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Five Reasons Children Quit Music Lessons (and how parents can help)

Monday, August 17, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized


One phrase I hear a lot from parents about music lessons is that they are not sure whether their children are going to “stick” with music lessons. Parents often don’t want to invest money in a nice instrument or commit to lessons long-term because they know their kid can be pretty fickle with their interests. 


Look, I’m the mom of 8 kids. I get it. Families are busier than they’ve ever been. Finances are tight, and some children are less compliant than others.  But in our house, music lessons are non-negotiable. 


First of all, studies have shown that children who take music lessons outperform their peers academically, especially in science, math, and languages. Not only that, but music develops focus and grit, which are skills all of us could stand to hone a little bit. And studies show that students who played an instrument were better team players in their careers than those who didn’t. And even if my children don’t become professional musicians, music is a skill that will bring joy to them into adulthood.  Imagine after a tough day at work, going to your instrument, sitting down at the piano, or picking up a violin, and just spending time getting lost in the music. And FYI, studies show that music has a dramatic, measurable impact on stress reduction. 


Now, if I had a child in music lessons who was really giving me some push back, which has happened before, I admit, I would do some trouble-shooting: 

  1. Lack of personal discipline- If I’m getting resistance from my kids about lessons, the most likely culprit is that my children are frustrated with the amount of time and energy it takes to maintain good musical progress and lack the motivation to practice. This might come as a surprise to you, but children aren’t always magically inspired to work hard, so sometimes you have to apply a little external motivation to get them to cooperate. At our house, we print out a weekly checklist with chores, homework, reading, exercise, and instrument practice listed daily, then they earn so much computer time once everything is completed. If they want MORE computer time than they are allotted, I give them sort of an arbitrary secondary checklist.   I usually make them practice and read again, and sometimes I make them spend an hour outside if it’s a nice day, or run the vacuum or something.  This works well since my kids are so motivated to play the computer.  
    Your kids might have other things that motivate them, and that’s great! Do what works for you. We’ve also offered incentives to them-for example if they learn all their major scales and can perform them all at once, then they get paid $5/scale, which is a total of $60 that they can spend at a local educational supply toy that has neat puzzles, games, and science kits.  I’ve also found that buying fun sheet music helps with motivation because when they’re done with their music lesson assignments, they can spend time working on learning the Star Wars theme or a piece by Lindsey Stirling.  I’ve heard of parents who pay their kids to practice. They pay them so much money for each minute. Their children have to pay for their own private lessons out of this fund, BUT THEN, they get to keep any money that’s leftover as spending cash.  The only thing I would caution you about here, is sometimes it’s easy to mindlessly put time in on an instrument, but you really are wanting them to focus on quality practicing, with terrific form, and a beautiful sound.  


  1. Lack of routine- I’ve found that getting into a good practice routine is eliminates about 90% of the friction caused by not wanting to practice. The key is to schedule a TIME and a PLACE. If my child knows he will practice in the kitchen in the morning while I make breakfast or right after school in the afternoon in the living room, then it just becomes second nature and not really up for discussion. 

  2. We bought a set of canvas tote bags on Amazon, let the kids decorate them with fabric paint, and each child keeps their music books and supplies inside the bag near their own practice corner in the house.  Then when it’s time to go to lessons, everything is already in one place. 
    It might be helpful to make copies of music, like one set of band music for their school backpacks and one set for their practice corner, so they don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting music, and they don’t have to take time to pack and unpack their school bags.  
    I personally just keep my instrument out throughout the course of the day and don’t put it back in its case until bedtime. If you’re able to find a safe place to keep your child’s instrument, I find that having it out makes it more likely that I’ll spend 10 minutes here and there working on a tough passage or scales IN ADDITION to my regular practice sessions. 


