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Finding Your Way Back to Lessons Offers Unique Rewards
by Abraham Levitan
Music students quit lessons for many reasons. Their priorities change, friends lead them in new directions, they encounter the well-gouged bump of lessons getting “too hard”.
The decision to return to music lessons can birth a litter of new anxieties–“I’ll be a beginner again,” “I’ll show I’ve forgotten everything,” “I’ll be forced to plunk out baby songs.”
But returning to lessons after a hiatus can be one of the best, most fruitful decisions a student makes. Here’s why:
The Gift of Past Experience
With a foundation of previous lessons– no matter how long they lasted– a student has at least some idea of what worked and what didn’t, what they liked and disliked.
Grounded in previous experience, returning students have a more clarified vision of what they want from lessons. Refocused goals elicit a deeper, more satisfying learning experience.
After I quit music lessons as a searching seventh-grader with rock-star dreams, returning to music lessons gave me a chance to hone in on what I desired from my music education: a focus on the rock and pop music I loved.
Looking back, it was probably one of the best decisions I made for my musical career– a path that opened up because I quit and came back.
The Excitement of Reintroducing Yourself to Yourself
Kids grow and develop fast. As returning students, they might find a path to engagement completely different from the one they forged years ago.
The student returning to lessons is a different person. New discoveries can be made: what’s changed about my learning style, my interests, my inspiration? A kid who once dreaded music theory may now find it fascinating.
A returning student has the priceless opportunity to meet the musician they are now, evolved from the one they once were.
The Energy of A New Teacher
In cases when a student’s past experience was positive but not earth-shatteringly amazing, I lean toward seeking out a new teacher.
No single teacher is going to bestow 100 percent of what a student can learn about music. A different teacher with a new set of experiences, strengths, and perspective will likely fill in gaps, and reshape learning in unfamiliar– and therefore newly engaging– ways. In other words, new teachers elicit new growth, avoiding well-worn patterns trod by familiar relationships.
Most importantly, though, a new teacher will add to the invigorating recharge of starting fresh.
The Payoff of Surpassing Fear
About those fears I mentioned earlier (“I’ve forgotten everything,” “I’m going to look stupid,” “I have three years under my belt but I might as well have none!”)– they’re normal and contain a grain of truth.
During that first lesson back, many students really can’t remember anything. Terminology elicits blank stares, fingers are stiff and slow–it might be a disorienting experience.
But then it gets better.
During the first few weeks of lessons, they start to realize they remember a lot more than they thought. Once they’re back in the routine of having lessons, the pleasant surprises come.
As far as the fear of playing kiddie songs again, I can’t say this enough: repertoire (song choice) can and should be flexible and customized. This is important to know about a teacher– will they engage their students in a discussion about song choices and long-term goals?
Students don’t have to get stuck with “Mary Had A Little Lamb”; beginner or intermediate arrangements of songs they like are easily accessible.
A Note to Parents Who Wish Their Kid Would Agree to Start Lessons Again
I’ve heard this a lot: “Whitney was so good at piano. I don’t know why she refuses to take lessons again, but I wish she would!”
In this situation, age is extremely relevant.
When you have a six-year-old, you’re not pleading a case for an activity. The parent says, “you want to try this?” or “you’re trying this” and the kid shows up. There’s a sense of jumping right in.
Adolescent or pre-adolescent students must be on board intellectually and emotionally; they must believe that music lessons will add fun and meaning to their already busy lives. If a student is taking lessons beyond age 11 or 12, it’s because they’re invested.
My best advice to parents of older children: ask a lot of questions about what excites them in general. Considering their developmental rate in general, no parent should expect to know the perfect recipe for activities without the child’s input.
What is it about soccer, chess club, or hip-hop dance that is compelling? In a very general sense, what factors make something fun and fascinating for your student? If music lessons don’t offer those factors for them, they won’t want to take them. And they would be right not to.
But just maybe, your conversation will open a door, offering a way to reconnect to lessons with newfound excitement and purpose.