Meri’s Musical Musings

32 more tips for parents of music students

Posted on: December 7, 2014

  1. If the student is learning piano, put the piano in an easily visible place, not in a basement or bedroom, because for many people, especially children, “out of sight” is “out of mind”. Some teachers have seen amazing improvements to student practicing when the piano was placed in a more visible place, sometimes as much as 2 exam levels in a year!
  2. If your child plays a brass instrument, piano, or percussion (drum set), try not to force them to practice in an out of the way place, especially one that is cold just because of the volume.
  3. For most instruments, except piano, have the student practice with a music stand! If the piano student is upper intermediate or advanced and doesn’t play in band or orchestra, keep one for any friends on other instruments they may accompany.
  4. If the teacher requires the student or parents to get books, make sure you get the edition the teacher specifies, and pick them up promptly, before the next lesson. This is especially important with method books, which newer editions often fill in the gaps of older versions, or change the pieces they use for various concepts.
  5. For students who are reed or string players, learn how to check the condition of reeds and strings and help the student learn when to change them. For the younger students, you may have to learn how to change violin or guitar strings for example, but most students 10 or 11 and older can learn how to replace strings themselves. With beginning reed players, reeds may get chipped every so often or so worn out it doesn’t produce a good sound.
  6. Make sure the students participate in school concerts and studio recitals—in school music programs, not participating in one with an unexcused absence can significantly reduce the student’s music grade or even mean failing the class. Failing to participate in studio recitals held by private teachers means you isolate students from falling in love with other pieces they would like to learn, learn to see the teacher beyond their role in lessons, make new friends, play on or with a grand piano, you might get to see your teacher perform, and often some great food after the performance!
  7. Never tell your music teacher that their job is easy, especially when you have little music training yourself! Or that it’s all about learning songs/pieces and little else.
  8. Encourage the student to stick with lessons until at least when they reach a level and pass an exam which they can earn high school credits, to allow them to graduate earlier.
  9. Never force a child to choose between piano and an orchestra/band instrument, particularly one heading possibly for a musical career or if they enjoy learning the band/orchestra instrument more than piano. It’s like cross training in sports: one benefits the other.
  10. Never make a child stop lessons or threaten to stop lessons because of poor grades in school. The inconsistency is bad for the student’s motivation and progress, and some students will regress to even worse school grades if you do this. Busy teachers often fill the spot quickly, and even if they do not, chances are they might end up with some performance or rehearsals during the time you had. Not only that, but occasionally other students want an earlier or later time, and may get it by you leaving!
  11. Do NOT take December off from lessons or quit at this time! I know I mentioned this in a post a few years ago, but your teacher likely has holiday expenses too! Budget carefully, your teacher especially needs the consistency of income during the holidays.
  12. Upgrade your instrument when the teacher recommends it, and if there are problems with the costs, let the teacher know and see if there are alternative means of getting the upgrades. For most students, this is usually after 2-3 years of instruction or early to mid intermediate level of playing according to a major examining board. Or save yourself this expense if possible (not always with string instruments) by starting out with a slightly to somewhat higher grade instrument. Higher grade instruments have features and qualities that make higher level pieces more enjoyable to play, such as a wider range of possible dynamics.
  13. If you have an acoustic piano, keep it well tuned, 2-3 times per year.
  14. Don’t cancel lessons for reasons that many teachers consider superficial, such as hair appointments, birthday parties (though I myself am more understanding of that one than most), and play dates. Many teachers will not credit or refund for such absences, so you might as well attend the lesson.
  15. Get instruments adjusted/repaired when needed quickly. With a quality instrument and proper handling this generally shouldn’t be needed more than about twice a year, unless the student regularly plays for 2-3 hours a day or more most days.
  16. If buying a new instrument, only buy quality brand name instruments at music stores. Occasional exceptions are guitars and keyboards/pianos, but check with your teacher.
  17. If your child is studying piano, make sure you have an 88 key instrument and at least a quality sustain pedal. Many piano methods use the highest and lowest notes of the piano early in the first and subsequent books of the methods, and playing teacher/student duets is very difficult if not impossible on shorter keyboards.
  18. Don’t complain that your teacher’s fee for lessons is somewhat higher than what your wages are at your job. Remember that many teachers have a limited number of students, realistically cannot handle teaching 40+ hours a week, especially wind and singing teachers, and that besides normal living expenses, they have many business expenses!
  19. If the teacher charges one, don’t argue about paying a materials fee, or ask the teacher to itemize the materials fee. I feel too many teachers actually charge one that is 1/2 of what a suitable materials fee really should be, when you factor in not only the books, but practice tools and incentives teachers sometimes offer. (eg: recital costs, prizes, student holiday gifts, and stickers) Not only that, teachers of reed and string instruments, $100 for the materials fee may not even completely cover the costs of getting the student started, especially with the increasing cost of quality mouthpieces, reeds, and strings!
