Helping my kids with practice

Posted by: Lawana

Helping my kids with practice - 03/09/08 11:46 PM

I notice that it has been a long time since anyone posted on this forum, but I'll try anyway. My daughter, 11, has been taking piano lessons for almost 4 years and is in PA book 4. My son, about to turn 9, has been taking lessons for 14 months and is in PA 2B. They both take 30 minute lessons from the same teacher. We place a high priority on piano, practicing faithfully 5 days a week. My own skill at the piano is limited, being at the intermediate level.

Each week they are assigned usually 2 pages in the Lesson book along with the corresponding pages in T&A(for 2B), Theory, and Performance. My son also gets occasional assignments from Gold Star Performance and Pop. Rep. The teacher circles some of the directions in the Lesson book, sometimes writes in counting for a measure, circles things like dynamic marks and repeats, but usually gives no verbal instructions or further written practice instructions. She did spend about 5 minutes going over eighth notes when they were introduced. At home, I sit with them while they practice, making sure they are playing the right notes with the right rythm and observing dynamics and articulation marks. When they go to the next lesson, they play the pieces for her, she makes a few suggestions or corrections, they play it again, it's passed off and the whole cycle starts over again.

My question is this. Am I helping them by being so actively involved, or am I taking over the teacher's function? When I've left my daughter to structure her own practice, she'll play through a piece once or twice, dawdle, play something she likes, but doesn't effectively move forward unless she really likes something. For example, she learned and passed off Medieval Fair (Perf. 4) in one week. My son is more goal oriented and will work at a piece until he gets it, but will make some note errors and doesn't always notice dynamic markings. With him my input is more limited, but it does allow him to pass off every piece every week. Does their continued progress justify my involvement? Or should I accept slower progress for my son and a much slower pace for my daughter in favor of letting them work it out on their own?

By the way, we homeschool and they are used to getting instruction from me. They both want me to be with them while they practice and I enjoy doing it. This may be a case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it," but my daughter is approaching the point where my technical knowledge ends.

Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this and especially if someone is able to help me with this issue.

Posted by: misslaluna

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 06:33 AM

First off I think any teacher would be happy to have you in their studio!

Since your kids are older, perhaps helping them once or twice a week instead of every day. You could still listen to their practice from another room.
Posted by: Arlene Steffen

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 11:11 AM

The teacher should know how much you are helping at home. Personally, I am always grateful when the parent can support what we are doing in the lesson. You are also able to help your child learn what practice really is. But so can the teacher.

However, since you observe that your children are getting little actual instruction in the lesson and you are getting to a point where your knowledge is limited, it may be time to find a new teacher. Turning the page and circling instructions is not teaching. IMO, your children need more.

The local music teachers association should have a referral service. It would be best to interview several teachers and make sure they know what you are looking for in a teacher.
Posted by: Momlady

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 11:31 AM

I have been teaching for 11 years and find that children want to stop lessons even before they finish the Primer Adventures. They don't want to practice is the usual reason. I have started using the idea of coloring a part of a picture each time they practice a segment or line three times perfectly. I found this idea in the "Practice Revolution".

It seems like there is this 'hump' that some children need to get over before they find the enjoyment of practicing and playing the piano. Do you have any suggestions? I hate to lose them so early.
Posted by: xstitch4me

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 12:06 PM

Lawana, I'd be thrilled to have you and your children in my studio! First if your daughter is 11 and only taken for 4 years and already in PA4 - that is terrific! It sounds like both of them are progressing at quite a fast pace. Each level usually takes about 9 months. We all wish parents were as involved in their children's practice sessions. I agree to gradually wean yourself out of their practice time. They do need to learn how to practice on their own. If you sat with them their first practice right after lessons and maybe again during the week, eventually, they'll do it on their own. Do you sit in during their lessons? If not, you really don't know what the teacher talks about with your children. If your children love piano and don't have complaints - I'd have to agree with "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Do they participate in festivals? That is also a great motivator.

