When your child begins lessons, the child does the piano-playing, but -you- make a commitment of time, energy, and money. Here are some tips which will help you realize the greatest reward from your investment.
Obviously, this is the first step!
Your child needs contact with and input from the teacher on a regular basis. Put the lesson on your calendar every week. If a holiday or something else intervenes that makes it "feel like today's not Tuesday," your calendar will remind you that it is. If your child has a calendar, help him enter lesson days on it. Between the two of you and two calendars, you should be well covered!
Teachers will not give you "make up minutes" at the end of the lesson if you are late, even if another student is not waiting for her lesson. Nor will there be an adjustment in fee. It is your responsibility to allow plenty of time for traffic, bad weather, etc., so you arrive at the lesson on time - - or forfeit time you missed.
Arrive no more than one or two minutes before lesson time (unless the teacher has specifically asked you to do otherwise). If you have timed it correctly, the previous student will be packing books, and your child can unpack his so everyone is ready to go at the appointed hour. If you do arrive early, go to the waiting area.
If you need to drop off your child early or pick her up late in order to "make connections" for a dentist's appointment or such, call the teacher and ask if this is acceptable. Don't just do it without permission. The teacher is not in the child care business, but most will be happy to help you keep your child safe in their homes if given notice and first asked whether this is ok (the teacher may have a rehearsal, meeting, or dentist's appointment).
When the teacher requests materials, ask when the books are needed and buy them promptly. Normally, teachers will give you two weeks' notice for a purchase, but sometimes the teacher forgets or a new problem crops up at the lesson which the teacher would like to address immediately at the second lesson. In these cases, please try to get the book right away.
Your local music store probably will mail the book to you if you call and give a credit card number.
If the teacher lists a book by title, get that book and no other. Usually this is not a problem, as books have unique names.
If, however, it is more of a generic book (Mozart sonatas, Hanon exercises) and the teacher specifies an edition, buy only that edition and no other, even if the music store clerk assures you that the edition he is holding in his hand is equivalent. If the teacher didn't care, he would have told you to buy any edition. (There is -great- variability in quality of scholarship and clarity of printing, which is why teachers usually specify which publisher you should select when several houses offer the same music.)
It is always a good idea to double check with the teacher to see if there is a specific edition he desires, even if he doesn't mention this.
If there is any question or if the edition the teacher requested in not in stock, do not make the purchase. Music is not returnable. Instead, call the teacher that evening for clarification. You may be told to buy another edition. If not, put the other one on order.
Unless the teacher says it's perfectly ok for the child to have a digital piano or an electronic keyboard at home indefinitely, make a real piano available to your child as soon as possible. You want your child to play the piano, yes? A digital piano and an electronic keyboard are different animals. True, all have keyboards (accordions and carillons also have keyboards!), but the touch is very different and the ability to do certain pianists techniques is different on them all (and not possible on some!).
A digital piano is expensive, so it should -not- be considered a half-way stop. An electronic keyboard (usually with 66 keys instead of 88), also called a synthesizer or synth, is far less expensive, and most teachers will say it's ok for starting lessons. (To my beginners, I say 6 months, maximum. The synth is great to take to the mountain cabin or to Grandma's house, whether you go over the river and through the woods or not!)
If you aren't ready to buy an instrument, rent one.
Twice a year, your piano should be "given a tune up." Literally. Your piano will need tuning twice a year. Actually it will need tuning more than that - - usually at each season change - - but most parents cannot afford piano service this often!
You may not think that your piano needs tuning, but it does. You're just "used to" how it sounds.
Your piano may need other maintenance, too. You wouldn't drive a car 100,000 miles without a tune-up, but some people think nothing of letting a piano go 5 years without service! The longer you let a piano go, the harder it is to get it "running correctly," and thus the more expensive it is to bring it back to proper working order.
Likewise, you wouldn't ignore it if your child's computer produced a K every time she pressed the E key!
Don't make your child "fight" the instrument in addition to learning how to play it!
You can find registered technicians and piano tuners in your phone book (or ask the teacher for a recommendation). Registered technicians have passed very rigorous exams to earn this distinction, and naturally they are more expensive than someone who calls herself "a piano tuner." Expect $50-100 for a tech's visit, depending on where you live; a tuner will charge less, but, really, not a whole lot less (call around and see).
I always advise my students to go with a tech. Cheap isn't the way to go on your piano. You wouldn't ask the person who processes your credit card purchase at a self-service gas station to fix your head gasket! Education commands a higher fee. And your instrument is a sizeable investment.
This is particularly important in arranging make-up and rescheduled lessons. Things will go smoothly if you follow the rules the teacher has set up.
If you are in doubt about how to handle a situation, call the teacher and ask at least 24 hours beforehand.
Your child will need your assistance with time management, especially a young child or a beginner (or both!). Help him make piano playing (I prefer this term to "piano practice," which smacks of drudgery) a regular part of every day. Choose a time of day and make it a routine activity; select a time for weekend days, too. Split piano time in two part if needed (before school and after), which is particularly good for young ones (pre-school through second grade).
Make sure the home is conducive to piano playing when the time comes. This is a great time for siblings to do homework. This way, the musician is assured that "something cool" isn't going on elsewhere in the house and he is missing out while at the piano.
This may be on-the-bench time with your child, or it may be playing music games, listening to weekly "recitals," and so on. It also may be keeping-company time while your child plays; you read, balance the checkbook, etc. (Don't offer suggestions or point out errors unless your child asks for your input. These activities are the teacher's domain and why you hired him!)
Check in with your child after the lesson. What did the teacher say? What went well? What needs more work (rather than "did not go well")? Celebrate successes with "family parties." Did the lesson go especially well? Let the child choose the dinner menu for the next night or get two servings of dessert on lesson night.
I ask my students to play each element of the new assignment one time only before bedtime on lesson day. This cements the new knowledge and refreshes the discussion we had about each lesson item, which makes practice the next day much more productive. If the teacher does not ask your child to do this, institute it as a tradition in your family. Call it a "lesson day recital" and have the other parent "attend."
Teachers will be delighted to know your interest in the child's musical education extends so far that you want to know what else you can do to further it! There may be nothing, but if you ask there may be something more than you are currently doing.
Note: The teacher also may ask you to distance yourself, especially from a student of several years' study. Be prepared for this, too. For example, as noted above, if you are calling out corrections from your home office as the child practices in the living room, this is probably detrimental, even though you mean it to be useful and are doing it out of love.
Pay on time, in full, and don't write bad checks! (That last one was meant in jest. No parent knowingly kites a check!)
copyright 1999-2003, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.