble in the classroom), even synaesthesia, simply because they are spending 30, 45 or even 60 minutes one-on-one with your child, and maybe this is the first chance your child has had for that kind of regular, professional adult attention. You and the teacher are a team working to make your child the best person he or she can be. 🙂

Follow these 15 guidelines and you’ll find that you are fast-tracking your family’s musical development! Enjoy the transformation!

38 thoughts on “15 Things You Need to Know About Supporting Your Child Learning to Play the Piano

  1. Thank you, this is great advice. Just an idea for a future post – I would love some advice in how to choose a good piano teacher.

  2. Reblogged this on Good Stuff for Musicians and commented:
    Ever wondered how you can support your child when they begin learning a musical instrument? Elissa Milne’s comprehensive list will help you understand what is helpful and what isn’t and how you can help your child succeed. Check it out!

  3. Nice Blog. I can’t afford a piano teacher. It’s too expensive. Is it okay if I trained and learned piano at the same time with my kid. I signed up at pianomarvel, onlinepianist and udemy piano for beginners. Or do I really need to get a good teacher.

    • It’s okay for you to do anything you like! Whether it will do you much good or not is a different matter….

      What are your goals? If your goal is to get a good foundation in being a pianist then you really do need to get a good teacher/mentor.

    • One more quick thing: it’s also totally okay to not learn to play the piano – if you can’t afford it, don’t worry about it!

  4. I am a older teenager now, and some of the points I just read I am appauled by. Piano can stress some kids out. Many parents live though their kids and because they quit piano when they were a child (and have regretted it) they won’t let their kid quit. Piano is meant to be fun! As soon as it becomes a chore, and as soon as your child becomes miserable and starting to dislike it- ask why??
    Don’t hammer your kids every night to practise! That makes us want to rebel and not practise even more- give us some time because we will figure it out……


    • Hi Morgan, it sounds as if your childhood has been quite traumatic! And it also sounds as if you are projecting a lot of that trauma into reading this list of things parents can do to make piano more enjoyable for their children.

      Here’s a secret: miserable practicing has nothing to do with parents helping their kids to do it each day – miserable practicing has to do with being asked to practice things that are not creatively engaging, repetition without discovery, or about being asked to learn in inefficient ways (many tasks can be assigned to be joyful or to be miserable, it all depends on the way the task is framed).

      It’s a great suggestion to teachers and parents alike to explore the why behind a child’s disengagement (in regard to any learning!). I can assure you that it is very rarely a parent being too keen that is the cause of a child’s changing their mind about playing the piano. 🙂

      It might be surprising to learn that adults can actually remember what it’s like to be a teenager and a child, but they pretty much always can. The memories we make as children and teenagers is *the* foundation to our sense of identity, and that’s why we all find it really easy to remember our feelings as children. Parents are using the benefit of their experience *of being a child* to raise their children in the best way they can.

      I have one more secret to share: piano IS fun, no doubt about it, but it’s also hard work and delivers a delayed gratification. That is really annoying to teenagers, as a rule, other than those who are happy to put in hard work and experience delayed gratification.

      There’s no rule that says children HAVE to learn the piano, but if you ARE learning to play the piano please don’t set yourself up for disappointment *by not practicing*! Talk to your parents and your teachers – see if you can encourage them to meet your learning needs better, which will give you increased impetus to practice (enjoyably) every day. Not practicing just means you’re not getting better.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your point of view!

  5. These seem like great tips to help support my child learn to play the piano. I agree, having a piano in the house seems like the best way to help them learn how to play outside of the lessons they go to. It’s difficult learning to play the piano well without consistent practice throughout the week. Having their own piano to practice on every day is the only way that they’ll be able to remember their lessons and improve the way that they play.

  6. I played the piano as a kid and I absolutely loved it. Of course there were days where I didn’t want to practice, but every kid has those days. My oldest son loves it when I play the piano and he always says that he wants to learn how to play just like his dad. I think it is a really great skill to have, it teaches patience and seeing things through to the end. It would always drive me crazy whenever I couldn’t figure out how to play a certain piece and I would practice and practice until it was perfect. I am thinking about signing my son up for piano lessons here in Bronx, NY. Thanks for the tips.

  7. Thanks for sharing this article with us, Elissa! It’s very well-written and informative! I think you’re absolutely right: when you’re supporting your child through their piano lessons, you need to make sure that you’re never missing lessons. They can’t learn the piano, if they don’t go to the lessons; it’s simple! I’m enrolling my child in lessons next week, and I hope they’ll enjoy playing!

