3 Reasons Why Summer Music Lessons are Awesome

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Little happy boy playing piano outside

by Abraham Levitan

When I was a kid, summers were some of my most fun, fruitful times with piano lessons. Because I took school very seriously, I often felt pressed for practice time during the school year. Summer, on the other hand, was my time to relax into a super-fun project.

I always encourage families to continue lessons throughout the summer. Why?

There’s no break in the student’s progress.

When students take the summer off, they typically need all of September to return to their previous level. Our teacher Lucas Gillan points out that, especially for beginners, students resuming after summer break need a lot of time and repetition to re-learn basic concepts of rhythm, note-reading, the musical alphabet, etc.

If lessons are sustained, students benefit from not spending time playing catch-up. When I taught, there was a marked difference come fall between my students who studied throughout the summer, and those who didn’t.

“Continuing lessons throughout the summer has the doubly positive effect of avoiding knowledge loss, and allowing more time to go even deeper into the concepts and music the student is working on,” Lucas says.

Which leads to my next point…

Less school work means better focus.

With a lighter school load, and fewer extra-curriculars and sports commitments, students’ brains are primed for focus! Summer is a perfect time to hone in on a specific goal, and enjoy concentrated-but-fun practice sessions.

Summer is an opportunity for a special project.

Not to be depressing, but summer is really short! On the school calendar, it really only lasts from mid-June until mid-August, and shortens further when you account for travel or summer camps.

Summer’s brevity, however, also makes it a great time to trade weekly practice plans for a project-based approach. Teacher and student can devise one or two big goals to explore during their time together, and then the student can work at their own pace throughout the summer.

The project should feel fun and exciting to the student, and focus on an area they don’t have time to explore during the school year. For me it was usually something like learning to improvise or compose. Summer is a good time to re-evaluate and ask your student to consider, what do I really enjoy? What would I like to learn more about?

Here’s an ideal scenario: teacher and student are ready for the end-of-school year recital a few weeks early, and the last lessons before a recital are “explore-your-curiosity” lessons. Teacher and student discuss these avenues, so that by the time the summer session starts, the student is off and running with an exciting goal.

I realize that it’s human nature to want to spend all the time you can practicing for a recital, so maybe that’s asking too much. But I do think it’s important to build in time to define or revisit what a student finds exciting about music, and then devise a springboard to explore it.

Some fun summer project ideas

  • Learning a more ambitious pop song in a new key signature
  • Working with a new and/or specialized method book (like one of these!)
  • Learning three new songs by one composer or songwriter the student admires
  • Writing a medley of favorite songs
  • Exploring a new genre like jazz or boogie-woogie
  • Learning the Bach Inventions! (I love these because they’re a relatively simple way to appreciate the incredible logic of Bach’s brain; each hand plays a one-note-at-a-time sequence, and you watch the two hands interact as if they’re a DNA double helix.)
  • Focusing on elements, like ear training and music theory, that don’t necessarily require a performance, but will enhance the students’ learning and musical experiences for the long-term.
  • What if summer music lessons aren’t possible?

    The simplest way to keep a student’s head in the game– and what I suggest for any extended absence– would be for teacher and student to agree on five or so songs as the student’s “official repertoire”. The student would agree to do maintenance work throughout the summer to keep those songs in shape. For accountability, the student would play those songs back for the teacher as a mini-recital at the beginning of the school year.

    It could be wonderful for a student to explore curiosities completely on their own, too, even if it just means expanding their listening into a new genre.

    Outside of music study, parents can encourage their student’s connection to music through music-oriented summer camps (the Chicago Park District offers some interesting, low-cost options), and by attending outdoor, family-friendly concerts, like those offered for free at Milennium Park all summer long.

    Regardless, summer can provide an interesting shift from the regular rhythms of music lessons. Your student can always benefit from a change of pace, which in turn leads to renewed energy in the fall.

    Read more about making summer extra-special.

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