Helping out with piano lessons - Ideas for parents, teachers and students

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:41 am

Many people think that piano lessons just involve the teacher and student showing up for lessons once a week. In fact, there is a lot more involved for everybody. Of course, most people realize that students must practice and that parents must provide an environment conducive to success. However, a complete lesson experience involves much more for the teacher than simply teaching the lesson and suggesting repertoire.

An involved teacher will often run student competitions, hold regular studio concerts, put some students in master classes, give extra preparation time to students participating in such events, arrange studio trips to concerts, teach music appreciation courses "on the side" as an unpaid service and provide other extras in a hundred different ways. These extras involve considerable time and money commitments for the teachers, all of which are often unpaid.

That said, what can parents and students do to help the teacher provide these extras? As a teacher, what extra help would you like to have from parents and students? As a student, what would you be prepared to do to help the teacher, beyond just paying the teacher's lesson fee. Extra experiences like the one I mentioned above are important part of complete lessons. How can we all work together to make sure they are available without unduly burdening the teacher or the few parents and students willing to help? :)
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Lyndall » Tue Oct 04, 2005 10:54 am

An excellent topic. As a teacher, it would help me immensely if parents valued music education more - I sent home a survey asking how often parents wanted their children to attend my group music theory/appreciation/history/ensemble lessons (once/week, once every 2 wks, once a month, once every 2 mths). All but one or two voted for for the least frequent option which saddened me. I would dearly love to have students twice a week & I know some studios operate that way here in the States, but I believe it's more common in some European countries to attend lessons every day - imagine that! (Just like sports really...)
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Postby Stretto » Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:36 pm

What would have helped me tremendously as a teacher is if parents would offer to host a recital or master-group type class, or piano party at their home or find an available facility to hold recitals. The first few years I was teaching, I hadn't really set out to "officially" give piano lessons, but was asked by aquaintances to teach their kids knowing of my future plans to teach. As I only had a handful of students, I didn't think scheduling a larger facility for recitals was necessary and liked the idea of a smaller group recital in someone's home. I had my first few years of recitals in my home but it was nerve-wracking making sure my house was 'spotless' as I imagined parents inspecting the cleanliness of the teacher's house while they happened to be there. I only held recitals once a year because of the amount of work to get my house ready, etc. Everyone including me enjoyed the layed-back atmosphere of having the recital's in a home, but sometimes a joke would fly about the tight squeeze in the living room. One of my most faithful parents, cracked a joke that she could fill the whole room with her relatives alone and as I wanted to start adding more students and get out of the stress of getting my house ready, and have more room so parents wouldn't be limited on how many relatives and friends they could invite, I started calling around looking for facilities. I had a lot of trouble finding a place. At my church, one has to belong to their "School of Music" program or you can't use their facility. At this point I don't want to drive that distance in bad weather, etc. when I can teach at home. Then we live in a day and age, I guess, where churches can't just trust anybody to come into their building and don't allow one to use their facility for recitals unless one attends there. It took me a long time of calling several places until I finally found a place. Even then, the facility was a little old. The office had purchased a brand new Steinway recently but said for our recital, we could just use the old Steinway so no one would have to come over and unlock the cabinet to get the new one out. Although it was a Steinway and the students had never got to play on a concert-size piano before, it was "pretty old" to say the least. On top of that, the parent who said prior they had several relatives they could invite if I had more room didn't bring anyone. Oh, well, the students seemed impressed. I probably will have to use that facility in the future unless I find something else. Anyway, many parents knew I was looking for a place and they could have helped tremendously by offering to host a recital in their home if they had enough space and a decent piano or to check if their church would allow us to use their facility. I never thought about it before but maybe next time, I should send out a flyer asking if anyone would like to do this, or asking if anyone would at least like to volunteer the use of their home for a piano party, or master class. It was soooo much more relaxing for me when we could have an event outside of my home.
Also, students could help at say, for example, a piano party by being in charge of making up a musical game or writing a short one-page paper or mini-talk on something musical related. I am going to have my first such group in a month or two and may ask the students to do this so I don't have to make up all the activities by myself and it would be a good learning experience for the students. Students can also help in their lessons by listening to a variety of music and making a list of songs or types of music they would like to learn. It seems hard to get their imput sometimes on what kind of music interests them.

