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How do you see a private music teacher's role? As an experienced professional or someone who is there to do what you tell them?

(50 Posts)
Oen1 Tue 24-Jun-14 23:21:30

I'm a private music teacher. I praise pupils when they've worked hard, when they've exceeded my expectations for the week, when they've got a particularly tricky bit which they've struggled with for weeks in the bag. Obviously, the younger the pupil, the more you have to praise e.g. first lesson we learnt the first note - if they can remember where that note is in the second lesson they get praise. As they progress and mature the amount of praise gets spaced out a bit more and only genuine achievements or consistency gets praised.

I do not give out praise for non-practisers or for those who only practice the bits that are fairly easy, avoiding the bits that are more difficult. With these, we go over those particular sections in the lesson, I tell them if they are improving and they then go away to (hopefully) practice those sections. If they come back the following week having avoided that section again and completely forgotten how it goes, we obviously have to go over it again.

Now, what I've noticed over the 20 odd years that I've been teaching is that parents' attitudes have changed. Years ago, I could say to the parent that their child needed to practice more (or just practice full stop) and the parent would back me up.

More and more, I'm finding that parents are blaming their children's lack of progress on me. I'm not encouraging enough, I don't praise enough. As I said above, I praise where it's due. I hold student concerts where everyone gets the opportunity to play, not just my high achievers which, in my mind anyway, offers encouragement to all levels. I'm expected to end each lesson with a summary of what was good about their playing and ignoring the bits that they haven't worked on.

So what I want to know is how many of you think that I should be telling the serial non-practisers or the ones who avoid the difficult bits, how amazing they are? I certainly won't do this with my own children - they get praised for effort, but if they're avoiding doing something that they don't like then they are told to just get on with it if they want to do the exam, grading, move on the next level etc. I will assist them when necessary.

Should we be telling all children that they are wonderful and talented for just breathing? Isn't that just setting them up for a massive fall when they reach the real world (or even just comprehensive school)? I see more and more parents running themselves ragged driving their children around to numerous activities (2 or 3 on a school night) because their children "thrive" on it. Most of these children look exhausted and far older than their years to my eyes, but if the parents can't see it, who am I to say anything - much better left to grandparents or close friends to tell them.

So what do others think? Are we mollycoddling our kids too much?

FWIW I'm an older mother whose own parents made it quite clear that I would only achieve anything in life through my own hard work, so maybe I'm a bit biased.

Picturesinthefirelight Tue 24-Jun-14 23:42:34

I expect it to be a team effort.

So I fully support my dds singing teacher telling her off for not knowing her songs just before an exam, however I expect to be consulted on said exam & have an input into whether it is realistic for her to take it, given her other commitments. I don't expect to be informed on the Friday that the exam is on Monday :0

Likewise with her piano teacher I expect them to understand that her priorities this year lie elsewhere & that she is taking piano lessons purely to keep her hand in with general keyboard& musicianship to help with her composing. I expect that teacher to understand that she won't be doing much practice but equally I won't be expecting concert standard playing.

Oen1 Tue 24-Jun-14 23:57:15

Obviously I wouldn't put a pupil in for an exam without consulting with the parents first. BUT, if parent agrees to pay for the exam, and I write detailed practice notes (which are ignored and only the easiest sections are practised) then surely I should be at liberty to tell parent and child that playing is not up to scratch, goals haven't been reached etc? When I then use the lesson to do actual practise of problem sections should I then be told that I'm not giving enough praise, when the lessons time is littered with phrases like "that's it! Good! Ooh, let's do that bit again."

I have pupils who tell me that they're doing another instrument exam this term and so haven't really practised the piano much, which I am sympathetic with. I also did two instruments and know when an exam is looming one instrument has to take priority. During those weeks, we do different things.

But at the end of the day, progress is only achieved through consistent hard work. Which is what (I find) many parents don't seem to appreciate these days. I find they have the attitude that they're paying for lessons, so their child should be able to achieve grade 8 just by attending the lessons.

Theas18 Wed 25-Jun-14 12:47:18

On the fence.

My kids are not kids who put in hours of practice, they know how to practice and do small amounts effectively I think ( or " stealth practice" as someone suggested on here!).

They make steady progress. They and pretty much all kids having ordinary music lessons are never going to be concert pianists.

OP are your lessons fun? they sound very much nose to the grindstone stuff. Music lessons for us have been often " therapy" and a refuge from the stressors of school/friendships etc. Music took DS through a phase when he was bullied at about age 9 etc.

Perhaps you need to sit down with parent and child ( assuming the child is say 10-11 or older not 5) and ask what they see the point of the lessons and what they want to get out of them. Not all parents want them always to be doing exam after exam.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Wed 25-Jun-14 12:52:58

I agree completely with Pictures. I suspect that the responses you will get on here will tend to be from parents who feel the same way. I don't actually know anyone who thinks they can pay for a Grade 8.

My DS2 has a big extra-curricular activity that has to take priority, I had to sign to say it would, plus he learns two instruments so he has to juggle, so communication with all is key, as is realistic expectation on all sides. I find school based lessons the hardest for this.

