Dear Susan. I am so frustrated. Why do parents put students in piano lessons but do not support me as a teacher? They don’t practice, miss lessons, and even come to lessons without their books.

To answer that question, you have to realize the various reasons parents put their children in piano lessons.

  1. They want their child to learn a little bit about music. If they also learn to play a pretty piece, that’s a happy bonus.
  2. They inherit or buy a piano, and need to justify the space it takes in the room.
  3. They have read it will help their child get better grades in school.
  4. They think it will help them get a head start on another instrument the child wants to play.
  5. They were not able to take piano as a child, so they want to give their child that opportunity.
  6. They want their child to show off flashy pieces for family or friends.
  7. They took piano and enjoyed it, so they want their child to do the same.
  8. They value a music education.

Do you see the pattern here? Parents often have different desires and expectations for their children than we as piano teachers have. So when our expectations as teachers conflict with the expectations of parents, conflict arises and teachers become frustrated and disillusioned. They blame parents for not being serious about music; for not being supportive.

Once you realize that parents often do not have the time, desire, ability,  or even the relationship with the child to require daily, quality piano practice, your entire attitude changes and you are a happier teacher.

Here are a few situations where changing your way of reacting makes a big difference.

They don’t bring their books.

Fine, let’s work on Pattern Play by Forrest Kenney.  Let’s work on ear training, improvise, or sight read. Don’t fuss, nag, or complain. For sight reading, I love the old duet book by Dennis Alexander, Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Duet Book 1B. It has easy positions that doesn’t scare the students.

They never practice.

Ok, let’s practice at the lesson. Choose a piece with patterns that can be taught by rote, and sounds harder than it is such as Sun Chaser by Timothy Brown, Thumper by Robert Vandall, Spirit of the Stallion by Elizabeth Gutierrez, or  Gypsy Earrings by Glover. (There are many more.) Soon your student will be playing that one piece they love everywhere there is a piano, and it will be a great recital piece.

They miss lessons and always want a makeup.

At the parent interview and in your policy sheet, stress that you can’t make up lessons the children miss unless they are able to swap with another student. When a student doesn’t show up, play a Chopin Nocturne to relax, or clean up your studio. Don’t fret about it.

They don’t even come to the recital.

That’s fine, we will miss you.  Parents (and I went to a lot of my children’s recitals) don’t like long recitals, and if someone doesn’t show up, the recital is shorter, which is a good thing, actually. Don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you.

They always choose sports over music.

If they choose sports over music, it’s because children like team sports more than they like piano lessons. That is human nature. The majority of children love running around on a field more than they love sitting at a piano bench. Think of a puppy. Life is not fair and we can’t change childhood development. All we can do is make the most of what we have. It has nothing to do with sports being more important than music, because what athlete doesn’t have a music playlist a mile long? It has to do with the nature of piano lessons themselves. Give some reasons for them to like piano, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t like it as much as their team sport. I don’t mind music being second, third, or fourth place in a student’s life. One student told me he liked 8 things and piano was the 8th on the list. I think that is one of the funnest things a child has ever said to me. (He even listed the other 7 things.) Some years later his Mom told me that he was first chair in band and loved it.

The great music pedagogy teacher Elissa Milne posted these wise words on her blog, speaking as a parent:

The piano teacher wants your child to have practiced this week? It’s a feat of extraordinary proportions that the child got fed, for goodness sake, that they’ve turned up to their lesson in clean clothes. But you know that your child loves this 30 or 45 minutes each week, or at least you’re pretty sure they do, and you know that your child is getting quality one-on-one attention from a teacher who is invested in building a long-term learning relationship. AND you know that music is super-fantastic for the brain. Whatever is happening in the lesson is absolutely worth it, because it’s more than you can provide on your own.  http://elissamilne.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/has-parenthood-changed-my-teaching/

As you start to teach this year, have high expectations, but be realistic. Teach the way you would want to be taught, but don’t expect students to love piano the way you love it. Have high standards, but be flexible! I hope you have a great year!

 

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55 thoughts to “Wednesday Question: Why Don’t Parents Support Piano Lessons?

