Set Up For Success

Published on 9 December 2022 at 11:30

So, we have talked about creating an expectation of daily practice in your home (with flexibility for a day or two off per week which I think is really important to prevent practice becoming a chore that must be done every single day for the rest of your life!!! ARRGGGHHH!!!!)  Now we need to set your child up for success so this can actually happen with the minimum of fuss.


1 - The first requirement is kind of obvious - that is, for your child to have an instrument to practice on!  What might be less obvious however, is that the quality of that instrument will quite often impact the amount of time the child wants to spend at it.  Now I am not saying you have to go out and buy a grand piano, however a piano that is not in tune or has keys that stick is not enjoyable to play.  Neither is an electric keyboard that doesn’t have all the keys the child needs, is not touch sensitive (ie, the volume will remain constant regardless of how hard they press the keys, therefore they cannot practice dynamic contrasts), and has keys that are not weighted which means they will struggle to play on the piano at their lessons as they won’t have developed the appropriate touch and muscle strength to cope with the heavier keys.


With technological advances however, there is now a huge array of digital pianos (either portable or non-portable) that fill all these requirements and will set you back about $1000.  I have personally just invested in a Roland PF90 which was more like $3000 because as a piano player I wanted something that felt as much like a piano as possible. This instrument will mostly be used for my children to practice on so they can actually practice after school rather than always having to be up at the crack of dawn to get their turn on the piano before mum hogs it all afternoon and evening with students!  And with us leaving the house at 7am 3 days a week for their various choir and band rehearsals, it just wasn’t realistic anymore.


Now what about that cheap give-away piano you found on gumtree that “just needs tuning”?  Firstly, it would cost several hundred dollars to move it and then another $170 or so to get it tuned. Tuning needs to happen at least once a year. If it hasn’t been tuned for several years, it is unlikely to hold its pitch. Also, older pianos can have other issues and need restoration so it can be a risky endeavour. I would prefer a student to have a quality digital piano rather than a substandard piano and for a lot of students they quite enjoy the extra features that come with a digital, like being able to record yourself and experimenting with different sounds.   If finances can stretch to a couple of thousand dollars, I would recommend looking at refurbished brand-name pianos sold in reputable music shops.


2 – The second aspect to consider is WHERE the student is going to practice.  From my vast treasure trove of “I couldn’t practice because…”, comes several comments that go something like this:


I couldn’t practice because:

  • My brother / sister was playing the piano, flute, trumpet, etc when I wanted to play
  • My mum/dad told me to stop playing because they wanted to watch the news.
  • I was practising but mum said I had to stop because it was now time to go to school / bed / do homework
  • Whenever I practice my brother/sister tells me to stop because it’s annoying them.


This topic is not just about WHERE to practice but also WHEN to practice.  If you have a room in the house that can house the piano and just the piano, fantastic!  There is no competition apart from other piano players in the house, in which case you need to work out a schedule (Sidenote: it’s amazing how many students only ever want to practice when their sibling is already on the piano!).  But if you don’t have the luxury of that space and the piano is in the living room, again it’s about working out WHEN you can practice that will minimise the impact on the rest of the family.  If you have a digital piano, invest in some cheap headphones and the problem is solved!


If you play a portable instrument like a flute, violin, cello, tuba, you’re in luck!  You can practice in any room in the house!  Even the bathroom!  We are fortunate to have a very long house.  I teach in the front of the house. My daughter practises her flute in her bedroom which is the middle of the house.  My son plays the trumpet…..his room is also in the middle of the house …..that’s not going to work as it’s too loud for him to practice while I’m teaching and/or she’s practising the flute.  So, he practises in MY bedroom at the far end of the house!  Yes, we have his trumpet stand, music and trumpet all set up in the master bedroom. You gotta do whatever works right?!  And the new digital piano is in the living room which headphones handy – an essential element as we have already taken over the rest of the house and my long-suffering non-musical husband needs to be able to escape somewhere!


In summary, we expect parents to support the student’s practice efforts but at the same time, as music students we need to be aware of the impact we have on others in our family (and our street/neighbourhood!) and plan times and spaces to practice to minimise that impact.


Our third instalment will tackle what is probably foremost on your minds… do I get my child to actually practice without me having to crack the whip every day??!   Stay tuned!............

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