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Parental role in children's instrumental and muscial learning

I have chosen the topic “parental roles” because it is normally an important factor that was missed, in which this factor is essential to children’s whole musical learning process (especially in early and middle stages of learning the instrument) and how well the passion in playing the instrument can instil in children’s lives. Social norms normally place children’s musical learning as the entire duty of the piano teacher, i.e. if children learns well and is able to proceed to another grade soon enough, it is the credit of the piano teacher. In the contrary, if children lose interest, are not able to proceed as fast, it is the sole responsibility of the piano teacher that he is not able to teach effectively enough.


In adults’ busy daily lives, together with the fact that parents thought they themselves are musically untrained, parents only see their responsibility as restricted to (1) buying the instrument (2) paying for the lessons, books and exam fees (3) organizing the schedule of children’s lessons (4) reminding children to practice. However these are mostly monetary and superficial support that are equally applicable to all other aspects of educating the children. A deeper and practical level of parental involvement would be whether parents can support their children MUSICALLY.


In this essay, I will discuss how parents can take a positive role in pupil’s musical learning journey, including parental attendance at lessons, parental assistance in pupils’ practice sessions, communication between teacher and parent, general suggestion of activities that can foster parent-child joint effort to learning music, etc. Each of these parental involvements might have its advantages and disadvantages, of which I will discuss one by one.


Parental attendance in lessons

It is common that parents wish to attend lessons with their children if the child is too young or if they are early beginners. Their presence could help children to feel secure staying with a new teacher, or the parent would like to know whether the teacher teaches “well enough”. This is helpful in the sense that these parents are involved in their children’s musical learning process. This can be very helpful, as long as they reinforce what the teacher is the trying to teach[1]. Young beginners tend to forget what teachers taught them in lessons, so if parents know what was taught in class, they can sit alongside with children while their children practice at home and act as a second teacher to the pupil. However, the downside is some children might get distracted or get too dependent on their parents to remind them what to play when they get home, so I normally do not encourage parents to attend lessons with their children as soon as the pupil is able to concentrate and listen to me independently.


Pupil above Grade 1 normally feel pressurized or embarrassed when parents are around when they have lessons. In some occasions when lessons are conducted at the pupil’s home, the parent might be in the house as well and they might want to know how the lesson go. In such case, I would explain to parent that they might not wish to pressurize or distract the pupil, so it would be best if they can quietly observe at a discreet distance and stay somewhere out of the eyesight of the teacher and pupil. I also strongly discourage parents to give comments during class so that the teachers can focus, use their expertise to find a suitable way to teach their children.


Teachers have different conceptions of the nature of the teaching and learning process which affect the way they teach[2]. Views and feelings of both the parent and the pupil are factors that teachers should take into consideration.


Parental assistance with practice


In contrary to parents not encouraged to be present in piano classes, parental assistance with practice is encouraged. For parents who know the instrument their children is playing, they might act as a second teacher to clap beats for their children, play duets together, or give comments after the practice session is over. I do not encourage them to give comments during the time when pupil practice, as this will create confusion for pupil in remembering what was taught by their teacher in the lesson. Parents also tend to begin to make judgments too soon after the children begins playing. I would advise parents to reduce their level of involvement as pupil might be able to make gradual improvements on their own. They may wish to hold those general reminders until the end of the whole practice session, and discuss about the issues with their children in an open-talk and relaxing manner.


For parents who have other instrumental knowledge or even those who do not play music at all, they tend to underestimate their ability to get involved in their children’s practice sessions. They can actually guide their children spiritually or even merely sitting at the same room and be an attentive audience could make pupil feel non-isolated. For example, they can use their musical instincts and encourage their child by saying something like, “there seem to be some hesitation in these few bars, no worries, try it again slowly again, you can do it” or “Wow this sounds beautiful!”. It can help to calm down the pupil when he is having difficulty with a piece, or such simple compliment on how nice it sounds would make the pupil feel recognized for the hard work, be proud to be able to do something that their parents cannot do, and he will be motivated to practice more. There is also considerable evidence that improving the quality of human relations between parents and pupil improves the quality and amount of work produced[3]. Teachers’ role is to guide parents that their input is valued and that parents’ ability to build up confidence and recognition in pupil is greater than teachers. This applies not just to beginners, but also advanced pupils as well, though beginners do need more parental involvement in practice sessions. When they get more passionate with music playing and is motivated to practice on their own, parents’ involvement can be less. Afterall, the strongest motivation comes from the pupil himself. Given responsibility, he can take charge of his own musical journey[4].


