Liz Parker has been a music industry professional and piano teacher since 1985. She teaches children to tinkle the ivories, explore their creativity and enjoy making music. We caught up with Liz to ask the 10 questions you know you want to know about putting your children through music lessons.
1. Does every child have an inherent musicality?
Yes, especially when it comes to “feeling” music. If you don’t believe me, watch any toddler when loud music is on – they immediately start flapping and bobbing up and down.
2. How does music help enrich other parts of children’s lives?
Skills learned in music are transferable. Commitment, discipline, working hard, overcoming obstacles, learning to express oneself, meeting deadlines, collaborating with others – it’s all covered in music.
3. What sort of time commitment should parents expect when their children enroll in piano lessons or any other type of music classes?
In the beginning, lessons are typically 30 minutes and practise should take at least that long for very young kids. Later on, depending on the level they’re playing at, 45-60 minutes of daily practise is needed. At the intermediate/senior level, we’re looking at a minimum of 2 hours daily (little kids’ eyes get really big when I tell them this).
4. What are your thoughts on music competitions?
I am not from the “competitions are evil, you’re only in competition with yourself” mentality. This may have something to do with my strict mother. I’m all for competitions. I competed a lot as a kid, and worked harder as a result. I learned how to win (graciously) and how to lose (with dignity – at least until I got to the car).
Life is competitive sometimes – music is a good way to learn about that. I don’t register my students in competitions, but I do make them perform in recitals, and if someone else is playing the same piece, I casually inform them of this.
5. What if a child refuses to practice piano – do you have any techniques to inspire them?
Threats and evil eyes.
Kidding. I talk it over with the child in private, then with the parent. I try to diffuse any tension over this with humour, patience, cajoling and flat-out bribery.
6. At what age can a child start piano and/or music lessons?
This really depends. I’ve started a child as young as 3, but a good age is 5 or 6, before they learn that music practise is a drag. A really squirmy kid should wait until 7 or 8.
7. Why should parents enroll their children in piano lessons?
Piano is awesome because the whole musical “system” is all laid out, visually. Any other instrument it’s harder to visualize the layout of the notes, but with piano, it’s right there in front of you. It makes learning any other instrument, including the voice, much easier. And music is a beautiful thing – didn’t it get us all through high school angst?
8. What should parents look for when trying to find the right music teacher?
Quick word about pianos first – you can start by renting a keyboard, but ask about weighted eyes – this leads to strong finger muscles. If your child shows any aptitude, then think about investing in a real, upright piano.
Back to teachers – you want a teacher who is patient, but clear with objectives. This is not musical babysitting. A teacher should be firm, but approachable, especially with young kids. After a trial lesson (no cost), the child should be a bit nervous, but excited and curious about the piano. I also learned how significant it is for a child to see an adult’s face light up when they arrive, and I always welcome students with a big smile upon arrival. My facial expression upon their departure totally depends on whether or not they’ve practised.
9. What do you love most about teaching piano?
Short term: the results. I LOVE taking a new kid who got 73 on her grade 2 piano (which is unacceptable) and guiding her towards a 92 for grade 3. I’ll never forget the pride on her face when she told me her mark.
Long term: Kids move on as they do, and I’ve had students find me 10 years later on Facebook and thank me for never giving up on them. To meet a student all grown up and go for a drink and catch up is incredibly rewarding! They go from “How do I get that note?” to “How do I get that girl?” I’ve become a “Life Mentor”! So humbling.
10. Why is it important to have music in a child’s life?
You want your kid to turn out happy and expressive, right? Music gives them that.
About Liz: In the Parker household, talk of quitting piano wasn’t casual dinner-time conversation. It meant a summit meeting in the living room. Liz graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music at 15 with a Gold Medal for the top mark in Canada; she holds her Licentiate from England’s Trinity College of London; and her Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia.
Teaching since 1985, Liz loves working with kids to achieve great marks in the RCM exams. She combines a sense of fun and instilling discipline for maximum results. No slouching or flat fingers! To compensate, treats are handed out after student recitals. She teaches in the Queen/Bathurst area, meaning coffee/shopping options nearby for parents to while away the lesson time.