Understanding piano parents: What Minor League Baseball taught me

Baseball wasn’t my life, not even close.

But my husband has always been a Red Sox fan and he wanted to sign up our son for baseball. T-ball, Rookie, Pee-wee, Mosquito, Bantam, Midget…I can’t even remember how many levels there were (or their order), but summer after summer as my son grew, I sat on the bleachers of our home field or an away field swatting black flies, shading my eyes from the sun and squinting to see my boy at bat, on base or out on the field.

I’d socialize with the other parents, most of whom knew the rules (which kept changing to accommodate progressing levels). I knew none of the rules. I knew a bare minimum about baseball, period. Ball, bat, bases, hitting, running, tagging…hmmmm, outs, innings. Very basic knowledge.

As I sat through ball practices and games, barely catching the innings and outs, I finally understood how it felt to be a piano parent who didn’t know the ins and outs of piano.

I realized that in the same way I knew very little about ball (and my care for it was marginally the same), some piano parents felt this exact same way about piano lessons. I remember with great clarity the moment it all sank in.

Some people’s lives don’t revolve around music (and/or piano)

My life has always centred on music. I love music. I love the piano. I’ve studied, researched, learned about, composed for and contemplated the piano. So, if I know this much, doesn’t everyone understand? In reading comments on the various online piano teacher Facebook groups, I can identify with teachers who think it’s odd that a parent doesn’t know how piano lessons work. I once expected others to know what I know, too. But now I can identify with the parents, too.

That’s because some parents’ and students’ lives don’t revolve around music. Strange though it may seem, they are limited to a very basic knowledge. Keys, little black notes, fingers, piano teacher, paying for it, driving there, picking up….ummmm, practicing…and their knowledge doesn’t go very far beyond that.

What I learned from being a ball mom who felt almost completely in the dark, was a brand-new sense of compassion for the well-meaning yet uninformed piano parent. I exercised greater patience, willing patience, with parents who seemed equally in the dark about piano lessons. I developed a new respect for their willingness to get their kids involved in something they knew little about, themselves, and started to take greater care to explain things to them from a place of respect.

Equipment

I knew nothing about ball equipment. My husband did, but I didn’t. I was at a complete loss as to what my son needed to play ball. For the first time I understood something about parents who want to set up their child to play the piano but don’t understand that their keyboard isn’t complete without a pedal or that they need a proper bench, or that their acoustic piano should be tuned each year. In my next post I’m going to share how I help parents set up their children for piano. Stay tuned.

What? We haven’t paid yet?

One day as a ball mom I had the horrible realization that my better half had signed up our son for the season, but had let them know I would write the cheque. Between the two of us, we both thought the other had paid, and therefore it went a long time before either of us realized the other hadn’t.

It was embarrassing, to say the least. What I learned from the experience is that well-meaning, good parents can get caught in a situation they don’t want to be in: missing a payment. I learned to check with piano parents from the beginning to confirm which is the better one for communication and things like payments. Sometimes as a failsafe, both parents want to be on my email list. It helps for you to be proactive as the professional in helping parents navigate your policies.

It is better for all involved if you can assume the best of the parents, that they mean well and want to pay you, rather than assuming that they are remiss or somehow deficient or that they don’t care whether they’ve paid or not. When something is awkward with a parent, simply let them know what is amiss and help them through the process of fixing it so everyone can move forward feeling okay.

Participation alone can be enough

Normally I run in circles with other piano professionals and as a group, we encourage one another to teach to an excellent standard. We all know why. Piano can be an amazing experience for children who practice, stick with it and excel.

But sitting on the bleachers, picking at the peeling forest green paint, I thought about my son playing ball. He was loyal to his team and tried very hard, but….

He wasn’t destined to be an athlete. He participated. At home when he was younger he would throw a ball around and practice batting on his own. But as he grew, he didn’t. Some of the other kids did regularly. As he got older, my son went to practice and games, and that was it. He put in enough effort to be a teammate. And I was okay with it.

I didn’t push for him to invest more because I knew this was likely all he had to give to ball. All I truly wanted for my son in ball was to have a great experience with other community kids, to learn how to play with a team and to play well enough to feel good about himself.

Did I notice the kids who excelled at the game? Yes. Did I recognize that their extra work paid off? Yes. Do I believe more work in piano also reaps better rewards? Yes.

But as a ball mom who went into it with only casual expectations, I finally understood parents who just want their child to experience piano with casual expectations. And I came to understand that this is totally okay.

Parents proud of small accomplishments

I’ve learned from my experience as a ball mom exactly why piano parents feel immense pride in their children even with small accomplishments.

Watching my son play in games against other teams, my heart was usually in my throat, hoping he would do okay. Each and every time he hit the ball or caught the ball or tagged an opponent I nearly burst with pride.

I’ve noticed in piano recitals and even when adjudicating in music festivals, how very proud parents are of their children, even when in my estimation there was only an average performance. But when a parent knows only a little about ball (or the piano), any accomplishment seems like a major achievement. And, actually, they’re right. It is.

It’s not about ball or piano, it’s about the child

Conversely, when my son struck out or dropped the ball or got tagged, my heart broke for him.

Then, watching pro baseball, I noticed how many professional ball players make mistakes in games. That’s when I realized that everyone drops the ball. Errors are part of the game, but as a parent, you support your kid no matter what.

One thing to be thankful for with activities like ball and piano is that they provide opportunities for our children that are wholesome and character-building, and keep them out of trouble as they grow up and learn to navigate this big, complicated world.

Ultimately, all we want our children to learn through any activity is to respect their own value. This is one of the main things your piano parents want for their children in piano.

Get outside your comfort zone sometimes

The best thing a lifetime musician or piano teacher can do is get out there and try something new, to be a beginner in something, or to watch or participate in another activity.

This is the life skills equivalent to cross training in sports. According to the google dictionary, cross training is “the action or practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.”

For us piano teachers, the main event is piano. If we get involved in activities other than piano, even if it’s still music-related like choir or a community band, we can improve the way we teach piano. And just as important, it puts us in situations where we can learn valuable lessons about human relations in general, so we can constantly be improving how we interact with our clients, our piano parents.

For me, the summers I spent behind the dugout as a ball mom helped me appreciate a group of piano parents better, and helped me strive to meet them at their level and understand how to meet their specific needs.

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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!

6 thoughts on “Understanding piano parents: What Minor League Baseball taught me

Add yours

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jack! Your professor’s words reminded me that my prof once said about teaching, “Know who you are stuffing, know what you are stuffing them with, and stuff them well.” It was a joke, of course. His point was the same as your prof’s. I totally agree!

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