Monday Mailbag – Teaching Family Members

I’m actually more of a piano student, than teacher. (I’m a high school senior preparing to major in piano at college next year). However, my parents have given me the opportunity to teach my 12 year old sister to play, so that I get practice teaching and they don’t have to pay for lessons. My problem is that she doesn’t take her lessons seriously and often interprets my teaching as “being bossy.”

I have heard similar stories from professional teachers from when they were young. (My piano teacher said he was the troublesome little brother/student). So, I was wondering if you had any advice on how to have effective piano lessons when the student and teacher are siblings.

This is a question that hits close to home for me because I teach three of my younger siblings. My sister, Noelle, was one of  my first students when I officially opened the doors of my studio. She was six at the time and graduated from high school last year. A couple of times, I presented the possibility of having her study with another teacher so that she could get exposure to a different teaching style, but she always wanted to continue studying with me. My other two siblings that I’ve taught have both taken from me for about 11 years now. Here are a few suggestions that have helped us make it work in our family:

  1. Schedule a specific lesson time and stick to it! No canceling lessons for trivial reasons just because they seem more flexible or understanding.
  2. Love them just like the other students, encourage them to reach high levels, but be understanding when they fail to meet your expectations.
  3. Don’t correct their practicing during the week. Unless one of my siblings comes to me with a specific problem or question about their practicing, I don’t offer any suggestions or practice tips. Instead, I just listen as a doting older sister and praise them for the progress they are making.
  4. Be personable, yet professional during the lesson. My siblings know that we mean business and that when they are at the lesson, the goal is to work on their musical skills. Also, make sure that they see that you are intent on helping them achieve their musical goals. Even if they balk at doing a technical exercise or trying a particular practice strategy, stick with it until they experience the improvement for themselves. This will assure them of your ability to help them, and encourage them to take your instruction to heart.

I’d love to have some additional feedback on this topic this week. Do any of you teach family members? What tips and strategies have you found to be especially effective?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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