DS1 (16), his brass teacher and I have just had a chat together, I've asked the teacher to TELL Ds1 when he is not doing enough practise if he wants to do Grade 8 next spring. It has far more effect than coming from me.

Enb76 Wed 25-Jun-14 12:55:15

I'm with you OP and also of the opinion that if you can't give the time to something then don't do it at all until you can give the time to it. There's absolutely no point in taking something up half-heartedly.

I also expect, that if I'm paying for my child to do something then they should do all that goes with it, including practicing otherwise I'm just wasting my money. I expect the teacher to teach, I don't expect my child to be praised unless she has done exceptionally well at something - just doing what she is supposed to be doing is not praiseworthy in itself.

I expect I'm old fashioned.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 25-Jun-14 12:55:52

I fully respect my dds music teachers 100%, when/if this respect goes we change teacher.
I pay a lot of money and found the best teachers to suit her needs, style and instruments. It would be ridiculous to interfere with what they are doing.
Sometimes with singing I will offer a suggestion for a particular song and her teacher is fine with this as he knows I know a little about it and what suits her voice.
This is as far as it goes though. Apart from the obvious discussions of parental/teacher issues.
I agree with you OP, I have gained this perspective after listening to parents and students my dh teaches, everybody has an opinion these days.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Wed 25-Jun-14 13:05:40

I should have made it clear that I particularly wanted DS1 to hear it from his teacher as DS1 had said he specifically wants to do Grade 8 next spring, and his teacher has already told me he will need to buck his ideas up a bit with some effective practising.

As I said, communication is key. The other side of it for DS1 has also decided that piano is just something he wants to learn for fun, so his piano teacher is accommodating that. It is a nice break for him from his brass instruments and A levels with a teacher he has known for years. But neither he nor I are expecting him to be a Grade 8 pianist as a result.

CateBlanket Wed 25-Jun-14 13:21:44

Good idea to have a chat with parent and child about their expectations of what they will gain from music lessons. I definitely don't want my DD to be praised without reason but I do want lessons to be enjoyable - she does enough boring, stressful stuff at school. She doesn't do many extra curricular activities btw.

springchickennolonger Wed 25-Jun-14 13:42:38

I kind of agree with the OP. It seems there is a general trend towards more and more parental involvement/ interference. When I was learning as a littlun, years ago, it would be unthinkable for a parent to be consulted or involved in any way with what went on inlessons, primarily, I suppose, because the teacher would have been trusted implicitly to do the right thing. If a child was told off for not practising, the teacher would have been supported. Lately, I've heard many a teacher friend receiving complaints from parents for being harsh.

I'm all for lessons being "fun" but the fact remains that, in order to reach any degree of proficiency, a child needs to practise, and practise hard. Some people seem to think that playing a musical instrument is easy: it's not.

And very few parents are experts. Teachers should be left alone to get on with the job, imho.

kilmuir Wed 25-Jun-14 13:46:42

I am paying for them to be taught and kicked up arse if not bothering with practice. And no i would not expect you to praise them if not relevant

GooseyLoosey Wed 25-Jun-14 13:49:53

I expect the music teachers to tell them when they are not doing enough. It's no good for them to think they are doing great at something when in fact they are making no progress at all.

I respect their professional judgement - they decide if the dcs are ready for exams and how they should prepare for them.

However, I know my child and I know what else is going on in their lives, so I also expect the teacher to listen if I say I particular way of doing something does not work for them or they are too tired to practice after a week of a school play and the school trip.

It is a partnership - you provide the professional expertise and I provide knowledge of my child which, as I am paying, I do expect to be listened to.

DrankSangriaInThePark Wed 25-Jun-14 13:56:42

Dd has done piano with the same teacher since he did some mini-projects with her class at nursery, so 8 yrs now.

She's never going to be playing in the Albert Hall, and rarely practises unless forced. Usually the half hour before her lesson. Which she wants to continue for the craic. She gets told off, and I fully support the teacher. He says "ho hum, MiniSangria hasn't touched the piano this week has she?" and I tell him the truth.

The fact that I am paying for it is irrelevant. I pay my dentist but I don't tell him how to pull my teeth out.

Dd's piano teacher is a bit dull, sadly, and tbh, she probably won't last much longer. But he is meticulously fair. He called another mother in and said to her that he wasn't in the business of fleecing anyone, and he advised the mother to withdraw her son because he really was going nowhere.

Likewise, I do private English lessons, and often get parents wanting Junior to take an exam far beyond their reach. I tell them so.

DeWee Wed 25-Jun-14 14:20:13

I want the teachers to tell them when they're not practicing enough. They listen far more to them saying it than me.

Personally, I talk with the teacher before signing mine up to check that roughly we're on the same wavelength, then I expect the teacher to make the judgement calls. They know more than me. If they ask my opinion, then I'll give it, but there is no point me insisting something is done if they know from their professional judgment that it's the wrong thing to do.