  8. I have had similar experiences for taking piano lessons. I like suggestions #2 and # 4. it definitely has to be an everyday thing for kids to be able to make that commitment. If they don’t have the commitment, then they won’t see it through long term. Also having music books makes it more interesting for kids to be able to pick and choose the songs they want to play. The suggestions you have provided are a great resource for anyone starting out or anyone who just needs a reminder.

  9. I played piano for 14 years and my kids are now beginning to take piano lessons as well. However, I do feel the need to correct one of the tips. It was mentioned that talking during the lesson was better than afterwards. I have actually had piano teachers discourage that as it interferes with the lesson. A good piano teacher will set aside 10 minute gaps in between the lessons so that they can discuss things with the parents or incorporate that into their lesson time frame. Another tip that I have personally for parents is to not force your child to do it. Yes, I played for fourteen years but I hated it for every moment of that. I was really good, even competitive level, but being forced to do it made it so when I finally quit that I quit for good. http://www.palombaacademyofmusic.com

    • Hi Raylinsutter

      I should clarify that I didn’t mean that parents should just interrupt the lesson while it was in flow, but rather that parents should be aware that when the scheduled lesson time is over the teacher will have another student to teach, or will have the time set aside for a dinner break or a bathroom break.

      Good teachers do NOT set 10 minutes aside between lessons for unpaid additional teaching/mentoring time, but they will make time outside of teaching hours for additional support for parents as required. If parents need weekly additional time for support it is appropriate to arrange for a longer lesson time…

      • I totally understand where you are coming from. When I did piano my parents really appreciated the piano teacher who made sure that there was a ten minute gap between each lesson. This was also because he would go longer than my parents were actually paying sometimes or he would want to sit down with my parents and let them know what to watch for while I practiced.

      • I can’t imagine any parent who wouldn’t appreciate getting a 33% extra value for money, whether they are buying a bed, a car or a piano lesson!

        Most piano teachers will teach the lesson for the time they say they will, and are quite happy to discuss issues with parents either *during* the time set aside for that student or at times when it is convenient for the teacher (i.e. not during their dinner break or when they need to use the bathroom, etc.). Most parents understand that they are signing up for the time they are signing up for, and don’t resent teachers giving them the time they’ve paid for.

  10. That’s a very nice information. In fact children must learn piano because it keeps them away from laying their ass in front of Television the whole day or those video games.

  11. True it is a big undertaking for your child to learn a instrument there will be times were he/she will say i quit and that’s fine don’t push them to play. give them some space and suggest they play in a couple of days or so.

  12. Love this a lot, just not sure if I buy the whole non-trying/commitment thing, but I think that’s just me speaking through the bias of my own personal experience. I chose to do a music degree after finishing high school, and it was something that I came in believing I could do, I didn’t come in ‘trying’ I came in committed, but after two years, and after coming to the startling realisation that my life had consisted of deadlines, nothing more but scholastic deadlines, I decided to take a break and do a gap year. In that time I studied to become a chef (so more deadlines, but not scholastic), worked in a kitchen, got a little private studio teaching job one day a week and this was all stuff that I ‘tried.’ I don’t regret doing any of this, if anything, I think I would have completed my music degree through gritted teeth had I stuck it out, or stayed on.

    Perhaps it’s just me talking more broadly, but isn’t life all about ‘trying’ and knowing what worked/what didn’t work? Three years is a long time and it’s quite a commitment. Lots of people don’t even know what is involved in this kind of commitment, of course, it makes sense theoretically, but viscerally, the idea of practice/frustration/commitment makes no sense – until you try it!

    • Absolutely agree, Rebecca! But there’s a big difference between trying something as a young adult and trying something as a young child – young children refuse many foods when first presented with them!! This is advice for parents supporting their *children* in the sense of not-yet-adolescents (think 5, 6, 7 and 8 year olds), not in the sense of 20-something-offspring collecting life experiences!

  13. Hi,
    My lil brother is 12, he has been playing piano for a year and half. He takes private piano lessons. I sometimes, sit in his lessons and he is amazing. But the problem is, making him practice. As he gets older, he doesn’t listens. I know he loves playing, and I do believe he is musically gifted, I just want him to practice. Can you please suggest some fun ideas to make him practice, please?

    • Hi Priya – very hard to make suggestions without knowing what is happening in the lesson. This is something to discuss with his teacher, and the strategies that will work for your brother might not be the same strategies that work for someone else at the same age and stage….

      Sorry to not be able to give you a simple answer!

  14. This posts reminds me when I was a kid and learning piano. However, I was lucky to have a brother and a mother who also played piano 🙂

    For adult students, do you think it is necessary to hire a piano teacher? Would it possible to learn at home by yourself?

