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7 ways parents can help their child practice piano

Updated: Jan 13

As a parent, you’ve likely been told by your child’s piano teacher that your child has the potential to progress further by either practicing more, practicing “X” amount of time each day, or establishing a daily practice routine of 5 to 30 minutes at the piano.

However, after looking at their book, you may be questioning exactly how your child is going to increase or fill this practice time when their pieces are only 15 to 60 seconds long. You might think to yourself: Is that 8 to 10 repetitions of each piece? Won’t my child get bored? What else can I do?

Below are 7 ways you can help your child fill their practice time that relate to their assigned beginner or elementary piano pieces. Note: not all of these ways are applicable to all pieces in beginner and elementary levels.

Listen to the assigned pieces

By listening to their assigned piece, your child will develop their auditory senses by becoming more familiar with the rhythm, tempo, and pitches. The benefit of doing this exercise is that they will be able to self-correct themselves when they hear their errors while practicing their piece.

To execute this exercise find and listen to the following YouTube channels that have professional pianists playing pieces from different piano book series

If searching for a specific piece, type in the piece name in the search box within the channel to find the corresponding video.

Read the note names and intervals in the music

First, choose an assigned piece, have your child find the starting note, and ask them to name it. From there, let them figure out if the next note is higher, lower, or the same and ask them to say the name of it. Initially, the distances (intervals) between notes will be either steps (adjacent notes) or skips (skipping the adjacent note and playing the subsequent one), but as the child progresses in levels, the distances (intervals) will increase, and your child will name the interval, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., and identify the direction: up or down. For pieces that require the hands to play at the same time, do the aforementioned exercise individually for each hand.

The faster your child can read notes and intervals, the more independent they become at playing their pieces and the quicker they see the note patterns (e.g., a note on a line to the note on the next line is always the distance of a 3rd). Building the relationship between the direction of the music notes and the fingers on the keys is fundamental to piano playing.

Tap fingers on the piano lid

Every piece of elementary piano music has specific finger numbers correlating to each note on the staff to instruct your child on which finger plays which note.For this exercise, ask your child to put one or both of their hands on the closed piano lid or a hard surface and get them to tap the fingers that correspond to the written finger numbers in their assigned piece. While doing this, it is beneficial for your child to also say the written finger numbers out loud — you can say them with your child too!

The goal of the exercise is to build the neuro-pathways between the finger and written finger numbers so that your child has a better understanding of the fingering differences between their left and right hand. Note, the tapping doesn’t have to be done in a specific rhythm but can be if your child is comfortable to do so.

When observing your child tapping, ensure that their fingers are curved as if they had a computer mouse under their fingers.

Clap and count the rhythm

First, find a comfortable speed to clap the rhythm or section of the piece with your child.Once this is established, you will say “One, Two, Ready, Go” while simultaneously clapping at the chosen speed and your child will proceed to say and clap the written rhythm after you say “Go.” Depending on your child’s musical aptitude, you can either clap and say the rhythm along with your child or say and point to the rhythm on the music.

To clap the rhythm, the quarter note will typically get one clap and for notes longer than a quarter note hold your hands together for that additional count or counts.

There are a couple different systems to say the rhythm as it depends on the book series your child is learning from. Most books encourage students to say “1” for quarter notes, “1 2” for half notes,” “1 2 3” for dotted half notes, and “1 2 3 4” for whole notes. In the Piano Safari series students are taught to say “Ta” for quarter notes, “Ta 2” for half notes, “Ta 2 3” for dotted half notes, and “Ta 2 3 4” for whole notes.”

In the event of a rest, keep your hands apart and say “rest” or, in the case of a longer rest say “rest” and the number of the remaining beats (e.g., “rest 2” or “rest 2 3 4”).

If your child is comfortable with the rhythm, clap along to a recording of the piece or to a drum loop. This helps them establish an internal sense of pulse that can be integrated when they return to the piano. The goal of this activity is to keep a consistent tempo and ensure accurate rhythm.

Colour important symbols, notes, and patterns

Since music is typically written with black symbols on a white background, it can be a lot of fun to add colour to differentiate specific musical elements on the page. It is encouraged to use erasable coloured pencils to avoid colouring over something important or writing something incorrect that would otherwise become permanent.

You can help your child add colours to their piece for one or more of these reasons:

  • marking sections of music that are the same

  • drawing a line from one note to the next to indicate a specific interval (e.g., 3rds are blue)

  • indicating dynamics (e.g., loud sections are red and soft sections are yellow)

  • emphasizing any new notes in a specific colour to remind your child what the note is

  • writing the counting of longer notes (e.g., writing 1 2 3 4 under a whole note)

Depending on the objective of the colours, it is recommended to have at least eight different coloured pencils on hand for the various indications mentioned above.

Find the sticky spots

In most pieces of music, children encounter a “sticky spot”: a place where there are hesitations, frequent note errors or uncertainties, and incorrect rhythms. Help your child find that area and circle or colour it. This will be an area that’s practiced a little extra each practice session until it’s no longer an issue.

The amount of repetitions of that spot can vary each day and sometimes adding a die roll to see how many times they have to repeat the sticky spot can make it more amusing. While they are repeating the sticky spot, encourage their progress by complimenting them on their improvement. If the repetition yields errors, remind your child to play the passage at a slower speed so that everything is accurate. Once the slower speed is comfortable they can gradually increase it.

Play through then reflect

After completing two or more of the above activities, let your child play through their assigned piece to see how it goes. Afterwards, ask them to reflect on some of these prompts:

  • Were there any new sticky spots?

  • Were there any rhythm inaccuracies?

  • Were their dynamics clear?

  • How would they rate their performance?

Use these comments to encourage them to play the piece one or two more times that day. Afterwards, write down any issues they still need to improve upon and work on them in later practice sessions.

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