Hello tired. discouraged parent,
If you clicked on this blog, you probably have been through this argument in your mind. It is a valid argument to have. Your child loathes his or her piano lessons. (or any music lesson for that matter) and you’re trying to decide if you should let him or her quit. Your child has shown interest in other activities, but music is a drudgery. I have seen it as a teacher and have listened to many a parents worry about what to do. I can only imagine the struggle it is to get them on the bench at home to practice.
I did not grow up having piano lessons. (surprise, surprise). No, I was mostly self-taught. I don’t say that in boast I say it in regret. It saddens me that I did not have that opportunity. Would my mom and dad have had a hard time getting me to practice? Probably not. I loved to practice because I loved music. There were many reasons why I loved it. For one, I was older. I didn’t necessarily see the value in practicing but I enjoyed it and because I was older, it was my decision to learn. No one was forcing me.
Now I realize that an 8 yr old is not going to have the same determination as a 12 year old. Another reason I believe it was easier for me was that there came a certain point where I used my gift regularly. I played in church. A lot. I was 16 and was the main church pianist as well as accompanying pianist. There were plenty of things I had yet to learn but the fact that I was challenged to use my ability was enough to keep me up on it.
Everyone’s story is different. Not everyone is like me. Some start when their young and still have no problem practicing. Some have a terrible time no matter what. I can say that every student hits a wall. Even the really good students. I hit discouraging pits many times in my college career studying to become a better musician. At times I felt like I would never dig myself out. Eventually, I did. If it wasn’t for my teachers I would have never found my way.
I’m writing my story to say that even accomplished musicians have struggles. So obviously, a learning musician is going to as well. The teachers and parents job is to guide and encourage them along the way. One of the main reason why students “quit” or begin to have disdain for their music lessons is one of the following reasons. 1)Their discouraged 2)They are distracted 3)They are bored.
All are very bad! It could be 2 out of 3 or even all 3 reasons! There may be more reasons but any student I have ever talked to it is usually one of these three. Knowing what to do in these situations can help tremendously.
If they become discouraged, obviously we try to encourage them. Parents often forget to do this. It is important that you show your support with words of praise. Show your enjoyment of their playing not “you need to work on that a little more”. They need to know what they are doing well on first. Be specific about what they did well on too. “You did a great job” sounds different from “Wow! You played that scale so smoothly!”
I have seen some students shut down after a recital usually because they compared themselves to someone else. I have to remind them, this is not about “so-and-so”, it’s about you and how much you want to learn. Our job is to get their focus off of everyone else and on the subject of “learning”. For my perfectionist students that are just so hard on themselves for not being…well perfect..I remind them they are a student and it is ok to mess up. That’s how we learn.
I want to focus on their progress not their skill. Every student has a different skill level not to be compared to the other. When I see a student trying, my response is “You did a great job practicing this week” or “Well done working on this harder section”. Some children are easily encouraged and others you might think I might as well be talking to a wall. But it’s just not true. They are listening. Regardless, it is still our job to encourage them.
When they are distracted, we have to find out what that distraction is. I mentioned before students compare themselves to other people. Maybe a 10 year boy has a hard time because he compares himself to the 8 year old who is more “accomplished”. This is always a tough situation. It could be that they would rather play soccer, or do karate. Maybe they think that they won’t ever be good enough in piano but could be in sports. (By the way, this is totally typical of boys!) I’m just going to be excruciatingly blunt here, they are children. (If it is a teenager, same applies!) They do not know what is best for them. They will not be playing soccer when they are 60+ years old. (most likely not!) And while sports is a great thing that I believe every kid should have a chance to be apart of, it is not a lifelong skill whereas learning to play a musical instrument is. Sorry, I know I’m a little biased. But I have a story to tell concerning this point that I will leave for the end.
Again, pinpoint the distraction, whatever it is. It could be something as important as homework. It may be that they are extremely busy that week and can’t fit their practice in that week. Life is about managing your time. They have to learn how to do this. They have to figure it out. They need their parents help, not just to remind them of their priorities but to enforce an expectation. When they fail, let them fail. But don’t let the failure be the expectation. A few weeks of bad practice will not completely devastate their musical education. Quitting will. If they can learn how to focus when distracted, it will help them immensely in life.
And finally, when they are bored, challenge them. Boy oh boy this happens often. I have seen a student make a complete 180 when I tell him or her, “If you can get through these next few pieces, you will be done with this level of books.” Their eyes widen and I see immediately they’ve taken on my challenge. Incentive programs are great for this. There is nothing wrong with rewarding them. It doesn’t have to be a toy from Toys R Us, in fact, it doesn’t have to be much. Most times, when the reward is self gratification, appreciation or visibility, it is enough. I challenge all my students to work on their scales but when I started putting up boards of each level and listing each name as they worked through their level, the visibility they received from others seeing their name up on the board but enough to get them to learn their scales even faster.
It is not always the same for each student. I have some students that could care less about incentives. They may still struggle with making music their own. That is ok. I believe if we keep doing these things, encouraging, helping them focus and challenging them, eventually they will get it. Maybe it will take longer, but it is important to understand they will get it someday.
Something to keep in mind is that they are still learning. We all are really. We as teachers and parents are learning more about them while they learn more about life and the hurdles they have to overcome. Another great thing to do is review with them what they HAVE already learned. Sometimes we push, push, push. Then we take a step back and realize, wow they have learned a lot the last year or so. I like to remind students of how far they have come. They then feel proud of themselves and say “I want to do the next thing”.
Parents have to see the value that music lessons will have. Over time. It’s doesn’t happen over night. Quitting is never the answer. When we tell them it’s their choice, we are saying, “When life gets hard, you can just give up.” We would never say those words but making music optional does often increase the probability of failure. And later on regret.
I worked under a successful manager for 5 years at a mortgage company. I was going part time to teach piano students at a college. When he found out what I was doing he said “I took piano lessons when I was a kid.” My first inclination was to think cool, he knows how to play! Unfortunately, he told me he started around 8 years old but quit when he was 11 or so. I asked him why. He said that he was starting to get into sports and boyish things and decided he didn’t like it anymore. So his parents let him quit. I asked him if he wishes he had continued and he said “oh yeah! If I could go back, I would’ve continued. I wish I could remember how to play but it was so long ago.” At one point, he did enjoy it and then he got distracted or discouraged or both, and decided it wasn’t worth it. A man in his late 30s told me he regretted a decision he made when he was 11 years old. Imagine that. Quitting is not the answer.
I wanted to quit many times in school. I was working nearly a full time job, with a full credit load and the amount I had to practice for my private lessons was insane considering the amount of homework I had. Usually 7-8 hours per week. I literally did not have a life. Naps? Psh, not when I had to be at work by 1:00pm. Each semester the amount of free hours I had seemed to vanish. But I did it knowing it was required. I hit a few walls but I figured out how to climb over them. It made me a better person. My orchestra instructor asked us one time in class “Why do you take lessons?” Most students response was “to get better at that particular instrument.” He simply shook his head no and said “It’s for discipline.”
I don’t think my list covers all students/children, nor does my list of remedies, but it speaks for the majority of students I think. Parent, decide that music lessons are an important part of life and will help your child in the long run. Don’t let them quit.