  20. Don’t expect a teacher to be willing to accept smaller payment terms than monthly; many teachers actually charge by the term or semester. If enrolling multiple students in the same family, and you are not well off, look for a teacher with a monthly as opposed to a term or semester fee.
  21. ALWAYS pay your teacher on time by the due date, and if you’re going to be late about payment, speak to them in advance, and don’t forget the late fee! Paying late more than once or twice, especially without the late fee, can lead to dismissal from a teacher’s studio, particularly if the teacher has a waiting list.
  22. When terminating lessons, give at least 30 days notice, or pay a month’s worth of lessons in lieu of notice if you must stop lessons on short notice. Most teachers actually prefer the former to plan a closure lesson and to have a decent chance at filling the spot with a long term student. For this reason, more and more teachers are requiring first and last month’s lesson payment, just like renting a home. And don’t expect or demand a refund of materials or remaining lessons owed.
  23. For beginners and intermediate students (up to Level 5 or 6) weekly lessons are the norm, and many established teachers will not accept such students and families who want lessons less often than weekly, as it usually really slows the progress of beginning students down. If you can afford it, consider twice a week lessons for beginning students for the first 3 months to a year; many students doing twice weekly lessons, even for 3-6 months, can reach a standard which they can very successfully complete their first exam in a year. For beginners younger than about 6 or 7, twice weekly lessons are strongly recommended for at least 6 months to a year.
  24. If the student is taking voice lessons, and planning to audition for an arts middle or high school, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. By this I mean have them study piano and a band or orchestra instrument privately as well for both general musicianship and as a back up in case they are not accepted as vocal majors.
  25. A piano student should study a band or orchestra instrument with private lessons with a GOOD teacher, especially if they are considering being a music major, as most other instruments are far less competitive than piano. Encourage them to study an instrument that is in demand at most schools, which are usually oboe, bassoon, viola, double bass, French horn, and tuba; sometimes trombone and cello.
  26. For band and orchestra instruments, particularly if the student is in a lower quality music program, go for private lessons with the best teacher you can afford, even if it’s not too convenient to travel. Ask the examining board or university music department or conservatory faculty for recommendations. Sometimes you can find a suitable teacher from a symphony player, but they may be too expensive or only accept advanced students.
  27. Research lesson rates from those that have been in business at least 10 years (make sure you talk to teachers besides the ones you are considering, especially wind teachers, who tend to charge higher fees than piano, guitar, and sometimes violin), and be concerned about the quality if the fee falls more than about 5% under the going rate. In most areas, if the lesson fee is below about $40 an hour, be concerned about the quality. In many major cities the better teachers are usually around $60-$80/h. (Usually at the higher prices though you have teachers whose students earn top marks on exams, get into top ensembles, win competitions, and get scholarships for music study after high school—so you can take the risk of not having your student achieve such things with a lower cost teacher, or improve your odds significantly of them achieving major success and really enjoy playing.) If your annual income falls below a certain level, you may be eligible for a studio scholarship or a funding program such as Musiclink that helps with the cost of lessons. Note that many such scholarship programs have stringent requirements, they will take a look at whether the family has a car and what kind, and where they live, or ask for tax returns, so that they don’t give grants to those that claim hardship but are living in fancy homes or driving fancy cars)
  28. If you’d like a teacher to travel to your home, expect to pay a significant premium (1 1/2 to 2 times MORE than an in-studio lesson) while often (though not always) probably getting a lower quality teacher than an in studio teacher, since not a lot of teachers, particularly quality experienced ones, are willing to travel to a student or limit themselves to certain areas.
  29. Don’t ask the teacher to use the method books that a student used with a previous teacher or that you used as a child. Some children will do fine in the older methods, many do not. Many teachers are also familar with only one or two methods, often by examining various method books and trying them, and using the ones that produce the best results.
  30. Don’t have the student take lessons from more than one teacher on the same instrument without expressed permission from the main teacher; this is confusing for students and can cause problems for the teachers involved if at least one of them is a member of a music teacher’s association, which usually forbids the practice of students studying with more than one teacher on the same instrument concurrently.
  31. Listen to the teacher’s recommendation of exam level the student should attempt, particularly if it’s a student’s first exam. It is better to do really well on an easier exam to boost confidence and build a strong foundation than to not do as well on a higher level exam. Generally, the recommendation for a first exam is one level lower than the students or parents think the student should attempt.
  32. Never dictate or undermine the teacher in asking for the teacher to teach the student pieces in a style or an artist the teacher is not familiar with, or pieces that are well beyond the current level of study. This idea leads to student frustration and impairs the development of good playing technique by putting a lot of mental and physical strain on the student.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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