We’ve all had them at some point… piano students who just don’t practice. Their progress is slow, their motivation is low and their books lay forgotten for weeks… on the floor of a minivan.
When this happens, we should first look at ways to tweak our teaching and our repertoire choices. But when all the tweaking in the world still doesn’t work… it’s time to get the parents on board the practice train.
But getting parents on board isn’t always easy. Nobody wants to send uncomfortable emails to parents discussing their children’s shortcomings. Which is why, in today’s post, we’re going to help you make the most of an awkward situation and share some tips about what to say to parents when their children just aren’t practicing at home.
How To Talk To Parents About Inconsistent Practice
Some teachers do everything they can to avoid sending uncomfortable emails regarding inconsistent practice because they worry it might result in losing a student. But while it may seem prudent to avoid “opening a can of worms” or “rocking the boat”, if left unattended, the can of worms eventually explodes… and the boat inevitably sinks.
So… to avoid those flying arthropods and coastguard mayday calls, here are my three tips (with included “email starters”) that you can use to communicate with parents regularly, positively and proactively about getting their children back into effective home practice routines.
1. Rocking the boat is fine as long as the water is calm…
Timing is very important when it comes to communication about piano practice. It’s best to get in touch as soon as you notice a consistent change in practice routines or a dip in progress. Waiting until it becomes a multi-week issue typically means that the parents have been experiencing frustration at home, the child has been feeling inadequate for weeks, and lesson time has repeatedly been less productive… in other words, the seas are already a bit rough.
Wondering what to say when a practice problem first arises? I start my emails like this:
Hi Emily – I just wanted to get in touch with you. I noticed that Sam hasn’t been as motivated over the last few weeks in terms of his home practice. I know it’s a busy time of year, so if it’s simply because of your family schedule I completely understand. Just thought I’d check in to see if there was anything I could adjust on my end. He has new music that he was excited about this week… hoping he’ll play it for you right away! If you need suggestions for helping him at home call or email me and I’d be happy to discuss.
2. Sail Toward The Horizon with Positivity…
Treating piano practice as something that is distasteful or chore-like sets a negative tone for piano practice. Communication with parents and students surrounding home practice should always have a positive and proactive tone. This means that parents are more likely to view dips in home practice as resulting from factors that can be fixed rather than as something that is inevitable and negative. When communicating with piano parents about home practice, always offer a positive solution.
Here’s how I start my emails when I want to call attention to a practice issue, yet keep the tone positive:
Hi Jordan – I really enjoyed helping Sophia with her composition in lessons last week! She seemed to be really keen to show it to you, and I know that having her very own piece to play at home will help her get to the piano more frequently this week. She loved experimenting with making her own motives! When she’s at the piano this week, could you encourage her to create some more motives and bring them into her next lesson? Thanks in advance for your assistance. She just glows when she’s excited to show me her practice results in the weeks where she spends a lot of time at home on the piano.
3. You need more than one person rowing the boat…
A boat moves slower when only one person is rowing. Being the only person in charge of a piano student’s home practice success is a precarious position to hold. When things get rocky, all eyes turn to you.
Frequent communication with parents about home practice ensures that you establish a healthy balance of responsibility. This means that communication about home practice isn’t one-sided. Instead, it’s a collaboration of parent and teacher that results in a much more stable response.
Needing to catch a practice problem in the early stages and encourage parental participation? I start my emails like this:
Hi Jenny – I know we talked last week about Owen’s frustration with his practice at home. Fill me in – was it better this week? I sent home a piano game that the two of you could play if he starts to get upset- it teaches the same concept that his current piece focuses on but might provide a new way of looking at the rhythm that is causing him troubles. I know he’d love to play it with you or with Mark. Today we talked about practice strategies in his lesson (as you and I did on the phone on Monday). If you could gently remind him of these strategies when he’s at the piano I think he’ll have a much better week. Thanks for your help – we’ll get him through this glitch 🙂
The Final Piece Of The Puzzle
Encouraging parents to regularly communicate with YOU is the final piece of the puzzle! You may be surprised to find that parents are actually worried about bringing practice problems to your attention instead of vice versa. Frequently check in and ask for updates from their perspective. Working as a team on the home practice front means having all of the information out in the open at all times.
Looking for an easy way to include parents in home practice routines? Send home games from Teach Piano Today’s PianoGameClub. With the four new games heading out to subscribers each and every month, you’ll have a library of “awesome” to inspire home practice.