In thinking about the students in my studio this year, I became more aware of the stages that are encountered in studying music or really any discipline for that matter. I realized that some of my students who used to be “beginners” have now progressed to “intermediate” and those who used to be “intermediate” are now moving into “advanced.” This is all very obvious, but what I want to draw out from this is how these transitions affect you, the parent. Each part of this musical journey has its rewards and challenges and if you as the supporting parent are expecting the changes then they will not catch you by surprise.
The beginning phase of learning a new skill is always exciting and generally it does not take much effort to encourage the practicing. Parents will often feel so pleased as the child wants to go and practice and they don’t have to remind them! We can all enjoy the “honeymoon” period but what you as a parent can capitalize on during this phase is to create the routine, the structure, the habit if you will, so that the enthusiasm is channeled within a framework of habit that will be in place when some of that excitement wanes. You can also say things like, “you will continue to improve as you spend time daily doing your assignment,” or “isn’t practicing fun because we improve when we practice something!” At this point your child will agree with you that practicing is fun!
In the intermediate phase, the thrill of newness has worn off but there is something else that is positive to take its place- skill. The intermediate student can read more fluently, they understand a great deal about music and they are beginning to play pieces that sound more impressive. All of that can be very satisfying. However, it is in the intermediate level that the most number of students give up and quit. Practicing becomes a chore and parents weary of the constant reminder to get to the piano and practice. What can parents do to weather this season of learning and encourage their child to keep going? The most important contribution a parent can make at this stage is to create a daily schedule for practicing. Decide with your child at the beginning of each week when they will practice on each day during that week. Making those decisions ahead of time will make the implementation much easier. The power is in the decision. Also, make sure you as a parent continue to take an interest in your child’s practicing and progress. Working alone can be just that- lonely, and kids need encouragement that what they are doing matters to you as their parent. Families are very busy, but if a student feels like no one really cares about what they are doing, then it will make it harder for them to want to keep going. Have your child play for you, attend a piano concert with them, encourage them to play for relatives when they come over. All of those things will tell your intermediate student that you are with them in their endeavor and will encourage them to keep going.
In the advanced level of learning one begins to reap the results of all the years that have gone before. The advanced student is able to play more advanced music and understand the complexities of interpreting that music. Their skills have continued to advance and it is satisfying to be able to play something that years before seemed unattainable. So what are the challenges in this level? One of the challenges for the advanced student is to be willing to use their skills to master a piece of music. For many advanced students it is easy to become satisfied with just being able to play it through and to not fully explore all that the music is communicating. It is easy for parents at this level of student to also be satisfied with what they are hearing because it sounds pretty good! What parents can do is to ask about the music and dialogue with their child about what he/she understands about the music. Also, listening to master performers or attending concerts can expand the expectations of both the child and the parent. At this age, students are usually exploring many other activities at school and parents can be of great help in not letting their child get over-booked. Learning to make hard choices of how to spend one’s time is an extremely valuable lesson, and parents can help by teaching that one should only take on activities that can be supported with integrity. We live in a society that wants instant gratification, even though we all know that things gotten instantly are also forgotten about as fast. Whether it is working on a long-term project at school, writing a lengthy paper, or learning a complex piece of music we want to encourage our children to go the distance, be thorough, explore every nook and cranny, and be satisfied that everything was brought to bear on the project. That kind of work brings deep and lasting satisfaction and a life well lived.