The Impact of Piano Study on Family Life

The decision to begin music study should not be made on the spur of the moment or without considering a number of factors. Home music activities, such as practice, will be less problematic if everyone knows what to expect before lessons begin. A family conference is in order.

Cost

Tuition

The price of music study is significant and on-going, with tuition and books being only two areas of expenditure. If you rent an instrument, that cost is also continuous; if you buy one, that is a major investment.

The cost of the lessons themselves probably will be $100/month. For example, a half-hour lesson will cost you at least $10/week ($40-$50/month). Hour lessons are usually double the half-hour rate.

Expect to get what you pay for. This is true in piano study as in all else.

You also might pay substantially more than $100 for four half-hour lessons, depending on where you live and the teacher's credentials.

Cheap teachers are no bargain, I promise you. The lady down the block may be convenient and charge $7 per half-hour, but it's likely she has no degree and no training. She's flying by the seat of her pants, based on her own study. You have no way of knowing what *her* study was like until you see the effects of it on *your* child!

In particular, beginners need the best teacher you can find. Beginners of all ages, but especially child beginners, are *very* sensitive to poor teaching. The first teacher lays the foundation for study: both attitude and skills. (Don't we all want the very best kindergarten and first grade teachers for our childen? Some of us even arrive at the school before dawn to stand in line to sign up for the best teacher's class roster.)

Presumably music study probably is something you'll want your child to pursue for some years, so laying a good foundation is the most important thing you can do for your beginner.

Economies in teacher selection are extremely counter-productive. I urge you to select the best teacher you can, scrimping elsewhere if necessary to pay the teacher's fee. Select wisely. You won't regret it!

Materials

Books will average about $5/month. These purchases probably will not be spaced evenly through the year, so, in some months, materials will cost nothing, and other months the bill might be $20.

Initial materials will be about $20-$30.

Add $30-$50 if the teacher requests a metronome (he probably will).

Other Fees

Some charge registration, materials, computer lab, and/or recital fees above the monthly tuition payment.

Competition fees and master classes with a master teacher are always additional.

Time

You might find a fabulous teacher down the block, but chances are you won't. Expect to spend at least a half-hour each week in total drive time; probably it will be more like 45-60 minutes for both trips. This time is in addition to the lesson time. If there are group lessons, computer lab sessions, recitals, and other non-lesson activities, these require extra time (and sometimes more drive time if they are not on lesson day).

A one-day competition or master class will eat up the better part of a day.

Be sure you understand your financial exposure to the teacher. Ask if you not clear, or if the teacher does not mention if there are costs in addition and what they are.

Other Commitments

Consider not only your commitments but also your child's. If your daughter has Scouts on Monday, religious instruction on Tuesday, gymnastics on Wednesday, and soccer twice a week, will she be able to add a piano lesson *plus* the daily practice? How will other family member meet their scheduled obligations on lesson day? It is better to wait on lessons than to try to squeeze them into an already-full schedule. (Beginning lessons at a young age, before the child has so many different activities, is a good idea. This way music is "built in" to the child's life early. I really like the age of 4 to start. Many children 3 1/2 are ready, too. The youngest child I ever started with lessons was 2 1/2, but this was an exceptional child. One of her first questions to me was: "It there is infinity, isn't there infinity plus one?")

A good guideline for a child age 8 or less during the school year is: one activity besides piano lessons. As children grow older and learn to manage their time better, add an activity every other year. By the time the child reaches junior high and high school, he should be able to juggle several activities in addition to schoolwork and piano lessons.

Instrument

There must be an instrument for your child to practice on. If you do not own one, you must be willing to rent or buy one. Arranging to play the neighbor's or grandma's piano is an annoyance to everyone. Not having an instrument available also stifles the child's interest in playing--the inconvenience of having to go elsewhere to find a piano and not having it readily accessible for spontaneous bursts of enthusiasm and curiosity.

Where will you put the piano? It should not be in front of a window (the sun will beat in on it and the changes of temperature outside are not mitigated by the glass). The piano should not be near a source of constant humidity, such as a bathroom (shower!) or kitchen.

Will you rent or buy one? Will you consider an electronic keyboard as a "starter" instrument?

If you rent an instrument, budget $50-$75/month. Understand that these instruments will not be beautiful pieces of furniture! Their exteriors probably will be in pretty bad shape (but the working parts and the instruments' sound should be acceptable; if not, keep looking before you plunk down your money). If the prospect of having a klunker in your living room on a long-term basis doesn't do much for you, examine rent-to-buy arrangements. The best kind is where your rental payment (all or partial) will apply to any piano in the dealer's showroom, *not* just the one you presently have in your home.

No matter whether you rent or rent-to-buy, there probably will be an extra charge for delivery. A tuning may be included in the up-front fees; ask.

