Your student loves to sing and dance around the house, and she’s just getting the hang of piano. Suddenly she announces, “I quit!”
Especially if you’ve invested many years and dollars in your student’s music lessons, hearing those words can be devastating. You know how beneficial music lessons are for children, but try making that argument with a fed-up ten-year-old.
So how can you keep your student in music lessons without resentment? The following suggestions may help.
1. Turn to your teacher.
When Jennie Schott’s son Nolan wanted to quit lessons, she quickly turned to his instructor for guidance. “Lucky for us, Nolan’s teacher has a great knack for finding music that is a perfect mix, where Nolan is challenged but still enjoying the music he produces,” Jennie says.
Your teacher may have some simple, incentive-based tricks up her sleeve. If the issue is more complex, she may completely revise her approach to teaching your student based on your collective observations.
2. Or find a different teacher.
Could the problem be that your teacher isn’t the right fit? Sometimes a teacher’s personality or teaching style just doesn’t work for a student. Or maybe you’ve worked with the teacher for a long time, and your kid’s interests are moving in a different direction. Both of these scenarios are common– and okay.
If your kid seems excited by the prospect of finding a new teacher, or is simply willing to try, it’s probably time to make the switch.
3. Release the pressure.
After Rebecca Nathanson’s son Ari said he wanted to quit piano, Rebecca made a deal with him. “We told him that he couldn’t quit, but we wouldn’t put any pressure on him to practice or make progress at any set rate,” she says.
Telling your kid it’s okay not to practice may sound like contradictory advice. After all, isn’t practice the most important part of learning music?
Use your judgment. For an older student with a foundation in their instrument, reduced pressure to practice might redeem their interest in lessons, and be worth it in the long run.
Ari’s teacher Audie Lomboy allowed him to practice less and lead the lessons, and as a result they began exploring music theory and composition, adding voice when it interested Ari.
“The goal was just to keep him in music lessons, and all these years later it’s his favorite thing,” Rebecca says.
The pressure to excel and be disciplined can zap the fun out of any activity. Students can benefit from having room to take ownership of their music lessons.
“My most engaged students seem to have parents who leave the students enough space to make mistakes, solve problems, or just mess around on their own,” former Piano Power teacher Brian Stark says.
4. Make sure she likes what she’s playing.
The classics are important, but when it comes to stoking a passion for music, encourage your student to learn what’s playing in her earbuds. When she’s learning her favorite Taylor Swift song, your daughter may not even realize she’s practicing.
“Playing Katy Perry on piano might not seem as beneficial as Bach, but it’s a gateway to real musical progress,” says teacher Andrew Doney. “Consider the progress of a young child reading Clifford the Big Red Dog in first grade and then Dostoevsky in college. It’s all the same.”
5. Be a practice partner.
If your child is younger than ten, he may just need a boost of support and encouragement during practice to keep him going. Jennie found that Nolan responded well when she or her husband sat next to him while he practiced and allowed no other distractions—no phone, other kids, or TV.
“He was so thrilled to have all our attention on him, and even happier when we looked amazed at how much progress he made,” Jennie says. “[It’s a] perfect way to give our youngest child attention, and it’s relaxing for us.”
6. Let the music play!
If you think of interest in music as a fire, then playing music at home is one way to add kindling. The more songs a student hears, the more chances she has to be captivated by music.
Play music at home during appropriate times, and not just as background music. Take a moment to ask your student what she thinks about what’s playing, or even dance and sing along with her.
“Make a list of what songs the kids respond to, then help them to find new songs that are similar,” Andrew says. “Love of music is the spark that keeps musicians everywhere practicing, and children are no different. Once that spark is there, love of the instrument will develop, and their musical progress will soar.”
If all else fails, it’s okay to quit.
Again, use your judgment. Maybe you require your kids take lessons until a certain age. In that case, stand by your decision.
But in some situations– especially when older, experienced students begin to dread playing and practicing, or music in general– it’s okay to loosen the grip and let your kid make the call.
In her article Why I’m Glad We Let Our Daughter Quit Music Lessons, Annie Reneau details the decision to allow her daughter, a gifted violinist, to quit after six years of lessons. She and her husband tried everything to persuade her otherwise, and felt self-doubt galore when they finally abdicated.
Annie’s daughter picked up her violin again years later. But she made the decision herself, and that made all the difference in the world.
Some kids will never pick up the instrument again, and that’s okay, too. Rest assured that even if your kid doesn’t play their instrument for life, their lessons will have always been worth it.