Practice Suggestions for Parents of Music Students - Christie Chiles Twillie


Many families enjoy making music and having music as part of their daily lives. Most parents enroll their children in lessons in hopes that they too will develop an appreciation for music. Over time and as lessons progress, patience becomes a crucial part of the student’s progress. Learning how to produce a good tone, to play the instrument with good technique and how to practice in a very un-stressful manner determines the level of musicianship the student will achieve. For parents, observing the last 10 minutes of lessons and speaking to the teacher after the lesson ends is a great benefit for their student. Observing and speaking to the teacher helps parents understand their student’s most recent accomplishments and their current challenges. Even more importantly it allows them to relate to the student’s lesson experience and enables them to be supportive of practice between lessons.

Accomplishments and challenges are the focus of each student’s weekly practice. During the week, songs and technical practice will be their primary focus. Usually students only want to practice songs they enjoy and perform well. The more challenging aspects of practicing receive very little attention if any. Every student needs a confidence boost to understand that soon the more difficult pieces will be easy. Even though teachers encourage students during their lessons, they quickly lose confidence when they must practice alone.

How can parents tell when their children need a musical confidence boost? The most noticeable traits are: 1) when the student performs the same songs over and over again and 2) when he/she practices less or stops practicing completely. For now and until the time that the student is truly confident, the parent must act as a “secondary teacher.” The term secondary teacher differs greatly from “music teacher.” Parents should not be responsible for teaching the music. Their role is to be available for emotional support and to reaffirm that being patient and working slower and in shorter increments of time is the best way to make progress. The emotional support from a parent can begin a few by following the easy suggestions listed below.

Schedule music into your daily lives.

  1. Print practice labels and place them on the family calendar and student’s school planner.
  2. Pick two days per week to sit and listen to the student play after dinner. Ask your student to perform 3 songs. Place the difficult song in the middle of the selections. Applaud for the student after they finish and give helpful comments that reflect musical growth.
  3. Keep a notebook for your teacher and ask the student, “What kind of notes should we write for your teacher this week so they can help?”

Identify simple tasks to promote progress and confidence.

  1. Sit with your student while they write counts into their music.
  2. Tap the rhythm hands separately and hands together. Let them be the teacher by asking them to show you how to tap the rhythm.
  3. When you listen, make sure they are playing/singing in complete musical ideas. Ask them to stop and play slower if there are lots of pauses and breaks in the music.

Locate the challenging places in the music and simply how to practice this section. The would be defined in the students music by the teacher.

  1. Isolate a single idea
  2. Figure out the names of the notes
  3. Figure out the rhythm and how to count
  4. Identify the range in which the notes occur
  5. Play expressively

When parents provide these kinds of emotional support, we [music teachers] see a significant difference in the student’s confidence and musicianship. In case you are wondering if it’s necessary to talk and ask the student questions, the quick answer is no. Students don’t want to feel incapable and often a barrage of questions results in their becoming upset, wanting to quit, and they’re not asking for help when they need it. In regard to the “I want to quit scenario,” my advice for parents is that they don’t let the student stop lessons. It is crucial that both teachers and parents teach students that there will be peaks to climb before we reach a plateau and their studies become easy again. This is a natural part of learning not a reason to give up. After the student masters the concept that was causing them anxiety, joke with them about “how they thought that was so hard and they would never be able to do it.” By laughing together it confirms that they should always believe in themselves because they can conquer any challenge when they use their practice time effectively.