Communication between teacher and parent


In normal circumstances, communication between teacher and parent is limited to monetary and logistical issues as mentioned in paragraph 2 above, and occasionally teachers would talk to parents about the learning progress of the pupil. In order for the teacher and parent to be aware of each other’s expectations, for parents to have a better idea of the goals, progress and issues of the pupil’s learning and for the teacher to discuss how to help the pupil improve, it is essential for teachers to initiate discussions with the parent on a regular basis and exchange ideas on what they can do individually to collaborate towards a common goal. The issues to discuss may include teachers’ observation on pupil’s learning attitude, the pupil’s musical ability in respective aspects, how the teacher plans to do to tackle obstacles, corresponding choice of teaching activities and repertoire, etc. The teacher can then invite the parent to share how the pupil practices at home, how frequent it is, whether the pupil is exposed to performance opportunities at school, whether the pupil is engaged in any other musical activities aside from piano lessons every week, etc. These are all clues for the teacher to judge in what areas the pupil lack training in, or teachers can provide suggestions for parents on what the parents can do out of lesson time to  “compensate” those areas. For example, if the teacher note that piano is the only instrument that the pupil is learning and there are no performance opportunities in school, it is likely that the pupil has relatively weaker aural ability and thus, the teacher may incorporate more duets, playing of songs with backing track for the pupil during lesson time and perhaps enrolment in music festivals for more experience with playing piano in front of peers.


Teachers also act as a bridge of communication between the parent and pupil. Teachers’ role is to make opportunities, listen wisely, and encourage pupils[5]. If teachers notice any discrepancies between pupil and parents’ expectations and interest, it is the teachers’ role to find a balance between the two. It is best if the teacher can verbally discuss with the parent, but if time does not allow, teacher can write down notes on a booklet and the parents can write down queries or notes on how they feel about pupil’s practice sessions over the week too. Thus, the role of the teacher is central and their attitudes to parental involvement and whether the teacher welcomes these open discussions is the key to grasp the golden opportunity to fine-tune typical parents’ perception of parental role. It requires both the teacher and parents’ joint efforts to collaborate, so that they can speak in a “common language” to walk through the pupil’s musical learning journey together in a positive attitude.


Musical activities outside piano classes


Parents are role models for children and children look up to them for guidance. Parents’ role is to tune how their children learns, and connect it to everyday life. To achieve this, parents has to be aware of what the children loves doing, increase their own knowledge first before engaging children in the activities and perhaps it is better to increase their own interest in music first so that their children can feel their passion in music and would initiate to get involved. Here are some general suggestions parents can do to connect pupil with music:-


(1)  the mother sing to the child as a baby, expose the child to a variety of toddler songs with guided rhythmic and corresponding body movement

(2)  listen to a wide variety of repertoire at home or simply tune to music radio channel in the car, whether or not the parents know music.

(3)  take their children to live instrumental performances

(4)  if parents play music as well, they can play duets, or be an accompliment of children’s playing part

(5)  initiate playing by ear for a TV theme song

(6)  hold a mini concert at home for the child and friends’ sons and daughters

(7)  initiate recording of pupil’s good performances at home for posting onto the internet – that way pupil will be motivated to play well as their playing is going to be viewed by the public

(8)  create an appropriate practising environment at home


There is a positive correlation between parental involvement in pupil’s music learning, and parents plays a critical role in building up children’s sense of musicianship and guide them in connecting music to everyday life. This is something that piano teachers cannot do as they only spend very limited time with the pupil every week whilst parents spent most of their non-working time with their children everyday.




In conclusion, parental roles are crucial to children’s musical learning journey. There is strong correlation between the rate of success in pupil’s piano playing ability and the assistance or supervision that they receive from their parents. Both musically trained or untrained parents could each have their own ways to support their children musically, the effects of which can be equal. The issue is whether the parents themselves are willing to increase their own interest in music and devote time in it. As long as parents are willing to provide early encouragement and gentle ongoing support through supervising practice, communicate frequently with teachers, provide performance opportunities, create a musical learning environment in everyday life, they are far more likely to see their child succeed in music.



  1. Paul Harris and Richard Crozier (2000) The Music Teacher’s Companion. ARBSM.

  2. Chris Philpott and Charles Plummeridge (2001) Issues in Music Teaching. Routledge Falmer.

  3. Joseph O’Connor (2007) Not Pulling Strings. Lambent Books, London.

  4. Anthony Marks (2004) All together. ABRSM.


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