Momlady, I've never had a student who wanted to quit even before they finish Primer level. If you've had this problem for 11 years, maybe you have to rethink how you're teaching them. I can't believe you're just unlucky and happen to get all of the students who hate piano and just don't want to do it. Do you watch any of Nancy's videos on how to teach that level? She's a wonderful role model. Perhaps, if you showed excitement about the lesson work, your students will pick up on it as well. Maybe you have too high of expectations on practicing at this point. I think we need to hear more about your teaching methods before we could make suggestions.
Posted by: Lawana

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 01:27 PM

Misslaluna and xstitch-
You both have a really good idea to limit my help to twice a week, the first day after the lesson and a few days after that. I don't actually sit in the lesson room because I have a baby and sibling in tow, but I am within earshot of the piano playing, though not the verbal stuff. I always ask what she said, but the reporting usually leaves something to be desired, especially by the 8 year old. I have brought up the issue of more instructions and that is when she started circling things.
And yes! they just participated in Jr. Festival. Dd got a "superior plus" rating and ds a "superior". They do two recitals a year, and used to play in church (we're in transition now). Dd especially is very motivated by performing.

I think that finding a new teacher will have to be our next step, though they both want to continue through the May recital.
When I do call teachers, how should I phrase my questions so that I don't come across as threatening their competence, or as an overly aggressive parent? It's kind of funny, because I'm not pushy at all in every other area. Is it common to have different teachers for siblings? My two kids are so very different and I think they would each respond better to different styles.

Thank you very much for the responces, they have been very helpful. And I would love to hear more.

Posted by: Arlene Steffen

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 01:46 PM

Well, reporting what went on during a lesson is not a skill most children have. If you are basing your decision on what the children are able to actually tell you, I'd think twice.

If they are producing well and seem to understand what they are doing, perhaps the teacher is fine! It would seem so. Very few children are self-directed enough to practice well on their own.

This week, I would schedule a conference with the teacher. You need to find out exactly what she expects from the children in their practice and how she addresses that during the lesson. Would she be willing to write down specific practice steps for them? Does she write down what the goals are for the pieces during the week? Air all of your concerns.

It could well be that her own learning style doesn't require that, but if your child's learning style does, then she needs to do it.

If you are not encouraged by her response, then start the search for a new teacher. Just be up front about what you are looking for in a teacher. Anyone worth their salt will offer to schedule an interview with you so they can go over their curriculum and policies. I think it's fine to have two different teachers, but don't discount the idea that one teacher can adjust to a different personality.
Posted by: luvslive

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 04:09 PM

Arlene, what you just said there seems to make the most sense. If the children are getting superiors at festival and moving forward at a nice pace with musical and accurate playing the teacher must be doing something right.
On the point of "written and verbal instructions" - I would think with younger children a lot of the teaching would be demonstration so while there may not be a ton of talking during the lesson perhaps the teacher is demonstrating proper technique, rhythm, phrasing, etc.
Sitting in on a few consecutive lessons would be the best way to see what is being taught. I also think that with only 30 minutes per lesson the teacher may have trouble finding the time to write out detailed instructions, especially at the level your daughter is of luck with your childrens' musical instruction, hopefully you can find the right balance of involvement!
Posted by: cecilly

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/10/08 11:33 PM

I haven't read all the responses yet, but what may be happening is that the novelty of lessons has worn off and the lessons, assignments, practice thing is becoming predictable and for some less exciting.

I find this to be the case, esp. when the reading demands grow more challenging for the student.

I also find that by the 2nd yr. of study, you can begin to easily see who's gonna stick it out and work their way over the hump, and which ones will eventually poop out and quit.

