Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Should You Let Your Child Quit Piano?

Photo by thart2009
If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you might think I would never advocate letting a child quit piano lessons. Not true. Sometimes, I think it’s the best choice! The hard thing is figuring out whether the child really doesn't enjoy piano study, or whether they'd just rather play Wii than practice. I don't advocate making a child stay with piano if they're truly not interested. I think the first step is to do some stealthy observation for a couple of weeks to watch for the presence or absence of the red flags I've suggested here. Then, sit down and have a very candid talk with your child and your teacher. You know your child best, and only you can decide the right thing to do. Do remember that sometimes a change of approach or possibly even a change of teacher can make a big difference! Maybe you can think of more red flags, but here are some that spring to mind for me:

The child never initiates a practice session himself. 

My daughter usually needs to be prompted, but every once in a while, I hear her at the piano when I didn’t send her there. If yours doesn’t, that’s a red flag.

The child never becomes involved/engaged in the process of practicing.

Once I get her to the piano, my child frequently loses track of time and practices for longer than I might have asked her to. If your child is sullen and resistant for most of the practice session, that’s a red flag. We all have good days and bad days, but if the bad days outnumber the good…

It’s a power struggle at every practice time.

Sometimes, my daughter resists when I tell her it's time to practice, but mostly she's just testing the limits. She gives in pretty quickly, and occasionally doesn't offer any protest. If yours resists mightily every time, that’s a red flag.

He never sits down and proudly plays that recital piece he learned so well over and over and over, or he never seems proud of his accomplishments.

We grow in maturity when we accept that in order to get to the pleasure of playing well, we’ve got to work at it. But if playing well doesn’t excite your child or if he never seems to want to show off a well-polished piece, that’s a red flag.

There’s another pursuit that the child is passionate about, and he wants to dedicate himself more fully to it.

While I believe that some music study is beneficial for everyone, the rigor of studying an instrument privately is not for everyone. What I most want for my daughter, and I bet what you most want for your child, is that she find some pursuit that she can fully invest in – an arena where she will engage the struggle, the ups and downs, work hard toward her goals, and come out better for it. For me, that arena is music. This is where my soul is formed. For someone else, it may be art or theatre or ballet or tennis. Here’s where wise parenting comes in. It can be hard to know whether resistence to practicing is because they just aren't passionate about music, or because they just aren't willing to invest much effort in anything. Good parents don't let their children choose to be lazy and always just do the least they can get away with in life. But good parents also have to be observant and wise about what activity is best for the child.


14 comments:

Leah said...

Good post! I have taught some children in the past who just seemed "dead" at every lesson, and they never practiced. Both parents were pianists, so I'm not sure where the disconnect was. But I could tell that there was just nothing in them that even sparked interest in music. That's not to say they shouldn't have been pushed to learn at least the basics in case they wanted to pick up another instrument later on, but it was just an impasse that no one could get through. I no longer teach them, sadly, but I learned from that experience. Just because music is my passion doesn't mean it will (or should) be my childrens' passion too.
My husband and I started piano at very young ages, and continued through. I wanted to stop when I was a teen, and begged my Mom to let me take flute. She refused, saying she knew I had talent in music. She let my sister take up violin and my brother take up trumpet, but she glued me to piano. And you know what? After awhile I rallied and grew to become more and more passionate about piano. Now I am SO thankful she didn't let me quit, even though it was a struggle for her.
So I guess I'm saying all that to say that most times the parents are the ones who know best.

Laura Lowe said...

Yes, I agree. Sometimes a student will rally, and I usually counsel a parent to wait a bit before making the decision. Sometimes, they go through transitions and come out the other side feeling enthusiastic again. But then, sometimes, they just don't!

Toliver Edge said...

You should only let them quit when they want to learn GUITAR. I've heard many friends say things like "I wish my parents would have never let me quit [insert instrument], cause I'd be so awesome at it now."

I'd say make em stick with it. But that's just me, and I'm a musical tyrant.

Laura Lowe said...

Hi, Toliver, thanks for your comment! Yeah, I'm a tyrant at heart too...scroll back a bit and read my "How I Became A Tiger Mom!"

Anonymous said...

I like the photo you used.. that's my son in our living room. He is 17 now, and continues to play piano and is accomplished on the cello. Neither my wife or I have any talent in music... but our kids were just drawn to the piano when we placed one in our home. Regards, thart2009

Laura Lowe said...

Thanks for stopping by, thart2009, and thanks for the creative commons license on the photo! It's a beautiful one, and it's so heartening to hear that your son is still playing!

Dorla said...

Thanks Laura...
posting this on my FB studio page!
Dorla

Sarah said...

I'm not a mom so I don't have the personal experience, but I find myself constantly frustrated at the lack of discipline parents expect their kids to display. If they don't like it the parents usually side with the kids and allow them to stop lessons. Personally, I'm all for keeping the child in music lessons unless the situation is extremely negative- ie the student and teacher can't relate or there is a constant power struggle between child and parent over practice.

Looking back on my childhood, my mom actually let me stop taking lessons for about a year...but at that point I was in middle school and had been giving her a really hard time for over a year. Part of it was that my previous teacher and I had started butting heads and she realized that something needed to change. I took off for a while, we found a new teacher, and when I returned it was because I wanted to, not because my mom was making me.

I think a lot depends on the individual personality of the student. If they are strong-willed and stubborn (like me!) forcing them to keep taking is only going to make things worse. It has to be their decision- otherwise they're not going to put forth any effort on their part. Other kids need the push from their parents and, while they'll not always be 100% thrilled, they'll put forth the effort.

Those are my own limited thoughts. Maybe if I had kids I'd feel differently, but I'm much more inclined to be the tyrant (in a nice way!) than give in when the going gets tough. ;)

Laura Lowe said...

Sarah, you'd make a great parent! Thanks for stopping by!

percussion said...

I think a child will go back to learning an instrument if there really is an inclination. I dont like seeing the zombie kids playing instruments so just they can get better chances of getting into a good school. Although I would say that it would benefit them a lot so being a little strict with them is required occasionally.

Luba said...

I try to get across to parents that there will always be some resistance from kids and that no child will want to practice entirely on her own and consistently maintain interest and enthusiasm for the piano. However, I absolutely agree with your list of red flags! There definitely comes a point where it is not worth the conflict or heartache. If a child is particularly musical, I strongly encourage parents to consider a different instrument, particularly if the child has the option to participate in band or chorus at school. Piano is by nature a very solitary pursuit and some kids discover music anew when they are in a more social environment.

akaydia said...

My mom forced me to take piano lessons. I was a straight A student and love school but I hate my piano and band lesson with a passion. I always tought it was a waste of time and I never felt proud when I memorized a song. I think that my parent did it because it was what other middle class families did and it was what you were supposed to do.

I was so happy when my parent let me stop in high school. I used the extra time to study for the SATs. If you are a parent your money is better spent hiring a writting, math, or science teacher for extra lessons. So many kids struggle with math and grammar. It makes their life so much harder when they don't have those s skills. I wasted 6 years of my life on the piano. I got nothing but frustration from it. I would have been so much happier with a weekly writting tutor or a public speaker tutor.

mother of two said...

I quited playing violet at 6 year old and it was only a year after I started it. My mom just couldn't handled the pressure anymore. I was excited of course but I realize now that I failed in every aspect since then. I quited swimming soon after I started it and I did the same to piano later. I was the one who picked these subjects but couldn't stick to it at all. I quit when ever I felt pressured. So parents, do stick to what ever instructment your kids are learning.

Regina Lynch said...

Well, that's 5 out of 5 red flags. PLUS, she started taking guitar lessons last year. She has her superior trophy to show she can do it but absolutely detests piano now. Her teacher insists on 5 weekly practices and she is a competitive soccer player and now a cheerleader. She has played from 4 until now just a few months shy of 12.