Year after year, studies come out telling us about the benefits of music education. Music studies are linked to high scores on math tests, to high GPAs and SATs, even to the likelihood of getting into medical school. (One study concluded that percentage wise, music majors who applied to medical school were more likely to get in than biology majors!)
The benefits of piano (and other music) lessons go beyond merely learning to play an instrument. Even students who never truly master their violin, trumpet, guitar, or piano benefit through the process of attending regular lessons, working toward a long-term and often difficult goal, and seeing themselves improve in relation to the effort they put in. In a very real sense, music education is as much about building character as it is about learning an instrument, developing cognitive ability, or gaining brownie points for college applications.
Indeed, some of the most valuable lessons a child learns while studying have nothing to do with music at all, but rather with learning how to break down a difficult project into its component parts and tackle them one at a time. Music students learn how to work consistently at a project that may take weeks or even months to complete, and how to conquer fear of performing in public.
Why Students Stop Taking Piano Lessons
As valuable as music lessons are, they always end (unless the student becomes a college music major or a professional musician). Even the best, most enthusiastic music students grow up and go to college!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some students end music lessons much earlier. They may have no interest in working as hard as it takes to learn an instrument, or may refuse to practice. Sometimes, attrition is in part a parental issue. Parents may be worn down by a child’s incessant complaints about practicing, the inconvenience of a weekly music lesson commitment, the difficulties of coordinating music lessons with sports schedules and sibling activities, and the expense of lessons and instrument maintenance.
The problem is especially acute with piano students, who take private lessons as opposed to group lessons, and are often held more accountable for their practice. Many students also find piano much more difficult than other instruments, because of the multiple lines, and less “fun,” because they aren’t sitting with their friends in a group setting.
There are many reasons students stop taking lessons:
- A child may have too many other activities to put in the effort to learn an instrument.
- The student may be equally or more passionate about something else, and may decide to concentrate on that activity.
- The child may hit puberty, and may care about nothing other than what peers and friends seem to care about.
- A child may be overwhelmed or struggling with school work, especially in a new grade. Parents should, however, be aware that studies have shown that the grade point averages of music students tend to be higher than grade point averages of non music students.
- The child may simply be unwilling to work as hard as music lessons require.
- The child may need, but not be getting, parental encouragement and daily structure.
While many parents would prefer their children to continue with music lessons, many simply buckle under the hassle of it all. And others genuinely feel that forcing a reluctant student to take lessons may do more harm than good.
Encouraging Students to Continue Piano Lessons
Finding out what the problem is is the first step in solving it. Does the child dislike the teacher? The kind of music? Or is the child having difficulties and frustrations? Sometimes a teacher can dial back expectations for a frustrated child for a while, by assigning review pieces, easy pieces, fun popular pieces, or “pattern” pieces that rely on repeated patterns and are easier to learn. With some children, rewards for practice time are effective.
But the teacher has to know there is a problem before she can solve it. Most teachers are perfectly aware that a child is not practicing. They may not, however, know why. Communication with the teacher is key.
Issues to Consider When Deciding to Continue or Quit Music Lessons
While children almost universally like music, not all show an active interest in learning or studying it. Some find certain aspects of learning music especially difficult. (being Bone deaf, having difficulty learning to read music, and perceiving rhythms poorly are three common problem areas) .
Most children, even those who beg to quit lessons, have favorite songs to play over and over again just because they like them. But a child who doesn’t ever seem to get any pleasure out of playing anything at all is one who might be better served with another activity. This is especially true if the parents have made a concerted effort over a period of a few years to get the child to practice. A child who can play but never seems to get joy out of it is a child who should be doing something else.
Before deciding that it’s time to quit music lessons, consider the following issues:
- Has the child attained a level of playing where she can learn songs she likes on her own? If so, the child has achieved some element of musical independence and can enjoyably play the music she wants to. It may indeed be time to simply let her stop lessons and play what she wants.
- Is there a teacher issue that need to be addressed? Perhaps the child would thrive playing jazz or pop, but the teacher only teaches classical music.
- Is the child involved in other musical activities?
- Is the child talented? The ability to play a musical instrument at a high level can lead to lifelong creative satisfaction, and even a possible career path as a music teacher.
- Is the issue of taking music lessons really about music lessons or is it something else? Some possibilities include a child of divorced parents playing one parent against the other, or a rebellious child making a power play statement.
- Is the child getting adequate parental support and supervision? If not, we have a parent problem i addition to a student problem.
Most parents understand the benefits of music lessons. But sometimes, it’s time to re-evaluate them, and perhaps even stop for a while. Sometimes, the mere fact that a parent is willing to allow lessons to stop is all it takes for the child to reconsider and want to start again.