  • billieraspberry

    Hi Susan! I think this is a great post and I agree with most things you said. I personally find it unacceptable for my students to come to their lessons without their materials.

    The first time they do it they usually blame their mum so I just make it clear mum isn’t the one coming to the lesson, it’s them, so they’re the ones who need to make sure to bring the book.
    Second time I just get a little more serious, still I wouldn’t say I get angry, just serious. It has never happened a third time, they always understand coming to class unprepared is not an option… I’m not sure what I’d do a third time XD I don’t think I would get upset though, I had too many grumpy teachers growing up, I rarely get grumpy at my students for that reason.

    I don’t tend to deal with the parents because they’re not the ones studying, the only reason I ever deal with a parent is to answer questions, otherwise I always address the student directly. Ever since I started doing this I’m much happier because as you said in your post, sometimes the reasons for them to have their kids learning the piano have nothing to do with the kids actually learning to play the piano.

    Reply
  • Jennifer Jacobson

    Susan:
    This is a great post. Some additional points:
    1) make sure the parent is clear on the outcome you predict for the student. They can’t expect the teacher to have the students playing Sonatinas if they can’t get out of Level 1. I explain that I am taking a “Piano Lite” approach when I have a student that can’t complete normal weekly goals.
    2) this student is still under your brand of teaching. Make sure you start a recital piece a month earlier so they don’t sound unprepared or just tell them they are unable to play in the recital this time if the practice is not there.
    3) the more the parent hears other students play the more they will get what it takes. I love when I have a parent get blown away by another student and then say, “how long have they been taking?” To which I respond, “she has a different schedule where she is able to practice a lot!”

    I also just started offering FaceTime makeup lessons for those who can’t be transported in time to the lesson!
    Thanks again!
    Jennifer from Orlando

    Reply
  • Melissa

    WOW! So encouraging to see so many other piano teachers feeling the same way I do about students who never find time to practice. Although it can be frustrating it is just a fact of life and being there for my students through the thick and thin is the most important thing. Reading blogs through the years regarding this issue always made me feel like I was being too lax on this issue and that everyone else had students that always practiced. haha! Glad to see I am not alone! Thanks for your wonderful post!!!

    Reply
  • cj

    Thank you! Such a helpful post. I really need to be reminded that not everyone will enjoy piano as much as I do! I love the part about not fretting when a student doesn’t show up. I really need to remember that!!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Simply asking the parent to text you or call you if they are not going to make it to lessons will often make a big difference. Rather than fret, it’s a lot better to talk things over with parents.

      Reply
  • Cathrine

    Thanks for this post, Susan! Great to put it in perspective and simply do our best and not be concerned about what others do.

    Reply
  • Marsha

    Susan, I love this post! I am a new piano teacher and happy to read this perspective early on. Most of what I have read from piano teachers has been the opposite–lack of patience for not practicing. I love your joyful approach and will also print this out for those times when I feel frustrated. I am teaching my own three children piano and I know how hard it is to get those practices in some weeks! They all play at the piano sometime during the week, but they don’t necessarily pull out their homework sheet and check off boxes! 🙂 Thank you again for this perspective.

    Reply
  • meganhughesmusic

    Perfect! Help people have a terrific time in their lessons and don’t sweat the rest of their lives. They’ll never forget you and their wives and children will be back for more of the same.

    Reply
  • Laura Lamere

    This is a great piece! When my son was taking piano lessons, someone told me a story about James Levine and his piano lessons. (Levine was named music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2001.) Apparently, he didn’t like to practice, so his mother had him take more lessons! I always thought that was a great idea!

    Reply
  • LaDona's Music Studio

    Reblogged this on LaDona's Music Studio and commented:
    A breath of fresh air – and a reminder to breathe deeply and chill.

    Reply
  • William Campbell

    Thank you very much for a well written and true to fact article. You are right on! I’ve been doing what you said with my students for years and doubting if I’m doing the right thing. Carolyn in Fort Wayne

    Reply
  • Joanna

    Reblogged this on Joanna Funk and commented:
    I love Susan Paridis’ blog. She is generous with her knowledge and I refer to her often. She is informative and inspiring.

