For a number of years while living overseas we were often found hiking in and out of remote villages. These trips were never easy. For us as parents concerned about our children’s wellbeing, they were often traumatic. For our children, they were long, tedious and challenging. When they were too young to walk, we carried them. Once they  were able, they walked as far as possible. We found that they made better progress with words of encouragement, with distracting stories and occasional rewards. But they still had to put one foot in front of the other for hours on end. There was no other way of reaching the goal. We challenged them to keep going till the next remembered landmark, or till the next specified time when we might take a break.

As they became older and more able they had responsibilities to carry water bottles, umbrellas or small backpacks on behalf of the whole family.

By the time we walked out we were usually quite a bit fitter than on the inward journey, through many shorter walks within the area.

For the children the journeys were a blend of tedium and adventure. (There were “Yeehah!” moments when crossing swollen rivers on adult shoulders). But for Delwyn there was a visceral apprehension before a journey, particularly when the preceding night poured with rain. Pushing on took courage.

For each trip there were project goals. Seeing them completed one by one was an encouragement for the next challenge.

Whilst the children did not have the range of amazing opportunities they might have had in our home country, they were able to give more time to developing the skills they were picking up. In fact we all learned new skills – especially language – with instruction from the villagers (our tutors) and encouragement from each other.


The reason for the preceding ramble (by my husband) is that we learned resilience through these village trips. With no vehicular road – just a narrow trail, with numerous river crossings and the odd bridge – we had no choice but to make the journey that way. Perhaps the children wished it was shorter.  But they survived and they learned that sometimes things are tough, but the way through is to keep going. As young adults now, each one of them is grateful for those difficult times when we learned resilience as a family.

Now, a world away in New Zealand and in the context of learning piano, I wonder how we can toughen up our young musicians to just get on with it – to learn without wanting it all to be easy and almost done for them. Here are some tips I’ve come up with, each of which is illustrated by something in the opening paragraphs:

  • Give plenty of positive reinforcement from the sidelines. Getting new skills right requires patience and persistence. Learning to put the time in to do so brings its own rewards. But for our children to make solid progress they need parents to cheer them along the journey with positive reinforcement when they do put the time in.
  • Don’t shy away from various sorts of repetition. Repetition may seem as tedious to a child as a long walk, but it builds up muscle strength and muscle memory.
  • There needs to be accountability. A weekly lesson with a tutor helps to show what a pupil has worked on regularly. It gives the learning a structure, like landmarks on a journey, and helps to carry through on projects when the going gets tough.
  • Develop practice fitness. Make practice a regular routine, not just an option. This means it is based on what is needed to be done and not just when the child feels like it. Short and regular makes for better practice fitness than long and infrequent.
  • Increase individual responsibility through family tasks. This may seem a strange point but it is really helpful for children to realise that not every activity is about them. Having simple responsibilities that benefit the family leads to self discipline in other areas, including music practice as part of their own responsibility to the opportunity given them to learn.
  • Push through the fears associated with performances. There is often an apprehension leading up to a performance. This could even include a natural nervousness at the lesson – a sort of performance in itself. Sometimes it just takes time for children to grow through the nervousness of playing for others. Don’t give up on it.
  • Complete projects. Have a plan and complete each task towards the project’s fulfillment. Push through the difficult and enjoy the successes. Simple plans are usually given each week at the lesson. The tutor assigns what he or she assesses as being a manageable plan of what to accomplish that week.
  • Put time into managing new techniques. The job of the tutor is to give the pupil ways to learn new techniques. The parent is to encourage the reinforcement of the skill through practice (and therefore actually has the harder job! But then the parent learns resilience too.)
  • Have fewer projects or activities, but do them well. I remember feeling as a mum in that other world away that my children were missing out on the amazing range of activities available back in NZ. But they have assured me as young adults that they never felt they missed out. Quite the contrary.

Learning an instrument provides a wonderful opportunity to learn resilience if done well. But if you need more help, may I suggest a few family hikes!

Since my last blog some of my pupils sat piano exams. I was delighted with how well everyone did. The day before the results came out I read a proverb which I’ve been thinking about ever since.

 The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Prov 21:5

I’ve been thinking how

  1. we put a plan in place in order to learn what was needed for the exam;
  2. we got busy, diligently working on new pieces and other challenges such as ear tests, sight reading and scales;
  3. we saw how all that hard work led to profit gained in areas of confidence and going up a new skill level.

The plan involved a commitment from 3 parties:

  1. the pupil,
  2. the parents,
  3. the tutor.

There were times when pupils felt they were not going to get it all learned in time. That’s where they had to work to a timetable of preparation I gave them each week so that they peaked at the right time. The parents had to support that practice and make sure it happened – especially for those who were new to the idea of exams.

The second part of the proverb addresses haste. There were also times when we had to work slowly through difficult passages so they were learned well. Without working on this attention to detail, the results would have been much poorer.

All of this raises the question: What are your practice plans? Maybe you have a project you are working towards, or a piece you really want to learn to play. Or maybe you want your child to just learn the piano. The latter needs a bit more direction. If you want to talk to me about aiming for something in particular (it doesn’t need to be an exam, but I do work hard to make sure that is not the scary thing some folks think of), please get in touch. Also, keep asking those post-lesson questions that we talked about in the last blog.

I  am finding in my personal life and business that  a 90 day plan works well. I can break it down into days, weeks, months and 90 days, and see measurable things to aim for in a range of areas.

Recently, using this method, I was really pleased to finalise my second book for Headstart Piano and get a first print done. Before this my current pupils had been learning their music from copies of its pages off my printer. I’m convinced I’d not be at this point without a clear plan in place.


So, as you think about your situation, here are just a few possibilities you could plan to aim for:

  • Have a particular piece in a tutor book to get to by the end of a term.
  • Plan a date for a mini recital to play for.
  • Decide with your tutor (so that the level of ability is right) a particular piece to learn.
  • Work towards a music exam.
  • Scales help with so much. Why not aim to learn a particular number by a certain time?
  • Get quicker at various stages of note recognition with timed exercises.

There was something else I noticed with the outcome of my pupils’ exam results.  For those new to exams there was a special gratitude to those around them who had helped them achieve a fairly challenging goal. For those pupils familiar with the exam process, they took better charge of their own learning from previous experiences and were able, to a larger extent, to put their own practice plan in place.