  1. Teacher/student personality clash-I’ve had the opportunity to take lessons from several amazing teachers, and I’ve had the opportunity to observe my children take lessons from numerous instructors as well. Even though a teacher might be a fabulous musician and a fabulous person...NOT EVERY TEACHER IS RIGHT FOR EVERY STUDENT. Maybe your child has stopped progressing with a teacher. Maybe your teacher’s personality is a little strong and your child feels overwhelmed. Maybe the student and the teacher have different musical expectations. Maybe the teacher doesn’t always explain things in a way that the student can easily understand.  
    My first suggestion would be to have a nice, grown-up conversation with the teacher. Share your observations but stick to the facts. If the teacher dismisses you, becomes defensive, intimidates you a little, or the issue doesn’t resolve after talking, then ask yourself if this is someone you really want to be around your child?  Your child’s comfort and well-being is vitally important, and you want to know that she’ll be surrounded by safe, nurturing adults who will value her voice.
    My other suggestion would be to try having private lessons with another teacher for a bit, the summer would be a great time, especially if you can find a camp or enrichment program where your child has the opportunity to work with more than one teacher.  If your child is blossoming under new instruction, then that’s a big clue right there.  If your child still faces the same issues, then maybe it isn’t the teacher who’s the problem, but the child. 

  1. My own attitude-sometimes I’ve been guilty of approaching my child’s practice session as a chore to be endured before we can move on and do more fun things in our day.  I’ve tried to change my mindset and approach it as a fun activity in itself. Use the practice session as a special bonding time with your child. Talk to them about music and how much you enjoy hearing them play. Invite them to play for you while you are busy folding laundry or cooking, invite them to play for grandma over Skype.
    But even beyond that, really let them know that you as a parent value music, and that your family is one who supports the arts.  What kind of music do you listen to in your home or car?  Beyond Mozart and Beethoven (and those are important!), there are some fabulous newer composers who have written some stunning melodic pieces for your child’s instrument. Your child’s private teacher could recommend a few to you.  If you have a local library, you might be able to use your account to get access to NAXOS on your home computer, which is a HUGE database of music albums. You could also use Youtube, Apple Music, and Spotify to stream music. 
    I also recommend taking your child to see live concerts, whether it be the city’s symphony, the local university band or orchestra.  Make it special by taking them out to dinner AND DESSERT before or after the performance. 
    I also want to suggest that you try your best to support your child’s private teacher at home by maintaining expectations, enforcing practice and other assignments, and speaking well of her. Remind him how lucky he is to have such a fantastic teacher. 

  2. Is your child playing the wrong instrument? Many parents sign their children up for piano lessons at some point in their childhood. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; two of my own children have studied the piano lessons for over a decade, but two others started in piano and then changed to strings because they just weren’t feeling the piano. Many parents put their children in piano because they don’t realize there are other options out there or they feel like other instruments belong just in band or orchestra when they are lovely solo instruments in their own right.  Children are more likely to enjoy lessons and practicing if they are playing an instrument they are inspired to play, so introduce them to multiple instruments on YouTube, or through trials at a music store and let them make a decision for themselves. Although most children will choose a traditional band or orchestra instrument, don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little, either!  What about the bagpipes, harp, or mandolin?   If you aren’t sure whether this is true love, instruments can be rented from many music stores for a reasonable price, or alternatively, you could buy a solid used instrument, which can be sold later for nearly the same price if your child decides to change or upgrade.  But please don’t purchase an instrument without professional guidance, or you could end up with a lemon!  The thing you want to keep an eye out for is if your child is hopping between instruments every year or so. There comes a time after switching 3 or 4 times where you just might have to make them commit. 


If any of you have any questions or observations of your own you’d like to share, let’s talk about it!  Let me know what you think.






The Amazing, Scientifically-Backed Benefits of Music Lessons

Monday, August 10, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized


Do you have an energetic child that you always have to re-direct? “Don’t touch that!”  “Pay attention when I am talking, please.”  “Leave your sister alone!”


Is your child struggling academically?  Is your child academically gifted? Is your child struggling with strong emotions, such as anxiety or perfectionism? 


I have a scientifically-backed solution for you!


Have you considered putting your child in music lessons?  


BEHAVIOR BENEFITS: 


Suzuki study results:  Four groups of students were compared: Children who were at home, children who were at school, children who received weekly group lessons in music, and children who received private music lessons. The results showed that children in private lessons focussed longer, worked more accurately, and received fewer corrective instructions from the teachers, when children were observed in a traditional classroom environment. (corrective instructions: “Johnny, sit down!” “Susie, walking feet, please!” “Michael, keep your hands to yourself.”)