Now, I'll read what everyone else has said...
Posted by: eaHarris

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/11/08 04:18 PM

You might want to ask the teacher if you can bring a tape recorder to tape the kids' lessons. This way, she would not have to take lesson time to write out practice instructions, but you and your kids could listen to the tape at home to make sure that they're remembering to do everything the teacher said. Make sure the teacher does not feel as if you are trying to question her ability and "check up on her" by doing this, but that you just want to try to help your kids at home better.
Posted by: Lawana

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/11/08 10:27 PM

Thank you all for your input. The suggestions to schedule a conference and record the lessons are valuable, and I will remember them for future use. Considering everything, however, and there are other issues as well, I've decided that it is time to change teachers. Even though that is not the way I phrased my original post, I've realized that dissatisfaction with the current teacher was at the heart of the matter. I did not want, though, to come to a piano teachers' forum to complain about one of "you."

I called a different teacher today, and she said she provides detailed written instructions for practice. Her lessons are 45 minutes so that she does have time to write everything down. I will call some others also. I sure wish I knew back when we started with the first teacher which questions to ask.

I think PA is a wonderful program and I have learned a lot from these forums. It's great to have informed opinions to consider when making this decision. I hope you all won't mind if I ask for your experienced input in the future.

Posted by: xstitch4me

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/12/08 12:55 AM

I guess I'm confused. Apparently, there are issues you did not discuss because from reading your previous post, there doesn't seem a real reason for changing teachers. It sounds like she's doing a fabulous job with your kids but for some reason you are not happy. Sometimes, it's risky to change teachers when things are going well....good luck. I also don't think it's fair for a teacher to be expected to write down every little thing she goes over with the students. As a teacher, I wouldn't like to be tape recorded during each lesson either. If you feel there's a problem with the lessons you should be attending them. Maybe it's just that YOU expect too much. If what you said about your kids progress is true.....they're doing great and moving at a much faster pace than the average student. I seem to think it's more of a personal matter between you and the teacher and not necessarily her teaching methods. I'm also confused by your statement "I sure wish I knew back when we started with the first teacher which questions to ask." I haven't heard anything that would make me believe she's a terrible teacher. JMO
Posted by: Lawana

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/12/08 06:24 PM

Sorry to be confusing. Let me try to be a little more clear. My original post asked whether I was too involved with my kids practice.

From the time my daughter started lessons at age 7, I would sit with her while she practiced, because she was given a list of pieces with page numbers and no other written directions whatsoever. If dd was given verbal instructions about how to practice, they were not sufficient for a 7 year old to implement on her own. The one exception was when eighth notes were introduced. The teacher did spend time explaining and working on them. So dd would learn the pieces with my coaching, including me explaining new concepts, return to her lesson the next week, and play the prepared pieces for her teacher. I can't remember a single time when she went back without being able to play each piece with the correct notes, rhythm, articulation, and generally dynamics.

Since I was within earshot of the piano, I could hear that she would play each piece a few times, then go on to the next. Dd would generally be assigned on 5-9 pieces including theory, so playing the assigned pieces with whatever input the teacher gave and going over the theory assignment took up almost all the time. At the end of the lesson, the teacher would write down the next 5 to 9 pieces and the lesson would be over. On the few occasions that they would get through a little early, the teacher would have dd start on her next theory assignment. When I asked my daughter what the teacher said about the next pieces, she would say "nothing." It may very well be that she did say something about the upcoming pieces, but again it did not translate into meaningful information for dd. I didn't really think much about whether her teaching methods were lacking, because I enjoyed the practice time with my daughter.