Stretto :cool:

Oh, yes, I edited this post to add that another way I have had students help me recently is when by chance a grandmother came to sit in on her grandaughter lesson and saw the computer and happened to mention how great of job her grandaughter does and loves designing things on the computer. So, when I discovered this, as I am not great at working my way around on the computer, I started having my students design things for me like award certificates, a thank you note to the facility that let us use their building for a recital, she even thought the "practice sheets" I designed were drab and asked if she could redesign them and so . . . It has saved me a lot of time having the students take turns designing stuff like this on the computer. :)




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Postby 65-1074818729 » Mon Oct 17, 2005 8:31 pm

This is a tough one.

I am sure each music teacher has different needs, different wants, teaches under different circumstances etc. Speaking as a student, I am not aware of what I could do to assist my teacher. I have never discussed this issue with her.

Therefore the only thing I can think of would be to advise her that I am available to assist with whatever she needs. Whatever task she assigns would be fine with me.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Oct 18, 2005 7:04 am

AFlat wrote:I am sure each music teacher has different needs, different wants, teaches under different circumstances etc. Speaking as a student, I am not aware of what I could do to assist my teacher.

Yes, that' exactly true and one of the reasons I started this thread. Most people don't really know, or don't think about, just how many "extras" a good teacher gives the student. All of these extras take time, money and commitment to provide.

If your teacher does studio concerts with refreshments afterward, you might offer to provide the refreshments sometime. If the teacher has studio Christmas parties, offer to organize one for her. If she gives time to prepare students for competitions and asks for help at the competition, volunteer your time to help. These are just some examples.

I'm sure that, if people were to ask their teachers, most teachers would be happy to have help in some of these "peripheral" areas that add to piano lessons. Some other good ideas have been offered already in this thread. Let's hear yours!
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Beckywy » Tue Oct 18, 2005 11:18 pm

For the benefit concert I'm planning for next year, I could use a lot of help in the planning of it. - ie help with sponsorships, the administrative work, collecting the money from donors and sponsors, spreading the word and posting advertising, catering for the performers, ticket sales. The most I can get a parent to commit to is to buy tickets and attend. Most of the work that's involved is done by me and volunteers who have nothing to do with my piano studio but their need to do something for the community.
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Postby K. Penn » Fri Oct 28, 2005 9:48 am

Parents I think expect us as teachers to be the "cure all fix all" for lessons. What they don't realize some of them is that THEY are required to take some of the responsibility in the lesson process and that it is a commitment. Unfortunately parents get the priority mixed up and think every other thing is more important that lessons and then expect us as teachers to drop our life to accomodate theirs.

So how can they help?
1. show up on time when lessons are scheduled.
2. make sure that their child has practiced EVERYDAY according to the directions and tips in the assignment notebook
3. be supportive of the teacher's goals and lessons with the child both by encouraging their child's progress and playing and by not "changing the directions" of the teachers assignments.

For studio operations parents would be a bigger help by offering to take over planning tasks for performances to free the teacher up to dedicate more time to students or other areas that need more of the teachers attention for the big night. Parents could also be a bigger help if they would use resources teachers make available for them and their students more often. Sometimes i honestly think that figure its just "fluff filler and not necessary" and then will come back later going "I didn't know that" when they could have and learned something along with their child if they would USE available resources and suggestions given.

I guess the question really is how do we as teachers get parents and students to change their thinking about music lessons and the involvement in them???
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Wed Nov 23, 2005 12:56 pm

As KPenn said - just come to lessons and on time; be prepared; support the teacher.
The first one has posed little problem for me. The second one is a constant. If parents would take more responsibility for the child's practice, it would be better for me, for the student AND for the parent. They want success and progress but do not , for the most part, seem to find time to help. As for three: I think a parent should be able to speak up if they are not happy with what or how the student is doing, but should also respect the teacher's resonse. Otherwise, find another teacher.
I let parents sit in on lessons and occassionally I am sorry. There are sometimes comments that are critical that I do not feel are apropriate.
Parents often offer help at party/Musical time - to loaning chairs to bringing food. Everyone is busy, so I let them do what they feel comfotable doing - but I have drinks and snacks.
Have to remember, "Parents are People". (think that is from Marlo Thomas and "Free to be You and Me') :D :D
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Postby Stretto » Mon Dec 26, 2005 2:13 pm

At my recent piano party for my students, one of the parents offered to help pay for the food or bring something and said they really wanted to help in some way. I thought that was a very nice offer.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Dec 26, 2005 3:54 pm