    Reply
  • Joanna

    This is a wonderful post. I love your blog and I will reblog this.

    Reply
  • Piano Mama

    Hi Susan.
    I think most parents don’t realise that piano lessons are a team/family sport!

    No child can remember what they are supposed to be doing, and indeed even remember to practise every day.

    Young piano students need constant reminding and an organised parent. This indeed can be very exhausting!

    Through my Piano Mama blog I am trying to help support parents (and in turn hopefully make piano teachers happy) by gently explaining to parents how to be a good parent of a piano student. Lots of parents really don’t know how to help their students – you are absolutely right though that they are often coming from a good place!

    I hope all teachers have a fantastic year!
    Cheers,
    Gina (aka Piano Mama)

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Good Point, Gina. And thanks for sharing how to be a good piano parent.

      Reply
  • Carolyn

    Thank you, Susan!!! I love your ideas, and I feel the same way! We can all be happier teachers if we keep these in mind!

    Reply
  • Spring Seals

    Great post! Good reminder and encouragement to teach the students I have, not the students I wish that I had. I’ve found that lessons are much more pleasant when I adjust to reality instead of trying to make every student put piano as a first priority.

    Reply
  • Donna

    Thank you for honest and refreshing perspective. There is a phrase that pops into my head from a recent holiday tour with Rick Steves. He asks all who sign up to accept “not everything will be to your liking and it is your job to change your liking”. Maybe a little of that perspective will make our teaching easier. Happy teaching!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      That’s a great way of thinking, Donna!

      Reply
  • Kirsti

    I agree with you 100% Susan! As I was scheduling for the fall, a mother of one of my students asked if it was possible for her daughter to begin lessons in November because of her sports commitments. I have worked with this talented girl for the past 8 years and I agreed to do so because I didn’t want to send the message that piano is an “all of nothing” activity to me. I hope that all my students are well rounded and have opportunities to develop talents in many areas. I probably wouldn’t do that for everyone, but because I have taught two older siblings in the family and am also teaching a younger sibling, I thought it was the fair thing to do.

    Reply
    • Kathy Gault

      I have done the same with a home schooled family that routinely takes off for part of the year, last year 3 months traveling in Ireland and Scotland. When the mom asks about it, I complain to my husband, ‘don’t they realize they are asking me to give myself a pay cut to fund their family vacation?!’ and he responds with, ‘these are longtime, proven ‘customers’ and customer service is the name of the game. Be flexible……..’ It is a challenge to be that flexible. I suppose if I had a long, long waiting list, I might be willing to put on the pressure to at least pay something during those months of lost income, or face being replaced by new, eager students. But I don’t have a waiting list! and I do value this family. So it’s a compromise and an opportunity to find other creative ways to work with these kids.

      Reply
      • susanparadis

        Kathy and Kirsti,
        In cases like this, we have to do come to terms with what is best for our studio and our finances, and without feeling we are being taken advantage of. I try to work with parents who are on vacation, and I will do whatever I can to fit in those lessons, especially for longtime students. For extended sports, I offer early timeslots. But sometimes parents have to find a teacher who has a more lenient make up policy than mine. And each situation is different.

        Reply
  • Abby

    Thanks for such sage advice! I typically do those things you mention, but I do them begrudgingly and later complain to my husband (as if he wants to hear about it). I like your peaceful attitude and I will try to go with the flow more willingly in the future.

    Reply
  • Angie Kopshy

    Great perspective. I really, really enjoyed this post! Thank you, Susan!

    Reply
  • fame1444

    Susan! Thank you so much for the things you said in this post. I totally agree with every last one of them, but often hesitate to say them out loud because most teachers that I know totally disagree with it. I do believe that we have to be aware of and respect our clients’ reasons for signing their kids up for piano lessons. As piano teachers we also have to remember that we have multiple clients for each child we teach- the student and the parent(s), all of which may have very different goals for piano!