At the year end recital, the teacher would give awards for passing off the most pieces, the outstanding student, etc. I was completely astounded that dd had passed off 175 pieces even though she had started part way into the year, and that the next highest number for any other student was 75. Dd also received the outstanding student award. I had no idea that what we were doing was in any way unusual, it just seemed like what needed to be done given that I wanted to see my daughter progress in her piano studies, as it was clear she couldn't really do it on her own. The teacher has a reticent personality, and there wasn't any communication from her about how she thought dd was doing.
Once the pattern of my helping dd was established, there didn't seem to be any reason to change it. Dd was doing well, she enjoyed playing and I enjoyed the time together. When it came time for ds to take lessons we just added him into the schedule and I helped him the same way I helped dd.
I should note that I had already taken my daughter through the first 2 books of the "Music for Little Mozarts" series, so she was reading notes from the staff before she started lessons. I took ds through all 4 books of the same series before he started lessons.
As time went by, I noticed that this teacher cycled through an awful lot of beginning students that stayed a year or less. Also, a good friend of mine started her daughters with this teacher about a year after dd started. Her older daughter, who was 8 at the time had been taking lessons since she was 4, and had completed Bastien level 1. She continued with Bastien 2, then the teacher switched her to PA 2B. She has been with this teacher now for 3 years, completing 2B in January of this year. So that was 3 years to complete Bastien 2 and PA 2B. The younger daughter, who was 6 at the time, was in the 2nd Bastien primer for young students. The teacher switched her to PA primer and she is currently about half way through PA level 1. So that was 3 years to complete the primer and half of level 1.
2 of her other students, now 9, are less than halfway through PA 1 after almost 3 years of lessons, though I happen to know that they get no support at home. She has 2 students (out of about 12) other than my 2 that are progressing at a decent pace, both of them being self-motivated, goal oriented personalities that seem to have a real aptitude.

One more thing then I'll stop belaboring the issue. For the May recital 2007, dd chose to perform Minuet in G from the PA 3B Performance book. She learned it, but it didn't sound very good- eighth notes uneven, tempo not even, she wanted to play it too fast. I decided to step back and let the teacher handle the issues. Each week for several weeks, dd played it for the teacher. The teacher instructed her to "practice with a metronome," which dd did, but it never really sounded any better. Finally, a week and a half before the recital I couldn't stand it any more. I had dd take it line by line, slow down to a rediculously slow tempo, and then once she could play it perfectly, gradually increase the tempo. Next lesson the teacher said it sounded much better and dd did a great job playing it at the recital.

I say this not to pat myself on the back, but as a way to explain that dd could indeed be doing so well even if the teacher wasn't doing that much to help. This teacher is really a nice person, plays beautifully herself, but doesn't seem to have much of a knack for teaching piano. We've gone with her this long precisely because the kids were able to progress. But now that dd's level is reaching the end of my competence, something has to change, hence looking for a new teacher. And, as I said in the original post, I really wondered whether the amount of help I was providing was in the best interest of my kids in the long run.

I apologize for not making myself clear. The process of writing it all out has helped me to recognize what all the issues really are. And for anyone who is still reading this interminable reply, thank you. And thanks again to those who took the time to make comments and suggestions.

Posted by: D'Net

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/13/08 12:35 AM

Do you have any desire to move to Mesa, AZ? I love teaching children with parents like you!

As to your questions, I don't think you were doing a disservice practicing that way with your daughter. It is because of you that your children are progressing at the rate they are.

I taught my daughter from 5-7. Just after she turned 8, I had her take lessons from a friend of mine who is a fantastic teacher. Half of the reason was for me to learn for her teaching, the other half for my daughter to have such a wonderful teacher. I still sit with her at her practice time, though. Even when her teacher goes over things with her, it's not always enough. The first day or two after her lessons I sit right next to her and help. The rest of the week I just have to be nearby to keep things on track.

As she grows and reaches the age of your daughter, I am hoping she will need me less, and can do a bit more on her own. If not, though, no big deal. We both really enjoy that time together, and at a certain point she won't need it as much anyway. I have to say, though, that I loved it when my parents listened to my practice time as much at 17 as I did at 7. Neither of my parents play any musical instrument, but I loved the fact that they cared about me enough to listen to me do something that was so important to me.
Posted by: misslaluna

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/13/08 03:17 PM

I will say this though - sometimes, as a teacher, we think a child knows what to do when they leave, and sometimes they don't. That's when it's up to the parent to let us know, "Hey, she got home with it and didn't remember or know what to do." Then, I know to back up. I have had this happen to me. I have learned that less is usually more when it comes to home practicing. What they remember and recall to do when they get home is very different from what they can produce under my coaching during a lesson.

