As music educators, we are probably all aware that music students whose parents are more actively involved in their musical lives are as a whole, more successful. Some of us have even taught our own children with great success stories. For example, Jon Nakamatsu, whose mother was his first teacher, has a brilliant concert career. While others of us wouldn’t go that direction, we remain highly involved in our children’s musical pursuits. What is important in today’s society is that parents take even that initial step toward seeking out lessons for their children, and then continue to be encouraging as their children begin their musical studies.
We see a wide variety of parental attitudes toward private music lessons within our teaching studios, let alone society at large. These attitudes contribute directly to student successes or failures in their development at the instrument. Parents who are committed to bringing students to lessons faithfully, helping them learn to practice (at least in the beginning stages), investing in a quality instrument, and seeking out performance opportunities are going to have children who have a more successful and more satisfying experience overall. This is something that we as teachers need to remind parents who are considering lessons for their children. Many teachers have agreements for the parents to sign not only to make sure the parents understand their business policies, but also to reinforce to the parents the commitment they are making to the child.
We have probably all read numerous quotes from music advocacy research studies about the countless benefits of music study for students. What I have recently realized as I have become a parent of music students is that there are many benefits for parents as well. Being a parent of a music student helps me understand the relationships between myself and my children better. It helps me learn what motivates and interests my children as I search for incentives to help them become better at practicing. It helps my parenting skills as I learn how to establish discipline and routine with their practicing, which is different for every student. Something that works for my own students may or may not work for my children, so I am even learning new teaching techniques. For many parents, their children’s exposure to private music study may also be their own musical education as they sit in on lessons and practice sessions. Parents sometimes decide to take up the instrument themselves and even play duets with their children. For many students who begin lessons at a young age, it becomes a multi-generational activity, one which can deepen the parent-child relationship at a new level.
Many former public school music educators, myself included, say that the reason they left, or the part of the job that they disliked the most was having to deal with the difficult parents. These were not always necessarily the overbearing, helicopter parents who wanted their students to enter every competition. These were also the parents who did not understand why in the world the MUSIC teacher would need to assign any homework. After all, they would say, my child is going into the restaurant business like me, so [even though she loves chorus, has a solo in the upcoming concert and does summer community music theater] why does she need to learn to read music? As private instructors, we do not usually deal with parental attitudes such as the latter. Instead, what we more typically have is a group of built-in advocates for music education who we can count on as a voice of support in the community.
Peer pressure among parents is astounding, especially when it comes to sports and academic participation. If Johnny is playing in ABC soccer league, then Davy and Sammy had better be as well...keeping up with the Jones’s. If Susie is in an advanced math summer camp, then Rosie and Jonie might not be in advanced math with her next year unless they join in. If enough parents were bragging about their children’s music lessons, then they might be trendsetters in the community. I can think of countless conversations I have had with other young parents in which we list our children’s extracurricular activities. They list the three or four sports their child participates in and I list the one or two sports and the two or three music activities. Then they say, “Oh, music lessons! I’ve been thinking about that but I wasn’t sure when to start.” Or they say, “I started band when I was in fifth grade. I guess that’s when Charlie will start too.” Just reminding other parents that extracurricular musical training is an option gets the mental ball and the conversation rolling.
How can we, as private instructors, give the parents of our students the tools and strategies to become music advocators and help us continue to grow our studios? First, we can help make them aware of all the resources that are available for parents of musical children. There are organizations such as the Association of Music Parents that can help parents learn to find their voice to advocate for their child’s music education. I keep a studio Facebook page that parents can read and I post links and articles I find on music advocacy along with other helpful topics. Periodic newsletters for families can include thank-yous for parents that have given referrals or given support to the studio in other ways.
Some studio teachers have parents who are skilled in technology record their events and post them online. Social networking is increasingly becoming a powerful tool for parental communication and we as private instructors are just beginning to understand its potential. Do you have a studio blog? Invite a parent to write a guest submission for it. Don’t have a blog? Find out if the parents do and see if they would be interested in writing about your studio.
Supportive parents may also be willing to assist you in promoting your studio events in other ways, such as placing flyers or posters in their schools, houses of worship, and/or places of business. Also, we can do simple things such as remind parents that they can invite friends to come to studio recitals and events. So much of what parents are looking for for their children these days is product-oriented. What better way to recruit than to have potential families see the fruits of your students’ labors?
Our relationship with the parents of our young students is just as important as our relationship with our students themselves. Open communication and education for the parents is crucial to our students’ success, and to ours. Parents in today’s media-driven, quick-fix society need to be reminded in as many ways as possible that music lessons are an important option for their children’s well-rounded education. Parents who are already convinced that this is the case can be our best allies in the fight to keep public and private music instruction alive and well in our community.