Some parents offered to bring food at my last party, but it is such a busy time of year, I said only if it did not stress them further. One parent brought some cookies. My daughter in law did stay and help clean up and vacumed. That was a big help as I have a small condo and my piano is in the livingroom and so was the food! Many children cleaned up their plates and cups themselves
At the end of the year, when parents attend, I will accept offers of some food. Last year people brought great non-sticky food like grapes and cheese and crackers and a raw vegatable plate! I used to do more when I had my house - now I offer good juices and iced tea in June.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Oct 25, 2007 9:48 am

Since we are rapidly approaching the time of year when most of us have lots of entertaining commitments, I thought it might be useful to revive this thread some (and also encourage people to read the earlier posts). One thing that a piano teacher friend of mine appreciated deeply was when one of the parents in her studio took on responsibility for organizing the studio Christmas party. The parent called other parents, encouraged them to come and see their kids play, got the food and refreshments organized, took care of scheduling the party and lots more. This removed a big load from the teacher, at essentially no cost to the parent. Since the holiday season is such a busy time for us, it is a great opportunity for parents to help the teacher. It might even be the best Christmas present they can give the teacher! :)
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Tarnia » Sun Oct 28, 2007 11:46 am

I think there are many things one can do for one's music teacher-big or small.

Small things that I have done for my teacher...
-when I saw a good sticker collection in the store, I picked it up and gave it to her-she was delighted as apparently she had been having trouble finding appropriate stickers for her younger students!
-I am computer savvy and she is not, so as previously mentioned any computer-oriented design stuff is always appreciated. Furthermore, I hear about concerts, events etc. over the Internet sometimes before she does, and she often appreciates the 'heads up'.
-In keeping with computers, I took a course which utilized an internet site that can help with ear training-randomly generates intervals for example, and you click on what you think it was. Not the same as practice at a piano, but can be useful. Also let my teacher know about that site, and she has passed it along
-I was supposed to call for a ride after one of her events, but instead I waited around and helped clean up. She was EXTREMELY appreciative-more so than I thought was relative to the act.

I am sure many of my peers would be happy to do similar ''acts of kindness" but she RARELY asks for, or will easily accept, help.

Bigger things, some already mentioned above
-organizing music appreciation nights. My teacher often talks about having these, but never does anymore. Reading this thread makes me wonder if it is just too difficult for her to organize in her smaller house, and due to her busy lifestyle.
-funding the rental of a concert hall for the year-end party. I know in the past this has been quite a trial for my teacher to arrange. Offering my house was politely declined, but perhaps taking the onus of funding and organizing the hall off her would be an idea.

I am sure there is more but my mind has been blank:p Might add later!
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Postby Tranquillo » Sun Oct 28, 2007 11:12 pm

I am always touched by a card. A card that says something really really nice and I always get a jolly smile by a card. What I really like is that I can read it again and again.
I can recall many time when giving out sincere cards with words of truth and meaning I have had people smile and feel touched!
The simpledest things can be the best !

Is it normal with most teachers to have studios parties? With my former teachers they didnt ... the current techer I have ... I have only been with for less than a year so I am not sure if he does have these occasions...
Music is organised sound
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Postby Stretto » Sun Oct 28, 2007 11:41 pm

Encouraging words such as cards helps me as a teacher feel like I'm on the right track in teaching. For example, a student writing a note saying "you're a great teacher" helps me to know the student is pleased with their lesson/learning experience as I often question or second guess if I'm being effective. Even a piece of paper with a hand drawn design by the student is impressive to me. One student wrote a report about me at school and as she was too embarrassed to show it to me or tell me, her mom gave me a copy confidentially but I was pleased she thought that much of me. Also one of the greatest compliments I've received is a student who wrote, "you rock!" inside a card. I've never been told that "I rock" before. And a father took the time to say how glad they were to have me as their daughters teacher and how pleased their daughter was with lessons was just at a time I was really questioning whether I should keep teaching piano and it really motivated me to keep going and gave me a renewed energy to put more into being a more effective teacher. So a simple compliment or note can go a long way.



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Postby Stretto » Mon Oct 29, 2007 12:01 am

On the studio parties, I'm not sure how much the "norm" it is. I've heard teacher's refer to "piano parties", "group classes", "master classes". I've started having them quarterly to motivate students to practice harder for performance but with less pressure than a recital, have the students get to know each other, also to cover aspects of music that there's not always time for in lessons. This could be something students could help out with, even organize and run. What we do at ours is students take turns playing pieces they are currently working on and anything else as time allows, we have snacks, then play some music related games - students/parents could help with this by offering to use their house, providing snacks, calling everyone or printing/sending out announcements, students could help by creating and running the games, or perhaps researching a music related topic or composer and give a talk on it.



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