That being said - if you have been helping your daughter, the teacher may not know that your daughter is not "catching on" to things. The teacher may have also come to the conclusion, "If it ain't broke don't fix it."
Posted by: Lawana

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/13/08 10:44 PM

D'Net- Thank you for your kind words. And misslaluna- I agree that the teacher probably accepted the status quo. With her personality and mine, a situation arose that seemed to work for a time, but now needs to evolve.
Even though changing teachers may seem like a way to avoid confronting the issues head on, I think a different teaching style and personality would suit us better at this point. The bottom line is that I want my children to have the best instruction I can find and afford, one aspect being a good fit. I want my children to love playing the piano, enjoy good music and develop a skill that will serve them a lifetime.
Posted by: pianoc

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/15/08 12:46 PM

After reading everyone's comments and then going back to Lawana's first question - she is really asking if her involvement is helping or hurting - and if she may be taking over the teacher's job.

It doesn't look like there is really any reason to be changing teachers, unless after you have a conference with the teacher and after observing several lessons, you discover that you really are doing all the teaching.

If the teacher is teaching - and your daughter still really likes you with her during her lesson - you may just adjust what you do with her. Just listen and enjoy. If something sounds off, just ask her to re-check what she did. You don't have to know what was wrong to do that.

The teacher should know about this change in roles for you, because she may be taken off guard when your daughter doesn't come with something as well prepared as normal. There's nothing wrong with this change, but the teacher will need to know why. It can clue her into what your child is understanding from her explanation and what your child is understanding from your reinforcement. It may slow the progress a bit, but it will also help your daughter become the independent player that we all want our students to become.

The main thing - in my opinion - is that both you and the teacher understand what each of you is doing and are OK with that.
Posted by: Ceil

Re: Helping my kids with practice - 03/15/08 08:37 PM

I just now found this thread, and want to toss in my two cents. First of all, Lawana, you are a piano teacher's dream parent! It's wonderful that you are so involved. Backing off somewhat will probably occur naturally as they get older. If your kids are welcoming your involvement, then I think it's O.K. As for the teacher, it sounds like she is doing well; the missing part is the listening to the lesson. I'd actually sit in on a few complete lessons before deciding about her.

Regarding comments about whether the teacher is teaching well if there aren't specific practice instructions written out, I know in my own teaching it varies with the student and with the assignment. Sometimes, their assignment books do only list the pieces assigned, and there might be items circled in their books. I think a circled crescendo in the score will be more noticed than a sentence in the assignment book to follow the dynamics. Also, I have students who "forget" to play a piece, and I always say that don't have to remember -- I write it down in their assignment book for them. If they don't look at it to see their assignments, they aren't going to see other instructions in it! Of course, this kind of thing also varies with the student. Which brings me to --

I find I'm less willing to feel completely responsible when students:

- don't practice
- don't practice carefully, following instructions
- don't do their theory
- decide they don't want lessons!!!

I have a mixture of students somewhere between Momlady's and xstitch's -- I have students who are dedicated and I've had for years, and I have students who don't make it out of Primer. I have students who practice faithfully and I have students who I feel haven't taken their books from their bag all week. I take neither the glory nor the blame for it all. I have parents who are very involved and I have parents who see this as another thing Precious is trying out -- and Precious won't have more than 10 minutes now and again for practice, and Parent certainly isn't going to make them!

With all of them, I do the best I can, and try to make it enjoyable. I also let them know that the more they do, the better they will like it. I've had students and parents I'd like to drop. I'd like to have only the 30 - 40 percent who really LOVE piano -- practicing and their lessons, but I have to be realistic, and keep all I can. Phew -- I feel better now.

edit -- I just reread some earlier posts and have a couple of more comments: I think I must have missed the part about the teacher not going over new assignments at all, but just writing the page numbers down. I do believe new pieces need to be discussed and played in the lesson before being sent home. If that is indeed all she does, then I would think about making a change.

Also, re: the part about the other student who was in Bastien 2 and PA 2B for three years: I have two students just like that, and I have many more that have flown through those books. Again, students vary; don't be too quick to blame the teacher because it takes however long it takes to complete a level.