Question: How do I manage a mother that comes with her son to his piano lesson? She interrupts continually. She is an accomplished pianist in her own right — she plays piano at her church. She plays exactly as written and does not understand that her son, who also site-reads well — wants to learn ‘to jam’. He is 14 years old.
Teaching piano to the child of an accomplished pianist can be intimidating… to say the least. Regardless of your own abilities you can’t help but feel watched (and sometimes judged). And while most parents who have chosen to have their child taught by someone else are happy to hand over the reins… others just can’t help but interfere.
Hockey Mom vs. Piano Mom
As a proud Canadian I’ve sat through my fair share of hockey games. Some of my entertainment came from watching my future husband on the ice… but I have to admit that most of my attention was on the “Hockey Moms” who surrounded me on the arena’s bleachers. If you haven’t listened to a Hockey Mom before you haven’t experienced the true definition of interference. High up on their heated benches, they screech their “expert” commentary to both the coach and the players in a relentless fashion. At times (and depending on the vocal abilities of the Mom in attendance) it can be difficult for the players to know who to listen to: Mom or the Coach. The coach knows his stuff… but the Mom has watched literally hundreds of games. It can create a real problem for the team.
The thing is, Piano Moms can be every bit as meddlesome. But they are of a more stealthy variety. Little comments made during lesson time, a few markings added to the sheet music, and suggestions for recital repertoire add up to a frustrating game of tug-of-war. Before you know it, your piano student will become confused and frustrated and will end up “skating” in circles without a true sense of direction.
The key to achieving a healthy relationship between you, your piano student, and their parent is finding a balance of power. And for the relationship to work for you, the power needs to swing in your direction or you risk becoming a “supervised practice tutor” rather than a Piano Instructor. Here’s how to take control:
1) Set Clear Expectations – When teaching the child of an accomplished pianist you need to set some boundaries. Will the parent be sitting in on lessons? Will they be aiding in home practice time? Will they add their own ideas as to how each piece is taught and learned? Who will choose the repertoire? Decide what you are and are not comfortable with from the very beginning and present it in a clear yet kind fashion. They need to see you as the main authority in their child’s piano education. It’s much easier to set boundaries from the beginning.
2) Don’t Change a Thing – Keep in mind that they chose you to teach their child (when they have every ability to do so themselves). So don’t change the way you teach. They picked you for a reason. Be consistent with your approach and philosophy.
3) Communicate Often – My biggest piece of advice when dealing with all parents is to give them the answer before they have the chance to ask. This sets you up in a clear leadership position and lets them know that you are organized and in control. Learn to predict what the parent may be questioning and provide the answer without being asked to.
4) Avoid the “But Mom Said…” – This will inevitably arise, but deal with it with a simple “That’s okay, but we’re going to do it this way”. Period.
5) Don’t Discount Their Assistance – It would be truly wonderful if all piano students had musically proficient parents. Can you imagine how much more efficient home practice would become if someone were there to gently guide your students in the 6 days a week you don’t see them?
By establishing a good relationship with your student’s parent you gain a fantastic ally. Play off both of your strengths, and their child will end up all the better for it. Learn to use the parent’s abilities in a way that doesn’t interfere with your teaching. Create ways for the parent to be involved with their chid’s piano in a parent role rather than a teaching role. By giving their child the gift of a piano education, you are creating something that they can share in as parent and child. And that is something that is truly wonderful.
Are you a sponge looking to soak up more great advice? If so, check out our guide Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers.