Who Really Quits Music Lessons?

We’ve known for years that it’s not really the children who quit music lessons. Parents get tired of the driving, get tired of the waiting, get tired of the reminding, get tired of the monitoring, etc.
I get it.
If we change our mindset a little maybe we can all get past the tough bits to the fun bits of being able to play an instrument!
Firstly, let’s remember, music is one of the few things left, in child development activities, that still has requirements to advance. There are no participation ribbons or social promotions in music. You can either play some music or not. Skipping this harder piece of music to ‘let a student off the hook’ will only make the next one more difficult. You either played that note or your didn’t, you can either play that song or you can’t.

I want this this be ‘their’ thing

This is code for ‘I don’t want to police their practice’ or ‘I want some time to myself’. That’s what happens with TV, video games and play dates, not music. Expecting a 6-12 year old to practice everyday without prompting or monitoring is ridiculous in all but a few situations. If you aren’t willing to put in a bit of time sitting each time they are supposed to practice, expect them not to practice.

As I like to say, “If you are not learning music with your child, you are doing it wrong”.

It’s a Lesson not a Practice

Another key thought to turn around is what the ½ hour a week at our music school is about. Many parents call to say their kid is “not going to be at music practice” or when a teacher mentions some thing the student need to work on they might respond “Isn’t that what you’re for?”.
Your weekly lesson is for checking progress, passing the student on various pieces of music and teaching new stuff this for the weeks practice till the next lesson.

Attending all the lessons and even consider summer lessons

I know this seems self serving but, it is true. If you wait till all the sports/dance/activities have sorted out their schedules and start in October or November, miss a bunch of lessons, quit early in the year, etc. progress will not be made.
Even when you attend every lesson from Sept – June and rarely miss, the amount of learning loss (rated up to 40%) means next fall we are going to spend at least a month reviewing previous material before continuing forward.
Heck we see learning loss over the Christmas break!
Sure there is the option of make up lessons for missed lessons but, combined with lessons missed for school breaks, holidays and illness, those days add up. The only way to combat that is regular practice. The only way to get regular practice is regular reminding and monitoring by you the parent.

My Kid is Too Busy!

This is a common one. I’ll just assume they were that level of busy before you signed them up for music lessons. Maybe you wanted a balance for them School/Sports/ Arts. Your child and your decisions, but I have seen parents put their kid on the ice 9 times a week with 5 days of school, so the ½ hour music lesson, with no practicing, once per week is hardly a balance of anything.

Music Should be Fun!!

Music is fun! Playing music is the fun part, the reward, for the work of PRACTICING!
In sports, not everyone likes the early morning practice, the drills the push-ups, the dry land training etc. but everyone loves the games.
It’s the same with music, you put in the work of practicing and you get the reward of being able to play an instrument.

Music is an Individual Thing

No truer thing has ever been said. Progress in music is a singularly personal thing. You don’t have to be better than anyone except you. Progress is measured by if you are better now that you were.

Don’t Treat Music Lessons as an “Add On”

We can wax forever on the benefits of music lessons for yourself or your children (other than the obvious learning to play and instrument). Music teaches us the life lesson of “getting out what you put in”. A lesson other activities do not teach.

One Final Though

No adult is ever glad that their parents let them quit music lessons

Below is an article written by an exert in the field.

Who Actually Quits Musical Instrument Instruction, The Children or Their Parents?

Written by Tony Kinhaven

How many times have we heard from adults that they wish their parents didn’t allow them to quit their musical instrument when they were younger?

There comes a time in a large percentage of music students’ lives when they want to quit their instrument — and more often than not, parents allow them to do it.  But is the child quitting … or is the parent?

I remember wanting to quit the trombone when I was in middle school.  Honestly, it’s hard to remember why.  It could have been peer pressure, boredom, or something else — but I had my mind made up.  I shudder to think of what my life would be like now if my mother had decided to quit as well and give in to my pleas.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that when it comes to music education and other transformative activities that require some grit in order to succeed, most children go through a period of time where they must succeed despite themselves.  They must be encouraged and supported through the tough times, not given a pass.  It is only at a certain point that children — and parents — can make an informed decision to quit their musical instrument, and that point is usually much later, not sooner, than one may think.

