Articles – Dana Martin Studio


You hear your student practicing piano in the next room. She’s played the same piece five times and pauses in the same spots every time… As she plugs away at a familiar tune, somehow the rhythm doesn’t sound quite right to you…

How can your student have a successful practice routine and come to lessons prepared each week, especially if you, the parent, don’t play an instrument or read music well enough to know how to help?

Here are 5 things you can do to help your student even if you don’t read music:

1. If you hear her pausing in the same spots each time she plays a piece, ask her to play the difficult phrase (1-2 measures) several times in a row until she feels confident with it. Then have her back up a measure or two and play the complete phrase without pausing. If she still has trouble, she should repeat this process until the phrase is smooth and flows with the rest of the piece. Note: It doesn’t help to just keep playing the entire piece over and over. Trouble spots must be played repeatedly until they are played with the same confidence and agility as the rest of the piece.

2. Rhythm issues can be tricky. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not holding out a note long enough or rushing through familiar passages. Other times it’s a rhythm he hasn’t played before (or hasn’t mastered yet) or perhaps even syncopated or otherwise difficult. Ask your student to clap and count the rhythm aloud – we do this during lesson time together to make sure he understands the rhythm of the piece when the rhythm is new to him or especially tricky. If there are lyrics, have him clap as he says (or sings) the words – this can sometimes be all that’s needed for rhythm precision to become completely clear.

3. Chances are if your student is having difficulty practicing a particular piece, she’s already frustrated. She may even think you don’t know what you’re talking about because you don’t read music yourself. Ask her to take a break and come back to it later. Either have her play a piece she knows well then come back to the tricky piece, or take a 10-minute break from piano altogether. Sometimes a little breathing room is all that’s needed for everything to click into place.

4. Allow your student to work through it on his own. Sometimes that’s the only way to figure something difficult out. Of course, give him guidance (such as the suggestions above), but try not to “hover.”

5. Tell her how proud you are when she gets it right! This will give her confidence for the next time she encounters trouble (and not just during piano practice). She’s learning how to think independently, which is a life lesson, not just a piano lesson. And what if she can’t get it right? Well, that’s okay, too. Sometimes it just takes a while. She’ll have another piece later with that difficult rhythm or tricky passage. And it will get a little easier the next time she tries it, until finally it clicks. Knowing that she mastered a difficult skill before will give her the confidence to master the next one, and the next one…

There’s a reason they’re called piano “lessons.” Just like in life, sometimes we fall down and have to pick ourselves back up again. Sometimes we get frustrated and want to quit. But in the scheme of things, all it takes is time and practice to master the difficult passages. And as parents, we can help our students through the rough spots with a little guidance and a lot of patience.