Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano

The number one motivator to practice is learning music you like.  I seek out music that students enjoy and I encourage them to bring their favorites to lessons.   Often, they find music on their devices.  Bring it in, we'll figure it out.  At the same time, I normally start beginners in a method book because it allows me to incrementally teach them how to play the piano.  They typically like the music, but not all of it.  We skip the pieces they don't like.

Learning to play the piano is a lot like learning to read.   Think about how patient you were listening to your child sound out letters, then words and eventually start putting together sentences.   I bet you set aside time every day to read.   I encourage you to do the same with piano.

Collaborate with your child to find a good time of day to practice.  Earlier in the day is usually better.  Schedule it just like homework, activities and dinner.  Aim for seven days a week, expect at least five. The brain needs that daily repetition to learn.

Sit with your child at the bench or nearby during practice for the first year or so.  After that, keeping checking in.  Ask questions.  Be supportive.

Practice makes permanent.  How we practice is how we play.  Even the untrained ear hears repeated errors.  Encourage your child to slow down, focus on a small section and play it correctly three times in a row.

Keep exploring!  Piano isn't just the written score.   All the great composers improvised.  We are creators of music. 

Piano is different from most other activities. 

In sports, kids practice together with a coach a couple times a week with a game on the weekend.  Practice lasts 1-2 hours.  You wouldn’t consider routinely skipping practice and just showing up for the games.  Please don’t do that with piano.  You're setting your child up to fail.

How much should a student practice?

  • First year: 10-20 minutes/5-7 days a week
  • 2nd year: 15-30 minutes/5-7 days a week
  • 3rd year+: 30 minutes or more/5-7 days a week
  • Important: practice increases as music becomes more complicated and requires more time to learn

When you see children playing extremely well within just a few years of lessons, you can assume they efficiently practice 45-60 minutes a day.

Many parents are under the misconception that practice should come naturally.  When a child complains about practice or doesn’t practice without reminders, parents may think their child should quit piano because they don’t like it. Often, the problem lies with the fact that practice is not scheduled.  Can you imagine not scheduling dinner and hoping for the best?  Students often practice ineffectively as well.  They practice too fast or they play through the whole piece with repeated mistakes instead of practicing.   Practice requires slow, focused and correct repetition of small sections.   Once a section is played accurately slowly at least three times in a row, it can be incrementally speed up.  Gradually, the small sections are connected like a jigsaw puzzle into music.  Practice should be peaceful and engaging.   "Don't practice until you get it right.  Practice until you can't get it wrong." (Author unknown) It pays off when children become competent pianists and gain the ability to play well.  We wouldn’t dream of letting our children quit reading books because it’s not their thing.  Don’t give up!  How long does it take a child to learn to read well?  That’s how long it takes a child to learn to play the piano well.

All pianists have days they really don’t want to practice.  Take a day off, but dig back in the next day.  Sit on the bench and begin.

Encourage your child to enjoy the sound of the piano.  Soak up the beauty of playing a string of notes slowly and musically. 

Learning the piano is a skill worth building.  Students gain self-esteem and self-confidence when they work hard and achieve the ability to play the piano.  Before long, students will have pieces they love to play.  As they play those over and over again, remind them that practicing new music will lead to the same sense of enjoyment and accomplishment.