Here are a few ways that parents are the ones that quit music instruction, and some thoughts on overcoming the tough times with our children that are bound to occur:

“I can’t bug my child to do one more thing”.  I have heard this line so many times as a teacher and administrator.  A parent tells the teacher that their child will be discontinuing music because they haven’t had any luck getting their child to practice, and the “child doesn’t want to play anymore.” In addition, the parent says the child “seems to be over-scheduled and is overwhelmed with the demanding school curriculum.”

This parent has clearly given up.

There are many things that children need to do that they do not want to do. They don’t want to bathe, do homework, brush their teeth, or do their chores oftentimes.  But we as adults understand that we would be teaching them to be irresponsible if we gave in.  We also understand that children are not old or mature enough to make many life decisions — but when it comes to quitting music instruction the rules somehow seem to change.  The truth is that we can insist our child do “one more thing,” and if that’s really not humanly possible, a curricular activity such as music should not be at the bottom of that list.

Parents have overcommitted their child.  Our children are growing up in a time where the world has turned into a society of “overachievers”. Downtime or activities that are perceived to be “fun” (i.e. music and the arts) are considered wasted time because concrete results are not being measured and money (and a job) is not at the end of the equation. Children have so many choices of ways to “enrich” their lives that quitting has become an easy response to frustration or boredom. Most adults regret many of the things in life that they quit, especially because they could have had stuck it out, reached a good level of proficiency and found that enjoyment that seemed to elude them earlier.  Parents need to remember this fact and encourage their children to stick with music instruction for at least two years, if not through middle school.

Parents must remember what their goals for their child’s education are.  Perseverance, commitment, loyalty, and grit are all values I hope that I — and my schools — instill in my children. Learning to endure something even when it temporarily becomes boring or unpleasant or when the teacher isn’t the most engaging person in the world is a lesson truly worth teaching. I would argue that the time you let your child walk away from something just because at that moment it doesn’t suit them is the last time you may have any credibility with them about endurance or resilience ever again.

Parents, teachers and students have a misguided view of passion.  Parents often talk about helping kids find their passions.  When parents allow their children to quit music, we often hear excuses such as, “Music is not where my child’s passion lies, it seems.”  But most of the time, passions do not always appear out of nowhere; they are often a result of hard work and dedication — the happiness that comes from doing something well over a period of time.  I have spent most of my life reaping the rewards of a life devoted to music, yet in 7th grade I was begging to quit.  And there are thousands upon thousands of other children who were not allowed to quit who have gone on to rewarding lives in many fields that would never have been possible if not for their musical education.

Parents need to embrace the struggle that their children are facing.  The reward of performing a piece of music after overcoming obstacles during practice is a great vehicle for parents to teach their children that true growth occurs when we struggle a bit.  Learning to deal with struggle yields some of the greatest benefits imaginable over time when applied to other areas of life.  But a child’s struggle is a parents struggle as well, of course.  There are bad days — and some really frustrating days.  There may be tantrums and miserable practices and screaming scenes where you may feel as if you are at the end of your rope. But if you stick with it, your children will have long, enduring relationships with instructors and classmates who will change and enrich their lives.  Don’t forget to reach out to your child’s teacher for extra help during these challenging times — I promise you that they will pass.

Your child’s experience with their music studies will shape their adult lives more than you will ever know.  They will be different people in the best way imaginable — people who would be far poorer intellectually without music in their life.  Let’s not kid ourselves — children quit things all the time.  Sometimes it’s even the right thing to do, but sometimes they are simply bored or don’t like the teacher or would just rather do nothing at home — and that is not acceptable or in their best interest over the long-term. Deciding when to let your child quit is a difficult problem that never goes away, but it is safe to say that one year is simply not enough time for anyone to decide whether to stay with musical instrument instruction or not.