    Reply
  • Rosanne Natale Williams

    Absolutely great advice! Thanks so much for this article. I have actually had this attitude about teaching piano for many years, but always felt a little guilty as if I was somehow allowing for lack of practice, left behind books, bad attitudes, etc. Like you I tried to turn lemons into lemonade! Thanks for putting your thoughts into print! Rosanne Cosma

    Reply
  • Rebecca Singerman-Knight

    Susan I am a new piano teacher working in the UK and after only 4 months of teaching have nearly 30 students. This is so refreshing to read as it is so tempting to aim for perfection in everything and this reminds me to keep things a bit more real! Thank you!

    Reply
  • Juliet

    Thank you for addressing this. I am a month in to my Fall semester and already have seen a dip in several students excitement. I get easily frustrated but your words ring true. I’m printing this off and keeping nearby as a reminder. I try to tell myself that if I just reach one child and instill a love of music I have done my job!

    Reply
  • Kathy Gault

    Susan, these are such wise words! Thank you so much for reminding us of this perspective. I need a little boost now and then and I am going to print out some of this and keep it close by my lesson planning desk! I am getting to an age where I sometimes feel it’s all just too hard anymore, between dealing with the ‘new’ students (and their parents), the ever-increasing demands of sports, and the perceived need to ‘tech up!’ Reading your blog and trying your games is one of the things that keeps my spirits up. This Boomer is going to continue adapting and growing and enjoying my teaching time. Thanks for all you do.

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Kathy,
      You’re welcome. We all need a boost, and just writing it down on my blog helps me. You know, you don’t need to tech up if you don’t feel like it. Technology is something that I think you should do if you want to. I love the few tech gadgets I have, but I think I would be the same teacher without them. Games are fun, but I sometimes don’t have time for them, and older students (except those with learning problems) don’t need them.

      Sports are more of a problem nowadays, when it come to practicing and scheduling. However, if you can get them to hang in there, most will eventually drop team sports because of the demands.

      There are teachers with lots of degrees who are fabulous teachers and performers. They can dismiss students who fall behind or don’t practice. This Grandma is not that kind of teacher, although I would love to be a better performer. I teach all kinds of students with different talents. I try my best to help each student reach their personal best, and hope they learn how to make music sound good. I’m sure you’re a wonderful teacher and you have probably influenced students in ways you will never know!

      Reply
  • Dan & AnnMarie Krause

    Thank you …… sometimes feel like you’re the only music teacher dealing with these concerns…..love your ideas/response/positive approach…..Musically, AnnMarie in Michigan

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      AnnMarie,
      You’re welcome. I’ve gone in circles with my teaching, but at this point in my life, that’s how I feel, and I’ve never been happier! My students are very hard workers who come from wonderfully supportive families. But there are times when they don’t have time to practice.

      Reply
  • Jean

    Thank you, for this. It makes me realize that I am not alone and that I can just enjoy the kids and teaching for what they are. Everyone will be happier!

    Reply
  • Sue Snyder

    Experienced teachers have developed tough skins over the years! I had five students quit this year: 2 off to college and 3 playing another instrument in band or orchestra. I look at it that I gave them a good foundation. I made sure they knew they were loved and that I would always be there for them. One former student called me about helping her polish up a song for her talent portion of a pageant she was in. It was great to see her. She since got married and started her career as a Kindergarten teacher at the school where I worked producing Christmas musicals etc. and gained 7 or 8 students from that job. My advice: work at not taking everything personally! Give 150% and it will be your reward!

    Reply
  • MaryAnn Morton

    Thank you! Thank you! For this question and great response….Susan, I have often wondered how you got your students to use notebooks, record all their practice, etc. I just couldn’t figure it out……I know this is a different time in taking lessons then years ago, and have worked hard to change my previous expectations so I could ‘enjoy’ the students, instead of continual disappointment…..
    Thanks again….and would still love to know how you get your students to do some of the things you utilize in your studio. I can only say I ‘attempt’ it….LOL

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      MaryAnn, there are those who do record, and those who don’t. I have it listed on my assignment sheet there for those who do. I have to be honest, most don’t. When they first start lessons, it helps me judge how they are coming along. After a while, they just ignore it. Sometimes we check it off at the lesson.

      The younger children are a lot better at it. I don’t think that contests and that sort of thing work for the long term.

