“If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there.”
- Parents: Those who haven’t studied an instrument should consider specific purposes and time frames for having their children take lessons and prioritize where music lessons will fall among other activities and responsibilities. This will be especially important in dealing with the practice issue, where daily negotiations will wear parents down and the benefits of lessons will go by the wayside. Is music viewed as an optional hobby or a fundamental academic/life activity?
- Expectations: Most parents have expectations about what they want their children to accomplish in lessons. Most don’t expect their children to become professionals, but would like to see steady progress, musical growth and benefits in other areas arising from the discipline of daily practice. Some parents are set on a classical course of study, others would like a mixture of classical and popular pieces. Some parents want their children to participate in the standard testing available (e.g., Royal Conservatory). Decide and write down thoughts as part of your musical “roadmap” and once or twice a year measure and discuss progress with your child and teacher.
- Time frames: It takes about 8 years for a pianist to play at an advanced level, so it’s important for families to consider a strategy for lessons and manage time and expectations accordingly. For example, a student starting in first grade might be required to continue until 5th grade when the student switches to another instrument. Leaving the decision up to the child about whether they continue to play is like letting them decide if they want to do their math homework (in most cases, it won’t get done). If piano is considered a hobby and practice isn’t a daily requirement, then group lessons might be more more appropriate. If the student really dislikes piano and practice, it’s best to find another instrument or pursuit.
- Prioritize: Music lessons must be prioritized among other activities to minimize daily negotiation about practice time and to resolve conflicts with sports and social activities. Progress will depend on the priority associated with practice time and a consistently enforced penalty at home for non-compliance (e.g., no playdates or computer time) along with periodic recognition for good results. If lessons are once a week and students consistently skip practice 4 days a week due to other activities, there’s no point in continuing lessons. There is a significant financial investment in lessons and an instrument; an equivalent investment in regular practice time is the third cornerstone for a good musical education.
- Adult Students: Most adult students begin lessons with an agenda: to pick up where they left off as a child, to be able to play their favorite tunes from a fake book, to finally tackle that Beethoven Sonata that they love, to learn chords, to learn to compose, to play fast, to have a brain booster and more. Practice time and lesson frequency for adults is tailored to individual needs.
- Other instrumentalists and singers: Often piano study is required for students studying other instruments. Usually these students aren’t required to play advanced repertoire, but they are expected to have a thorough understanding of key signatures, scales, chords and basic sight reading so that they can work on their own repertoire or in ensembles.
Once these macro issues have been considered, the search for a teacher can begin. Interviewing other parents and teachers about their music lesson strategy/philosophy will help in developing yours. Often location is the top priority because of time constraints. It’s helpful to have an initial introductory session to see if you connect with the teacher. If you would like to do a trial period, make sure it’s long enough to accomplish something; one or two lessons are unlikely to make a difference.