There are other times when a parent contacts me almost weekly, discusses progress with me, shares with me their child's goals, their hopes for their child, and even provides me with a repertoire list outlining the pieces they have decided that we should work on. Sometimes they call to tell me that a lesson was missing something or to request I cover certain material during a lesson.
Obviously, there is quite a range in "lesson parenting" styles. How much involvement SHOULD a parent have in his or her child's lessons? There really isn't a simple answer to this question. It depends on your personality, your child, and your needs.
Here are a few tips for parents to help actively engage in your child's lesson progress, encourage practice and personal growth, and create a great relationship with your child's teacher.
1. Be involved in setting your child's practice habits. I have sometimes heard parents say that they'd like the child to do this on their own and they don't want to force it. However, I beg to differ with that opinion. I have been playing the flute for maybe thirty-five years now, and I still have to drag myself by the ear to practice at times! The most successful students I have taught have had great support from their family in creating, maintaining and changing habits. Practicing regularly is a habit, like brushing your teeth or making your bed. Please require and encourage your child to practice regularly rather than to binge practice the night before a lesson or concert. Five minutes every day is actually a better habit than two hours once a week. It establishes regularity. Setting a regular habit of working at a task is also an incredibly useful life skill for all future endeavors.
I wrote an article on how to support your student's practice habits HERE. I'd love it if you took the time to read this one.
2. Communicate with your teacher. I'm a pretty communicative teacher, so I send out reminders, newsletters, and I make calls as needed, but I still like when parents stop by before or after a lesson to say hello. It serves as a reminder to the teacher of who you are (it's easy to forget a new face after six months of not seeing it!) and it opens the door for any progress reports or suggestions to be passed along personally. It strengthens the relationship.
How much communication is enough? It's really your choice, and depends upon your motives and your personal style. Certainly if your child has some learning challenges, or you are working on supporting more positive behavior during lesson time, weekly communication might be necessary to support the goals you are creating together with the teacher. The teacher needs to know about any current learning needs so she can support all the good work being done at home and in school. Your communication and collaboration are necessary in this case.
Parents who micro-manage lessons regarding content and goals are obviously very invested in the child's progress. This eagerness and investment is a good thing. Too much decision-making regarding repertoire and lesson content, however, may create two unwanted situations that perhaps were not your intention. First, it can confuse your child to have two people making these decisions separately for him or her. It's like when a parent coaches a child from the sidelines. Who does the child listen to? The parent or the coach? It's a bit uncomfortable to put a child in the position of having to decide which (often conflicting) advice to follow. Secondly, it eventually leads to an uncomfortable feeling in the teacher that you do not trust her expertise. Any feeling of mistrust for a parent or teacher, misunderstood or otherwise, doesn't bode well for the relationship.
In the above-mentioned case, it's always a good idea to ask yourself if you really DO trust your teacher's expertise. If the answer is yes, then keep communicating, but try to sit back and let the teacher do his or her thing. Try to trust in the process. If you discover that you really don't feel like you trust the teacher, it's probably better to find another teacher whose method you trust more, rather than to over-coach from the sidelines. Of course, openly communicate your needs before switching teachers. I wrote a post about this subject also, so feel free to click and read!
3. Listen to your child play, in a neutral way. Much of this is covered in this article, but the gist of it is to take some time once in a while to either sit and listen or even to call from the kitchen "I really like that one!" If you don't know what to say or it seems your child is struggling, ask questions. ("What do you like about that one? What is the biggest challenge about that one? What do you do to solve that?") Questions like this can help your children figure out what they need to do themselves, without you needing to have any expertise at all!
4. Provide the opportunity to hear and model great players. You don't need to spend money or get out of the house to provide exposure to great playing. In our house, sometimes we have musical "theme nights" at dinner. The themes might be Jazz Night, Latin Night, Classic Rock Night, or even "Italian Music" night. Amazon, Spotify and Pandora can provide you with an endless number of choices. I'm sure there are even "flute" channels you can play! We just play the music in the background while we eat. YouTube is a great resource for performances. Local high schools have band, orchestra, jazz, and choir concerts. They are usually free or low-cost. Music schools have recitals you can attend for free. I take my kids to the high school jazz festivals whenever I can. Try to get out once a year.
Of course, if your teacher is a performer, it might be a great tribute to your teacher, to the arts, and to your child's understanding of your teacher's level of expertise if you can manage to go hear him or her play. I also wrote a bit more about this subject, and you can read that article here.
Studying music is an empowering experience for anyone. Your support of regular practice habits, your open relationship with your child's teacher, and your help exposing your child to a variety of music to model all add up to create a great experience. Have at it and enjoy the ride!