As a teacher I find that having the support of the parents or guardians is crucial for helping students make progress. We only get a short amount of time to spend with the child in their lesson and what happens in between lessons can really help determine which direction we go on our musical journey.
As a child I started learning how to play the trumpet at age 11. I had group lessons at school and when I was 12, joined the local training brass band and was given a cornet to play. I can’t quite remember how old I was when I started losing interest but it would have been around the age of 12 or 13. I’m not sure why I was losing interest but I do remember, being a shy child that I always felt nervous going to 1-1 lessons and on the edge of being sick before performances! I also found practice on my own at home quite boring.
So my mum said that she was going to pick up a brass instrument again (she had played before she had children but had a long break from it). I had a practice partner with me at home and someone who would come and sit with me at training band rehearsals. I know that the support of my mum gave me the confidence to keep going.
I’m not saying that parents have to start to learn how to play an instrument too (although that would be great!) but taking an interest in what the child has been asked to practice each week really helps. Some parents are completely honest and say “I would like to be able to help my child with their practice but I don’t know how!” So here are 5 tips that you can use to help your child, even if you don’t have a lot of musical knowledge.
1. Sit in your child’s music lesson
From time to time come and watch part or all of your child’s music lesson. You will be able to see and hear what the child is learning and what the teacher is asking your child to focus on at home. I always encourage my students to bring a diary to the lesson where I write down key points to work on at home but it helps for you as a parent to hear me explain these things now and then.
2. Record your child playing a piece
Get into the habit of recording your child playing their music. It doesn’t have to be a complete piece. I would suggest recording a piece when they are beginning to learn it, then keep recording as the weeks go on. That way you and your child can see clear progress being made over time.
Everyone loves a good flashcard. Write the names of scales or chords on a flashcard and use them to test your child playing them from memory. You could even use flashcards for theory: write note names and values on the flashcards and use them to play rhythm and pulse games or simply to test their meaning.
4. Give feedback after a rehearsal
Talk to your child about their playing. Tell them what you enjoy hearing (“I liked how you played it quietly at the beginning and loudly in the middle”) and what you think they need to work on. If you’re not sure how to help them improve then maybe by pointing it out they could ask their teacher for help in the next lesson.
5. Help your child to fill in their practice diary
If your child has a practice diary you could sit at the end of their practice and help them to fill it in. Maybe they could have a reward chart and you could give them stickers or something they like for completing a set amount of rehearsals in a week. Children need motivation and you could be the person that really drives this.
I hope these 5 tips help you to feel like you play a part in your child’s musical journey. I can guarantee that even you only have time to sit in one practice a week that they will feel supported and motivated to keep moving in the right direction.