Preparing for your first few music lessons can be a daunting task for families. What do we bring? Does my kid have to play the instrument beforehand? How do we know what to practice? As a parent/guardian, do I sit in on lessons?
Not to worry! All of these are common questions instructors get leading up to and on the first lesson day (and after!).
First off, let me say that there are some general preparations most teachers will ask for as well as more specifics depending on the instrument and age. After talking with Brian Hickman, piano faculty member at the Center for Musical Arts, we came up with a piano-specific list of materials that teachers generally ask the family to bring to the first piano lesson and/or have at home:
Materials Needed for Piano Lessons
- Instrument – the family must have a piano or keyboard at home so the student can practice
- Bench – an adjustable bench is necessary to make sure the student is comfortable playing, whatever their height is
- Notebook for lesson notes – teacher or parent takes notes; teacher also writes notes in music books
- Pencil (always have a pencil!)
- Metronome – important for starting off with great rhythm and pulse
- Music books – this will be specific to instrument, age, and method the teacher prefers to teach; your teacher will tell you which books to get as they get to know you and your needs
- Stress ball – for strengthening fingers
Another level of preparation is what needs to happen before, during, and between lessons in order to be appropriately prepared:
Piano Lessons Preparation and Mindset
- Fingernails – need to be short and neat so they do not get in the way of putting fingers on the piano keys
- Practice time – need to be ready and committed to setting aside at least 4 days/week of practice, starting at 15 minutes for beginners; the number of days and amount of time will be a continual discussion with your teacher
- Team effort – parents are encouraged to sit in on lessons so they know what the student is working on and so they know how to help with home practice
- Openness and willingness to learn something new and fun!
The first few lessons are always about getting to know each other and the instrument.
During the first lesson, the teacher will gauge the student’s interest and focus and can then determine how to proceed. We start with small tasks so it’s not overwhelming – Brian starts by talking about the piano (the history, how the instrument works/produces sound, how to press keys down, etc.) and what the student may or may not already know about the instrument and how to play it.
Brian also places a lot of value in how students hold their bodies while playing – he talks about how to sit at the piano and hand position/shape so that the student feels comfortable playing.
Note-reading is another crucial skill to learn for any instrument, and many teachers begin teaching it as soon as lessons begin. As for piano, Brian introduces notes, chords and harmony, and even improvisation when his students start lessons so that they immediately start acquiring a sense of how to move around the instrument with musical knowledge in addition to physical awareness.
Practicing is another topic that is imperative to sort out – it can be tricky to create an agreement that works for both the student and the parent, but it is completely possible and also necessary!
The first step is for the student, parent and teacher to all be on the same page about the amount of time to practice and what to work on. Teachers have different styles and ideas for what works for them, so this will be different for everyone. When I teach violin lessons, for instance, I ask that the parent/guardian sit in on lessons as much as possible so that they know what and how we are working on things and can therefore help the child practice at home. This is especially helpful for younger children – to the age of 10 at least. We all know that schedules can be incredibly busy, so dropping your kid off sometimes might be necessary. However, the more physically present you are, the more your child will get out of lessons.
Parental commitment and engagement is a big factor that determines the success of the student. Remember, there is no “I” in “team.” When all of us work together, the student can thrive, and that is what we all want!
To learn more about beginning lessons on any instrument, visit our lessons page.