      I put a lot of things in their binder, so they will have to open it up for that. And, yes, I am sometimes sad that some of my students, who have great talent and feel for music, and love to play piano, somehow just don’t have the time to put into piano practice. I like to think that at least these are the future parents who will buy pianos and put their children in piano lessons, and maybe one of them will be the next musician. You just never know.

      Reply
  • Syndi Russ

    Awesome perspective! Thanks for the positive input!

    Reply
  • Patti Bennett

    Thanks for the great article Susan! Many years ago I read an article in Keyboard Companion that addressed some of the same issues as your article. The gist of the article was that we should make the most of every lesson, regardless of whether the student is prepared or not. If my student doesn’t practice, we practice at the lesson. What a great teaching moment/opportunity this is for the student – to practice with the teacher who is teaching/demonstrating HOW to practice! I also keep a ‘basket’ of ‘work-on materials’ (many of them are from your website), and I will select something from the basket to work on the student’s weak areas. All of this is positive. The more positive experiences the student has, the more he/she will WANT to practice and learn piano. Sometimes if a student doesn’t practice, I’ll grab a new, fun piece – like a boogie or jazz or pop or something, and we’ll read through it. This tells me a lot about where the student is and points out weak and strong areas. It’s all about making the most of every situation and making every minute count! Thanks again for all of your wonderful helps to teachers!!!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Patti,

      Thanks for the suggestions. You are so correct about the positive experiences. Sometimes that “easy, sounds hard” piece will set them off on a journey to actually practice on their own!

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    I love your attitude! Sometimes on forum discussions I get the impression that many teachers feel the parents are the “enemy” that they are always fighting. I am never comfortable with that tone in a post. Yours is refreshingly supportive of parents!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      When I started teaching in school as the music education teacher, I was so shocked about what was said in the teacher’s lounge. I made up my mind that I would not be that kind of teacher! When we read message boards, we hear teachers at their frustrated worst. They feel like they need to vent. Then other teachers join in and it sends out a real negative message! I think we have to beware of that.

      Reply
  • Faye Smith

    Awesome response! I came to the same conclusions after MANY years of teaching. If only I had known this when I first started out!!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Faye, I’m the same as you. I’ve had many experiences before I reached this conclusion!

      Reply
  • jan forester

    Susan, I am Jan Forester from Longview (with red hair!) and we met at the Houston workshop. Do you mind if I call you sometime about a teacher rec for my good friend in Highland Park. She is with someone questionable right now and I need another name perhaps. This last post was GREAT!! Thanx for all you do for the music/piano world!! Jan

    Sent from my iPad

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Jan, good to hear from you! Go ahead and email me. You can get my address in the contact section.

      Reply
  • Anna Fagan

    Love this, Susan. All about framing our expectations, and going with the flow, so it keeps flowing! Thank you!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Thank you, Anna. It is a fine balance, so that is why teaching is an art!

      Reply
  • Robbin

    Super post, Susan. I recently included my students in a scrapbook I was making, and my journaling matched the pedagogy prof’s to a T. I am a friend to these children, a confidant, and a cheerleader. That in itself is worth the parent’s money. Do I love my high-achieving students? Oh, they’re a breath of fresh air. I also love my students who NEVER practice. I consider myself someone who teaches children rather than piano. That makes all the difference.

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Robbin, I wish I had a “like” button!

      Reply
  • fraurab

    Excellent advice!

    Reply
    • susanparadis

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • Barbara Githens

    Susan – You are the best! I have often thought about these answers but have never verbalized them out loud. I need to make this post my mantra for sure! Thank you always for your insight and wisdom. Love you!! Heart and Soul Music Studio

    Barbara Githens Heart and Soul Music Studio http://www.heartnsoulmusic.com (913) 735-0294

    Reply
  • Barbara

    I could not agree more with your answer!

    Reply
  • Jane

    All of these things have happened to me at some time. Thank you for your wise words. Music isn’t the only thing in a child’s life. We must make the most of all the opportunities available whilst sharing our love of music.

    Reply
  • Oak Hill Studio

    Great thoughts, Susan. Thank you so much for helping to relieve some pressure all around! I like this perspective very much and shall carry it with me through the year. 🙂

    Reply

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