To rental or purchase costs, add about $120/year for twice-annual tunings. Used instruments may require additional outlay for repairs. If you rent, read the contract carefully to see who is responsible for repairs other than tuning and who pays the shipping costs between your home and the store.

Quiet Time

Your child should be able to practice in peace so he doesn't have to struggle to concentrate. Practically speaking, a piano cannot be moved, so people in the family will have to vacate the piano room. Before lessons begin, family members must agree to honor practice time by taking themselves elsewhere.

Since the piano is also a piece of furniture, it is often placed in the den, family room, or living room - - which is also the location of the family computer, stereo set, or TV. The family should agree beforehand that they will leave the piano room without a fuss, no matter what they're doing, when practice time comes. (This is just one reason a regularly-scheduled practice time is a good strategy.)

Having said that, let me stress that a parent should plan to sit on the bench with the student through about age 8. Then the parent should plan to sit in the piano room. At about age 10, the child should be able to practice "alone," but a parent should be within earshot. Many children do not continue in piano study because they are "left" in the piano room by themselves. They refuse to practice or do so with the greatest (and voiced) reluctance. I cannot stress enough that a parent must be present in the room with the child, and usually right on the bench. Do not pressure the child to "let you go." Let him decide when he doesn't you "now." You will never say, "How I wish I had spent less time at the piano with my child!" Be sure you understand the assignment before leaving the studio, particuarly what the teacher expects you to do - - or what you may do to further learning at home if there isn't a specific thing the teacher would like you to do.

MOre on this topic in this

A Regularly-Scheduled Practice Time

Another activity for the pre-lessons family conference is to select a practice time. Home practice will go much more smoothly for all when everyone knows when to select quiet activities or be elsewhere. Everyone's preferences should be considered so that the time selected will be acceptable to all. If one parent wants to watch the 6:00 p.m. news, then the other's idea that practice go on in the living room while dinner is being prepared will not work. The child can practice in the morning before school, or the new can be watched at 7:00 or the 6:00 program be taped to watch later. Many families find that practice time for one child is an ideal time for schoolwork or story time for the others.

Children make the best progress if they practice every day, and a regularly-scheduled time facilitates this.

School-aged children do very well with practice if they complete it as soon as possible after they arrive home from school. I suggest the following schedule to my elementary students: have a snack (15 minutes), do any homework (30-60 minutes), and then turn to practicing (about 30 minutes). This leaves plenty of time to play. There will be days, of course, when there is no homework; playtime will be longer. There also will be occasional days when there is more than 60 minutes of schoolwork; playtime might evaporate altogether. Practice is next in importance after schoolwork. Discuss this in advance with your child to make sure his commitment to music study extends this far.

The schedule system teaches the child to take care of responsibilities before play begins and to learn to manage his time effectively. If he uses time wisely in class, he usually can be assured he has a small amount of homework to do at home; if he fritters away his class time, he will lots to finish when he arrives home and thus will be left with no playtime before dinner because practice comes right after homework.

If you have been careful not to start lessons unless your child is interested in them, the child is pledged to his music study, too, and is willing to make the occasional sacrifice of playtime to carry out his commitment.

Junior high and high school students generally have fairly solid self-discipline. Their predicament is lack of time. Sports, after-school clubs, hobbies, jobs, and hanging out with and telephoning friends, pose the practice problems. If the traditions of a set practice time and responsibilities-before-play have been established in earlier years of piano study, only a bit more ingenuity will be required to get everything done since older children also have later bedtimes.

If there is more than one music student, scheduling becomes more difficult, but never impossible. Work out a compromise.

Attitude

In your family conference, make it clear to all family members that music study will required effort on everyone's part. At times, there might even be inconvenience. Someone has to drive the child to lessons, to the music store, and to other music activities. Someone might have to assist actively with practice. The money has to come from somewhere, probably at the expense of something (or someone) specific. Furniture may have to be moved. The daily schedule must be arranged so there is quiet during practice time.

Solicit a positive attitude from all family members. For example, an older brother or Father should not chide your young son about his desire to study music. A younger sister should not nag her older sibling to come play when your daughter is trying to complete her practice. The music student will have plenty of obstacles. Others' behavior shouldn't be one of them.

I find it very useful to refer to home practice as "playing the piano," not "practicing."

Lead by example. Telling your child he must agree to play the piano every day is not enough. *Demonstrate* to him that you, too, have good habits: you exercise daily, you practice daily, and so forth.

Music study is not a fairy-tale undertaking. At times things will be tense. At times it will be difficult to find the time to practice. Money might be tight. Call another family conference whenever necessary to iron out the problems. As an adult, your child will thank you many times over for making music study available to him.

You also may be interested in the article on helping your child practice and one specifically about your business dealings with the teacher.

copyright 1996-2003, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.


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