BackforGood Wed 25-Jun-14 15:02:40

I'm with you OP.
Indeed, when my ds had lessons with a peri through school, and got a little book he was supposed to tick off how much prac he'd done each day etc., I was quite cross with the peri for never looking in it and giving approp feedback when ds wasn't practising.
With their (private) piano lessons I expect the teacher to be honest with them - I certainly don't want heaps of praise when they've not put effort in.

schilke Wed 25-Jun-14 15:08:19

For dh it comes down to the school. Some schools back him up and some, in the past, haven't and tell him to do what the parent wants as they are paying.

Last term he started at a new school and after one lesson had a mother on the phone demanding to know when her child was going to take grade 2. Dh said, that based on the one lesson he'd given her, she was not ready. Parent went nuts and complained to school. School agreed with dh. The child had big technique issues and was nowhere near ready. Everything has been smoothed over now and parent thinks dh is the best teacher ever!

He also started a reward system and printed out charts for parents to tick when the child practised. Some parents just tick every day and sign it. Dh says to me it is obvious that the child has not practised. This seems very sad to me. Obviously dh can't argue and the child gets the reward after a certain number of weeks - so they learn that they don't have to work to get the reward sad

However, most parents would back dh up and would encourage practice. He is more bothered by how the school values him. In his schools now he is in the loop - so any out of school issues for a child (divorce etc) are told to dh so he knows to tread carefully and is prepared for tears or sadness.

Pastperfect Wed 25-Jun-14 15:20:20

I expect a teacher to encourage practice and I support that, but I also think, especially for younger children, that encouragement is key.

My DS (8) is a couple of terms into music lessons and he doesn't practice as much as he should. However his teacher is very clear that it would be counter intuitive to push him. However he praises what he does do which I think at this stage in his music "career" is important.

JimBobplusasprog Wed 25-Jun-14 20:32:14

I'm with you op - but then I tell it how it is to my children. They know if I praise them that I mean it and conversely they're not bothered if I pop my head round the door and say "ooh - that second to last bar was a bit of a train crash - do you want me to play it to you"

JulieMichelleRobinson Wed 25-Jun-14 22:35:59

I am a music teacher... so...

I encourage my students to practise, and I teach stealth practice/effective practice technique from the word go. However, while in one sense I expect it, I'm realistic about the fact that it often isn't going to happen. Most of my students are young enough that they need parental support in practising, and they don't always get those magic 10min with mum or dad. So... I praise for improvement, in the lesson or between lessons. But there are no practise incentives or bribes. Nor do I come down like a ton of bricks if they haven't worked hard, I just moan a little bit and then we basically practise in the lesson and don't do anything new.

OTOH, I think I mainly have a bunch of pretty realistic parents, thankfully, and students who notice the difference and see themselves improving. They're young enough that hopefully I can cultivate good habits.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 25-Jun-14 22:59:10

In terms of practice (once again dd may be the exception) but I never have to ask/remind her to practice, but she will ask when she can fit it in with dh pupils or his practice.
I'm not sure if I would reward tbh, I certainly wouldn't pay for the following lesson if they hadn't practised what was set the previous week it would be paying for the same lesson twice as the teacher would have to repeat it.
I know some parents are willing to do this, I have heard them myself, I just don't see the point.
Also, if the child wants to do it, for themselves, not because they are expected to by parents, then they will have no problem practising.
If its enjoyable, they will love it, surely.

Picturesinthefirelight Wed 25-Jun-14 23:21:51

With dd the main issue is that she leaves for school at 7.30 am each day & gets back at 7.45pm plus Saturday mornings. When she gets gone she has homework, stretching & foot exercises to do for her ballet, plus singing as well as piano practice.

She is going to take a break next year as I think she knows enough to potter around with her composition. It's a shame as if she ever wanted to teach singing in the future being able to play piano would be useful.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 25-Jun-14 23:26:06


I know where you are coming from with that one. It was the same for dd when she was still dancing, obviously not to the standard your dd does.
She decided with shows, rehearsals during the week, some classes weekdays and Saturdays, it was too much.
It was her decision, though I must admit I was pleased.
Likewise, she has a couple of exams under her belt and if she wanted to go for auditions where a little dancing was expected would just about manage.

JulieMichelleRobinson Wed 25-Jun-14 23:34:53

"DD isn't coming to piano this week, she has a party" is much worse...

morethanpotatoprints Wed 25-Jun-14 23:50:02

DD can't come to her lesson today as she is shopping with her auntie grin
Honestly!.... One of my dhs past pupils, years ago now.

Worriedandlost Sun 06-Jul-14 00:15:52

If dd is not practicing at home, she is not making progress.
If she is not making progress she is essentially practicing during the lesson.
And I am not so wealthy to pay for something that I can get for free.
Therefore dd practices on a regular basis.
I also do not want her to be good at nothing therefore we had to drop some activities for the sake of music lessons. Only have one activity and three music lessons.

But I also have a problem as a parent. I find it incredibly difficult to find an old good teacher, the "modern" ones we've got could not care less about practicing. Dd did not practice-fine, not to worry, dd forgot her books-fine, not to worry, teachers are constantly changing times, forget exact time of the lesson, going on holiday one month before exam, not willing to do extra 10 mins of lesson even their time allowing and I am paying for that.
Had 4(!) teachers in two years. Hope the last one will last...

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