Scott, Laurie. “Attention and Perseverance Behaviors of Preschool Children Enrolled in Suzuki Violin Lessons and Other Activities.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 40, no. 3, 1992, pp. 225–235. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3345684. Accessed 3 Aug. 2020.


Radiological Society of North America published a recent study showing improved brain fiber connections in children who regularly take music lessons, particularly in the frontal cortex, which is an area that is underdeveloped in children with ADHD. 



PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS:


Kodaly study results:   Zoltan Kodaly was a hungarian composer and musicologist.  He began advocating for higher standards for music education in the 1940s.  The government implemented his ideas in an experimental preschool, then performed studies in subsequent years comparing the children in the new school to children in traditional schools.  The researchers controlled for socio-economic status, age, gender, etc..   Children who were exposed to one hour of formal music training per day, taught by a TRAINED MUSIC TEACHER, were compared to children in a typical school, who were exposed to about 20 minutes of music in the context of classroom activities, led by the classroom teacher. The results were astounding.  The children in the experimental group scored significantly higher not only in academics and cognitive processes, but in psychological we-being as well. 



Barkóczi Ilona, and Pléh Csaba. Music Makes a Difference: the Effect of Kodálys Musical Training on the Psychological Development of Elementary School Children. Kecskemét: Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music, 1982.


A study from the University of Vermont, showed that children who play an instrument have less anxiety, better overall feelings of wellbeing, and showed higher attention to detail than those who didn’t. AND THE LONGER THE STUDENT STUDIED ON an instrument, the more profound the effect. 


Children with formal music training were more behaviorally and emotionally mature than their non-musical peers, and showed superior motor skills. https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(14)00578-4/abstract



COGNITIVE AND ACADEMIC BENEFITS: 


A study by the University of Maryland showed that children age 6-11 who took private lessons for a year or more scored significantly higher on IQ tests than those who didn’t. Researchers controlled for parents’ income and level of education, as well as children’s other activities. Other notable differences included: 

*Increase in IQ scores

*Promotes intellectual development

*Achieve higher test scores on standardized tests and other proficiency exams

*More cooperative with teachers and peers

*More self-confident

*Better able to express their ideas verbally

*Improvements in hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory development, listening skills and the overall process of learning

*Enhanced self-esteem and confidence as they perform in front of a teacher on a weekly basis and participate regularly in recitals or other performances


Schellenberg, E. G. (2006). Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(2), 457–468. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.98.2.457


Multiple studies show that students with music training have higher GPAs than children with none. The College Board showed that musical students had higher overall standarized test scores. 


The university of Michigan showed that 93% of STEM graduates had musical training as children, vs. only 34% of average adults. 


Trained musicians scored higher in language and math and had lower drop-out rates. 


Northwestern University: “Music programs can literally remodel children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which can lead to better learning and  language skills. 


Music improves both cognitive and non-cognitive skills at twice the rate of sports, dance, or theatre. 


A recent study found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.


Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.


Research by Dr. Frances Rauscher, Endowed Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, suggests that the study of music dramatically enhances children's ability to reason abstractly. 


OTHER BENEFITS


Trained musicians are more effective at switching from one task to another.


Music training shows a protective effect against Alzheimer’s. 


Music can make us feel nostalgic, melancholy, or energized. It also promotes empathy!  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0305735612440609


Music improves immunological response. 

Finding an Amazing Private Music Teacher

Saturday, August 1, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized


Transcript (more or less):


I’m the mother of 8 children who all take music lessons, except for my 4-year-old who probably will start next summer, and one child with special needs who will start with the band program at school, so I want to share with you a little bit about my process for selecting a music teacher for my children. 


Often, if parents find a private music teacher for their child who is a nice person and knows vaguely more about music than they do, they’ll be thrilled with the arrangement.  “I just want my child to love music,” is the excuse that I hear, and that’s great! That’s what we all want.  But, making music is more than just reading the notes on the page.  It’s important to have a fabulous set of eyes and ears on your child to make sure he isn’t developing bad habits (which we all do!), like throat tension or misplacing his tongue in his mouth, or squeezing his embouchure too tight, or poor breath support, or posture issues.  Eventually, students will get discouraged because their own body mechanics will prevent them from playing difficult technical passages, and they’ll get stuck. This is when students start dropping out of music.  It gets “hard” or “boring.”  In reality, students are frustrated because they haven’t been properly nurtured in their musical journey. Playing with correct habits from the beginning means progressing at the fastest possible rate because no physical impediments will be blocking the momentum, which also means developing musically with joy and enthusiasm.


