One day, two kids told their own parents they want to learn the piano. Both kids are of the same age, no music background, and showed interest in learning the piano.
The parents signed them up for piano lessons.
3 years later, one child is learning Grade 2 pieces and preparing for exam in few months’ time. Meanwhile, another child is still learning Piano Adventures book 2, and not even near Grade 1 level.
What’s the difference?
Here at The Happy Pianist, I have the privilege to work with hundreds of piano teachers in Singapore, and also thousands of students since 2014.
Over the years, I have seen students who learn and progress well, but have also seen students who struggle to progress in their music journey after learning a few years.
While we don’t need to compete to see who’s the fastest learner in music, it is important to know why your child is not progressing as well as he/she should.
If a child usually take 1 year to progress from Primary 1 to 2, but another child take 3 years… isn’t that’s a cause for concern?
After all, music lessons are not cheap, and you don’t want your hard-earned money to go to waste!
From our experience interacting with hundreds of teachers and thousands of parents and students, here are the reasons why your child is progressing slower than others.
1. Frequent Changes Of Teacher
Is your child learning well with a teacher currently, and suddenly the school assign you another teacher without prior notice? And probably after a few months, you are assigned another teacher again?
Learning under different teachers is normal, but it’s not normal to be switching teachers every few months. And worst of all, an abrupt change with no proper handover. The worst time to change teacher is in the midst of exam preparation when the student needs the teacher the most.
Students (especially beginner kids) take time to warm up to a teacher, build rapport, and understand the teaching style of that teacher.
Same for the teachers, who also take time to build rapport with the students, and overtime, know their strengths and weaknesses too. A teacher who can commit long term can also plan out the progression path for the student.
That’s why we see that the students who progress fast are students who learn from the same teacher for at least 1-2 years, or even better, to continue learning through all the grades. And these are usually students who learn with private piano teachers who run their own music practice (because private teachers have full control of their students)
What should you do?
You need to know the commitment of the teacher. Is the teacher able to commit lessons for the next 1-2 years? Or complete the current grade exams with your child before moving on?
If your teacher is not a resident in Singapore (e.g. a foreigner who joins a music school under a work permit), you have to know how long he/she will be staying here. You have to ask, otherwise that teacher may teach halfway and then quit on you (because the pass has expired and he/she has to return back).
2. Teachers Are Not Qualified or Experienced
If your objective is just to learn piano for fun, then qualifications of teacher doesn’t matter much. You may not even need a teacher. You can just learn from your friend or a mobile app directly.
But if you want to progress well with proper foundation, then it is important to learn from a qualified teacher. A qualified teacher in Singapore has minimum Grade 8 (ABRSM/Trinity/LCM) certification onwards, to Diploma, Degree or Masters Degree from recognised institutions.
Recognised institutions refers to international examination board such as ABRSM, Trinity College London, London College of Music, and established music colleges in Singapore, NAFA Nanyang Academy Of Fine Arts, Lasalle College of the Arts, SOTA, NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, or music colleges and universities from First Tier countries with high standards of music certification.
And why do we spell them out so clearly for you?
Because we realise many parents or students don’t even know what qualifications their teachers have. Some parents are paying expensive lesson fees thinking their teachers have “music degree”, but those degrees are from unknown colleges no musicians have heard of. (Because not all music degrees are the same!).
You may be shocked to know that some of these teachers with unknown music degrees don’t even have ABRSM certificates, but was tasked to prepare your child for ABRSM grading? Probably now you know why some kids are not even at Grade 1 after learning 3-4 years.
What should you do?
Know your teachers’ qualifications and their music certifications. You have to ask even if the teacher is referred by your friend or assigned by a school. Don’t be shy! You’re the customer paying for the fees, so you have the right to know who you are paying for. By knowing the qualification, you will know if you’re getting the right teacher for your child.
If you want your child to progress up the ABRSM grading, then engage a teacher who has completed the grading, and has prepared students for the grading. If you want to engage a teacher who holds a music degree, then go for one who graduate from a recognized university (to make your money worth too!)
3. Wrong Type Of Lessons
There are different types of piano lessons out there, and you have to know the correct one that meet your objectives.
a. The music exploration type.
This type of lesson is more of music discovery, for little kids to try out different instruments, like keyboard and percussion with some singing and dancing and storytelling. Not so much of proper piano learning and playing.
b. The crash course type
This type of lessons will teach your child a few finger patterns or few tricks to play the piano fast. The student won’t learn any music theory or music foundation, but will go straight to learn a fixed list of songs chosen by the instructor. You won’t play the melody, but instead you will play some simple chords repeatedly and sing along.
c. The proper foundation type
This type of lessons will get you with learning the basic foundation of music and piano playing, learning music theory and practical playing. You learn how to read music notation, play with scores, learning simple pieces and then progress upwards.
The proper type of learning is what will train your child up with proper music foundation, to be able to read scores, and eventually able to learn and play any pieces independently. Learning with proper foundation will also help your child ace any music exams too.
However, this does not mean that it is wrong to take up music exploration or crash course type of lessons. They are fun lessons too, just that they are not structured to teach your child to progress far in piano playing.
What should you do?
Before you sign up for any lessons, know your objectives first. If you want your child just to ‘explore and try’, then exploration lessons will do. But don’t expect your child to come out of such classes and ready to take ABRSM grading exams, as those classes are not meant to teach piano foundation.
If your child just want to have fun and learn a few songs, then request for teachers who can structure a ‘crash course’ that teach your child just the few songs he/she likes to kick start the interest. But do note they still lack the proper foundation to learn and play music independently.
If you want to learn proper music foundation and progress up the grades well, to be able to read and play any music you want yourself, then request for teachers whose lessons are designed to teach you both practical piano and music theory.
