How to Enjoy Piano Practice

My 9-year-old son takes piano lessons, and was happy to play for his friends.  However, for the last half year, he disliked practicing at home and he wasn’t making much progress.  I tried to help him by doing Special Time before practice or by playing the piano with him, but I wasn't that consistent. To be honest, this issue wasn't high on my list.

Piano_practiceAs a child, I wasn’t asked what I wanted to do very often, and I had had no say about piano lessons or about practicing. I had to do both and felt I was not good at all.  Even when I did want to do something, the way my parents supported me was by telling me what I should do, or with comments like, “You’d better make the most of this,” and, “Is this another of your selfish whims?” when they paid for things I asked for. So I felt that I shared this parenting weaknesses with my parents–I just wasn't supporting my son well, and didn't know how.

One day, however, my son’s piano teacher nudged us to work on practicing more at home.  This triggered my feelings of hopelessness and guilt, leading me to think, “I am paying so much for lessons and I can’t believe my son is not making the most of it!”  On our way home from the lesson, I started lecturing my son.  He went quiet and clearly felt ashamed.  I caught myself.  It felt wrong to lecture like this.  It took a lot to bite my tongue, but I apologized and shut my mouth until we got home, which allowed me to regain relative calm.

At home, I asked my son if it was okay for us to talk about piano lessons.  My son reluctantly agreed, “Okay….”

This time, I tried my best to keep from saying “If you can’t practice, you should stop taking lessons,” which was what my mom would say to me when I was small.  I sat down next to him, looked him in the eye, and asked as calmly as I could what I could do to help him practice every day.  My son started complaining about how his younger brother was bothering him or how it was unfair that his brother could play while he had to practice.  I listened and resisted the urge to say things like, “That’s not true!”

I asked him gently again, “What help do you need?  I am sure you can do it.”  This made my son really upset, and he answered, “You can just shut up and be quiet! Go away!”

I responded, “I really want to figure out a way to help you practice. I am sure you can practice.”  I held my ground, but at the same time kept wondering if I was still motivated by my upset, or was now offering a kind of real support at last. I chose an attitude of listening and giving confidence to him rather than lecturing and changing him.  I thought, “He knew what he was supposed to do, and actually liked to do, but he just couldn’t for some reason.”

My son was soon crying.  He cried hard, saying it was unfair and it was all my fault. I checked on my younger son, and saw that he was fine in the same room with us, quietly doing other things, so I kept on Staylistening to my older son’s feelings.  He cried sitting down next to the piano keyboard with me at his side.

After about 15 minutes, I needed to take care of other things and he wasn’t crying hard any more, so I told him I was going to have to move on, and got up.  To my surprise, he started practicing piano on his own soon after I left his side.  I couldn’t believe it.

Since that evening, he has practiced piano most every day, sometimes starting on his own, other times with my encouragement, which had never worked before.  Piano practice did not feel like a dreaded chore any more.  Something was lighter.  I could tell that my son was playing because he liked it and he wanted to.  Seeing this changed  the way I think about music, too.  I stopped saying, “It’s time to practice your piano,” and started saying, “I want to hear your music.  Can you play?”

I can see that I was able to help him to work through whatever was in the way of him enjoying music practice.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her next Building Emotional Understanding online parenting class.

12 thoughts on “How to Enjoy Piano Practice”

  1. This hit really close to home. I have two stories to share.

    I figured out how notes worked to make music at a very young age and was able to reconstruct melodies I heard with no prior lessons. I was sent to lessons for years to help me grow musically, but after some time I just stopped enjoying learning – I became lax with practice. My mother used to berate me into going to practice, sometimes there were tears. At class I felt incredibly guilty and tried to cover my tracks by making it up. Luckily my teacher did not scold me, she did not berate me, rather she encouraged me. This was called improvisation! I am a professional composer and sound artist now.

    I went to a church based school – I am not religious. I was forced to join choir and forced to sing songs I didn’t believe in nor want to sing. My school said all I needed was a note from my parents to not have to be part of the choir. My parents did not listen to me. I screamed and cried and felt like I had been abandoned. This will be a good experience for you they kept saying. They didn’t even bother to find out how I felt about it. I sung in the choir at the end of the year actually I mouthed everything and no sound came from me, I LOATHED every single second of it. This scarred me – I completely stopped singing after that – I am now 39 and have only just started singing again because I want to and because the feelings have been worked out.

    Sometimes parent’s best interests are their own interests or they think they’re in your best interest without really connecting to how you feel and working with you. We don’t want to be dominated, we want to be encouraged and listened to like a person not a trained monkey or dog.

    Encourage them gently and when there is a problem, talk to them, ask why, try to encourage without being pushy. They will find great enjoyment in the things they are good at and continue with them long into their life – not because it was drilled into them, but because they fell in love with it.

    Also don’t forget positive comments really make a huge impact. When your child plays or sings – you don’t need to be over the top enthusiastic children pick up on when parents are fake. But do try to give words of positive re-enforcement like “that was a beautiful performance” or “you’re really getting good at that honey”. Children will want to do more to hear those simple words of encouragement.

  2. Keiko Sato-Perry

    Thank you so much for your stories, YB. What beautiful and meaningful insights that come from a professional composer and sound artist! I am so glad that you had your music teacher at your side encouraging, and your feelings were worked out and you are singing again. I resonate so much in your comment, “They will find great enjoyment in the things they are good at and continue with them long into their life – not because it was drilled into them, but because they fell in love with it.” That’s exactly what we are striving for using Parenting by Connection tools and listening to children. Thank you deeply. I will keep your stories in mind when my son plays for me this afternoon! Keiko

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