    • It’s possible to make all kinds of discoveries on your own, as a child OR as an adult! The benefit of having a teacher is that you get one-on-one guidance as you go, which will prevent the development of poor use of the body, for example, and short-circuit misunderstandings of how to create the sounds you have in your imagination, etc. etc. Having a teacher SHOULD be a fast-tracking process! But you do need to make sure you connect with a teacher who has the skills to help you meet your goals…!

  15. This is amazing, information that is very useful for us. Children can become lazy when learning to play the piano. They quickly feel bored, but I never force them. Because they have to be able to focus on playing the piano. Sometimes I accompany them when I’m playing while playing the piano and making it more enjoyable. So they prefer to play the piano. clavis.nl

  16. Our son had three “choices” of activities……. and one of them was piano!!! Yes, I insisted that he take piano lessons. However, I never made the error of taking or sending him to a lesson unprepared. Practice was required and monitored to see that it was done. Therefore, he always had some success at every lesson. Success is the great encourager. Did he love it all of the time? No. Was he talented in playing the piano? No. Did he learn life long lessons and skills? Oh yes he did. When he came home wondering why those silly other basketball players in his school couldn’t dribble, I asked if he could think of anything else he could have that might make a difference. After some thinking he said, “Oh no. You don’t mean………………?”

    When he came home early on, saying the other boys thought he was a “sissy”, I mentioned that they were probably jealous that they didn’t get the opportunity………..and gave him permission to “clean their plow” if they gave him any more trouble!!!! He went off to college. He loved, ate, slept and dreamed basketball and made the college team. However, at the end of the year, he made the decision to not go out for the team again. He knew that he could continue being a part of the team but only at a great expenditure of time. He decided that there were other things that he should be experiencing during his college years. And this, after I had bought my purple suit to be the “Mother of the Star”!! Then on one of our long trips home, he asked if we would spring for a semester of piano lessons at the college. After recovering consciousness, I croaked out that we would be happy to do so! And then not too long after that on another long trip home, he jumped into the truck and said, “Hey Mom, I finally understand the circle of 5ths!!!”

    After a semester he moved on into a new direction in college. Those piano lessons yielded yet another great dividend, helping to bridge a gap when moving from one place in life to another. Returning to that old discipline gave him an anchor to move on from.

    Since those earlier days he has thanked me a number of times for “allowing” him to take lessons. He realized at last all of those other things like fine motor skills, discipline, being able to lead his congregation in singing hymns and simply enjoying the wonderful experience that music brings into life.

    The honest truth so help me God.
    Glenda Kernen

  17. I know this is an old post and my reply is long, but I wanted to share some thoughts. I agree with most of these, most of all #3, #10, and #15. The ones I strongly disagree with are #7 and #12. I understand the need to make parents aware that the teacher may not have time between lessons, but the last thing most parents need is encouragement to take up more of their child’s lesson time.
    My first piano teacher spent about 8 to 20 minutes of a half-hour lesson talking to my parents, and I was with her for years because my parents thought she was just so friendly and wonderful. I finally got a new teacher who generally did not allow parents in the lessons, and it was absolutely amazing. I finally had the freedom to learn without being watched and considered the 3rd most important person in the room. I realize not all teachers who allow lessons to be watched would put up with something like that, but parents often try to make each of their children’s activities a socializing event no matter how inappropriate to the situation.
    Why should a teacher provide the parent with “free tutoring” (often at the expense of the child) but get all offended at giving “unpaid additional teaching” by being asked a question at the end of the lesson?
    Also, most people I know who took piano lessons don’t play anymore and say something to the effect of “I wish my mum had let me stop learning the piano.” I agree with the bolded text of #8, but the rest does not explain initial statement or how to implement it but instead encourages parents to decide how their children feel over the overt actions of the child (another thing parents do plenty of without encouragement). Kids get distracted and discouraged, but if you have to tell your kid to practice “every day for a decade” and justify it with “you are the parent: you make the rules,” they don’t care enough to justify the cost of lessons.
    I think the things that parents most need to be made aware of are how to spot a bad teacher, that practice is not meant to sound pretty or be a performance, and that a child’s piano lessons are about the child not the parent. Like I said, many points I agree with, but I also think it is very misguided to *further* encourage today’s parents to talk over their children, take up time in their child’s activity, make their child’s activity about themselves, or push a particular activity on a child as retribution for the parent not getting to do it. I really don’t think those are the intentions at all, but they are the natural conclusions of #7, 8, & 12.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s