4. Evading Music Foundation
At point number 3, we mentioned about learning music theory such as note reading and reading scores are important. But for anyone who learn music before, we all know it is not easy for beginners to read music, the notation, the rhythm beats…etc.
So over the years, there are many new methods developed to help kids beginners learn music without reading the music notes, like reading numbers or colours, or just learn by memory.
So can you learn piano using these methods?
But can you go far?
Reading numbers and colours are easy. Memorising finger patterns works too. But all these short-cuts can only get you so far like playing short tunes on the piano. You can’t be playing exam pieces with numbers or Beethoven Sonata just by memorising finger patterns. Ultimately, your child still have to learn and read music notes.
Usually kids who start with those short cut methods will have to come back to learning note reading in order to progress. Which also mean they have to go through a ‘transition’ phase. They may also need to unlearn and relearn many things too.
What should you do?
Learning to read music is same as learning a new language. For a start, every music notes look like a foreign character to you. But should you skip because it’s something new to you? No!
Commit to reading music notes right from the start to save time going in circles or going through ‘transition’. Reading music can be fun, and we have many Happy Pianist teachers use music notes cards and rhythm cards to help their students read music faster. These methods start the child on the right path and make lessons fun too!
5. Lessons Duration Is Too Short
Lesson duration is usually determined by the age of the student (because of the attention span), and also the grade level of the student.
Young children who are about 4-5 years old tend to start with 30-min lessons first, because of their short attention span. But if they can focus better, then they can do longer duration like 45min or 1 hour.
If your child is learning for grading, then it’s better to do 45min or 1 hour lessons, so that the teacher has enough time to cover the exam pieces and other aspects of music learning, such as sight reading, scales and music theory. Don’t keep staying at 30min class.
Furthermore, fees can be cheaper per-minute if you do longer duration.
For example, we have beginner lesson fees at $40 per 30min lesson, or $60 per hour lesson. The per-minute rate is lower if you do 1 hour class.
What should you do?
If your child is learning for leisure only, then any duration is fine.
If your child is learning for progression up the grades, go for longer duration lessons so she can learn more and the teacher can teach more to help her progress faster. A longer duration class is also cheaper per minute.
6. Not Enough Practice
We all know music practice is part of music learning. If you want to progress fast, then you have to practice what the teacher teach you. So in every lessons, your child learn something new and move forward fast.
But if your child doesn’t practice, or practice too little, then the teacher has to spend time revising what was taught in the previous lesson. The teacher also can’t move fast if the child is not ready.
So how much should your child practice?
This also depends on your goal you set for your child.
We have parents who want their child to progress fast and complete Grade 8 before they are 12. The kids practice at least 1 hour a day. The kids may do multiple lessons a week, or even have a practice tutor to guide the child in practice. These kids can complete 2 grades a year.
We also have parents who want their kids to go for grading, but at their own pace. The kids practice 2-3 times a week. The kids progress on average 1 grade a year.
We also have parents who let their kids learn for leisure only. The kids practice 0-1 times a week. The kids progress slower, but it’s alright to them as they are not working towards any grading or certification.
What should you do?
Progression goes hand in hand with the amount of practice done outside of lessons. So if you like your child to progress faster, then they have to practice more outside of lessons.
But we know practice is not fun!
We understand that, hence we have Happy Pianist teachers who make practice fun for kids by using reward points. Kids earn points with regular practice, and use them to claim little gifts, or sometimes ice cream treats from the teacher!
7. Lessons Not Consistent
Piano lessons are usually conducted once a week regularly, so that a student can learn new things in class, practice on the other days or the week, and learn more things in the next class.
This consistency helps the student to learn better and remember what they learn, and the knowledge will retain much longer. The knowledge learned will build up and that’s how progress is made.
However, if the lessons are not consistent, with gaps of 2-3 weeks in between lessons, or many breaks throughout the year, then it’s difficult to retain knowledge learned. As lessons are too far apart, the student will forget what was taught, and the teacher will need to revise the previous lesson, instead of teaching new stuffs.
What should you do?
If you want your child to progress, it’s important to commit to regular lessons as much as possible. Consistency is key.
It’s okay to take breaks once in a while (such as holiday trips), but too many breaks, or a long break will disrupt the learning, and the child have to keep revising what he learn previously, and not able to move forward.
8. No Direct Access To Teachers
For lessons with our Happy Pianist teachers, all parents have direct access and contact of the teacher, and the teacher will also feedback weekly to the parent about the child’s progress.
This way, the parent and teacher can work closely together and help the child progress better. We have also seen how some parents and our Happy Pianist teachers work so closely that they become good friends for years, and continue to support each another for the benefit of the child.
However, some parents don’t have direct access to teachers, as communication is restricted, either by school or some administrator. So if a parent need to know the progress of the child, the readiness of the child for exam, or even simple things like buying of books, it has to be done through the school administrator.
Some schools give feedback only once every few months, or end of year. If you as a parent only know about the slow progress of your child after a year, you have already wasted a year (plus one year of fees). All these restrictions slows down communication and lesson planning.
What should you do?
We firmly believe a strong relationship between parents and teachers will help the progress of the child, and that’s why we give all our parents have direct access to their teachers to discuss about lessons and progression plans. If you don’t have access to your teacher, you must at least be able to speak to the him/her at the end of each class, to get feedback and understand about your child’s progress.
Regular communication is important, so as much as you can, get direct access with your teacher. It will make communication easier and avoid miscommunication too.
Above are the 8 reasons why your child is progressing slower than usual. To ensure a smooth progression path for your child in piano, the teacher, student, and parents have to play their own role well. We hope the suggestions help you make better decisions in planning the lessons for your child.
If you need further advice on how your child can progress better, feel free to reach out to us on your request too.