How many times has this happened to you? Your piano student is progressing nicely, you’re working together well… everyone is happy and enjoying lessons… and then you get “the email”.
“We’d really like to see Taylor play music that is more difficult. His cousin plays _____ and we want him to start learning it too.”
Or some variation of that.
Piano teachers frequently email Trevor and I looking for advice when parental expectations are not in line with their teaching style or the current abilities of their student… I know he’s not ready for this… what do I say? He doesn’t really practice that much and so to expect this is unrealistic. I don’t want them to think that I can’t teach it to him, it’s just that he’s not ready for this yet.
Effectively responding to these requests is essential to maintaining a good working relationship with your studio parents and prevents any misunderstandings or miscommunications… But what should you say?
4 Steps To Dealing With Piano Parents Who Expect More
As a professional you don’t want to change the way you teach piano lessons because of the request of a parent; your expertise is what your piano families are paying for. You don’t want to compromise your piano students’ enjoyment of lessons by abandoning everything in favor of working “one measure at a time” on a piece that’s way above their level.
But as a business person you also probably don’t want to ruffle any feathers by appearing inflexible or unwilling. So if a parent’s request is not pedagogically detrimental to their child’s development and motivation, and if their request is not completely out in “left field” it doesn’t hurt to at least acknowledge it.
Over my many years of teaching I’ve found an effective way of responding to parents who send an “expect more” email that satisfies the needs of both you and your students’ parents.
Note: This post is not meant to deal with parents who make repeated requests. This requires a completely different strategy… mostly aimed at asserting yourself as the captain of the ship 🙂
Step 1: Acknowledge their goal and identify what their child is already doing well that will contribute to that goal.
“I absolutely love that piece too, and with Taylor’s amazing sense of rhythm I know he will be able to master it one day. He’s really been working hard on his scales and Hanon exercises, and so the finger strength that is needed for that piece is something we’re already working on. We both know he’s a pro when it comes to remembering his dynamics and when he does play that piece it will definitely be dramatic like it needs to be!”
Step 2: Clearly lay out what their child needs to achieve before working towards their request.
“That particular piece is a few levels above where Taylor is currently playing. I’d like him to first complete _____ and _______ as both of those will build his comfort level in playing pieces that have more than one or two sharps or flats in the key signature. Over the next while we’ll also be starting some work on arpeggios, as this is something he needs to be able to do to play the middle section of that piece (and other pieces too!)”
Step 3: Offer an alternative that is similar in style and that will serve to strengthen some of the skills their child needs to improve upon.
“If Taylor is interested in that piece then that gives me a great idea of some other pieces with a similar style that we can tackle first. This will help him build some of the skills he will need to be able to play it in the future. I have a particular piece in mind that I’ll have ready for his next lesson – I know he’ll really enjoy it. I’ve included the YouTube link below so you can listen to it together.”
Step 4: Identify what the parents can do at home to assist their child in reaching this goal.
“Now that Taylor has this goal to work towards, I’d love it if he could set up a predictable practice routine at home – perhaps practicing in the morning would ensure that his soccer practices don’t interfere with piano practice in the evenings? Once he starts arpeggios with me in the lessons, sitting down with him each time to be sure he’s following my fingering suggestions would really help. And while we are working towards that piece, having him listen to other music by the same composer would be a great way of really absorbing that style. Perhaps you could find some recordings on iTunes to listen to in the car.”
The Final Piece Of The Puzzle Is…
The follow-up. After a few weeks have passed (during which you’ve implemented some of what you’ve communicated) it’s important to do a “follow-up”. Check-in via email and clearly lay out what you have been working on in lessons that will contribute to the goal. Ask for further assistance if needed in terms of home involvement, and let the parents know what their child has accomplished (even if it’s small) that will contribute to this goal.
This follow-up shows that you have validated their request. The rest is then placed in their hands – their involvement and support at home and their child’s commitment to practicing are what will result in being able to play the “desired piece”. Meanwhile, you have been able to continue with your regular program without any significant changes.
Looking For A Way To Make Practice Fun?
When I need to encourage more parental involvement at home and more effective practice I send home a copy of “Shhhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice” (Check it out here.) with the goal of having my student complete 88 days of practice activities. Kids love our quirky approach to piano practice and parents love the regular time on the bench that it encourages!.