The one secret weapon we teachers have in our continual struggle to get our students to practice is the parents. Parents must be encouraged to attend their children’s music lessons and also supervise their practicing. Here is an example I often use: you go to the doctor with an ailment. The doctor gives you a prescription but it is useless if you don’t take the medicine and take care of yourself. Just as you cure yourself of an illness by following the doctor’s orders, all students must learn to teach themselves. They see their teachers for a short amount of time and for the rest of the week they are alone with their instruments. If children are too young to practice by themselves, then parental involvement is essential. Involving parents in this way, especially at the beginning, calls for a good deal of support and understanding from the teacher. Even if parents doze off during a lesson, they will still hear some part of it, at least one little thing they can remind their children of during practice at home. Parents who attend lessons become much more interested in their children’s progress. I make it clear to my parents that they may have to remind their children, sometimes emphatically, to practice.
I ask parents, when they complain they have no time or just can’t find the energy, “What do you want to say to your children 10 years from now? That you just couldn’t find the time or didn’t feel up to it?” I also tell them about all the people I have met who tell me in an accusing voice, “Yes, I had music lessons as a child but my parents didn’t make me practice.” This usually has some effect.
But the best argument to get parents to help is to explain that we must teach our children the habit of success. If the parents help their children, they will succeed. If they do not, then their children will probably feel like failures. Is this what we want to achieve? Playing a musical instrument is difficult and complicated. Parental involvement with young children is essential to their progress and to their learning to succeed at something. We can also quote the innumerable studies that prove how much learning to play a musical instrument improves our brain power.
What happens, however, when you have parents who start off enthusiastically and then slowly pull back to the point that they are giving little or no help to their children, no matter what you try? Here is a Very Important Principle which I always follow:
NEVER MAKE A PUPIL PAY FOR THE FACT THAT HIS PARENTS CANNOT OR WILL NOT HELP HIM PRACTICE.
There are some parents who, no matter what you do, cannot or will not help their children or even insist that they practice at all. At the beginning everything is fine but the parents little by little stop helping even though they continue to bring their children to lessons. It is like they are giving you, the teacher, the total responsibility for their children’s musical education. It is exhausting to teach in such conditions, but I keep on until the children are old enough to read and start practicing on their own. Why? Because some of them wake up after years of lessons, start practicing, get good results and most importantly, decide that they love the violin and making music. One student like this is reason enough for me to keep 100 non-practicers. You just never know. Given that I cannot possibly predict which of these students will do well and which will not, I persist as long as the parents are willing to bring me their children, no matter how tiring and frustrating it is for me. I do not feel it is fair to make children pay for their parents’ lack of cooperation, so I do not give up. EVER.
Also, I do not want any child to think I have given up on him. EVER. This is my philosophy and I certainly do not think it is appropriate for everyone so what to do when you can’t stand it any more?
Next: When all else fails.