We’ve moved a few times over the years, some of my children have changed instruments, and a few of them play more than one instrument, so I’ve had the opportunity to observe literally dozens of instructors with my children. I feel like it’s safe to say at this point in my life that I have the process of selecting a music teacher down to a science. 


There’s a Trifecta of qualifications I look for.  The first is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful musician. The second is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful person. The third is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful teacher.  Sometimes people conflate the ideas of being a good teacher and a good person, but in reality a good teacher will be able to explain ideas to your child in a way that makes them successful, which a nice person can’t necessarily do. Here are my hints for finding a great one: 



1. Are they nice? Of course, you want your child to be in the hands of someone who truly cares about them.  Private lessons mean spending a lot of 1:1 time, so you really need to think of this person as a potential long-term mentor for your child, beyond teaching musical fundamentals.  I always think to myself, “would I be thrilled if my child started picking up their instructor’s habits or attitude?” The answer should be an enthusiastic “Yes!” but the only way to find out is to meet the teacher in person.  If the instructor you’re considering doesn’t offer the chance to come by for an “audition,” “interview,” or “trial lesson,” I would pass, because it’s THAT important.


2. Local recommendations-Don’t ask your friends for recommendation-they don’t know. They will just be thrilled to find a nice teacher who knows vaguely more about music than they do. Caveat: unless your friend happens to be formally trained as a musician.  Music departments at local universities tend to have their pulse on the local music scene and are a good resource for finding teachers, so I wouldn’t hesitate to send an email.  Most music professors are big believers in the arts and would love to advise you given the opportunity.


3. Chemistry- Each of my children does well with a different personality type.  My middle daughter loves teachers who are affectionate and gush over her.  My oldest son is quiet and thoughtful, and does beautifully with instructors who are the same.  My youngest son in lessons right now is a little silly, but easy to reign in, so he enjoys silly teachers and will still work hard when the lessons get rowdy.  My youngest daughter, though, once things start getting silly, she’ll totally lose focus and start rolling on the floor, so she needs someone who can really keep things moving and shift focus back to the work at hand.

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of choosing from an assortment of instructors.  If there’s only one bassoon teacher in town and you play the bassoon, then the decision is out of your hands. But if you have the opportunity to talk to a few different teachers, it might help you to see if there’s one in particular who works especially well with your child.  

4.  Finances-Sometimes cheaper isn’t always better.  Sometimes the most expensive isn’t always the best. Often, people charge a lot because they are amazing instructors and their skills absolutely merit that sort of fee. Sometimes people charge a lot just because they want to make a lot, but they really don’t deserve it, so it’s important to do your research.

5. Interview- I always ask questions of a potential music teacher if this information isn’t readily available on their website where I can access it easily. Use the questions below to find out about potential music teacher's background and philosophy:



A) What is your musical background?

Degrees

Certifications

Teaching experience

Performance experience


I once asked a potential piano teacher this question, and her answer was, “Well, I’ve been teaching piano for 25 years.”  But...were they 25 good years or 25 bad years?  Teaching many years doesn’t necessarily make you a better teacher. It can, if the teacher is devoted to the art of pedagogy and is actively working to be a better musician and instructor.  HOWEVER, the majority of private music teachers out there are just teaching lessons to make a few bucks and really aren’t spectacular. 


What you are looking for here is someone who can play at a very advanced level, and who is an excellent instructor as well.  Music degrees (especially advanced degrees) are great. Certifications from organizations such as Music Teachers National Association or Suzuki Association of the Americas show that this person is really dedicated to being a great teacher.  


It goes without saying that your child will progress faster and be less frustrated with a more qualified teacher.


ALSO: I’m always a little leery of teachers who claim to be experts in more than one discipline. It’s one thing to be qualified to teach similar instruments like the clarinet and saxophone, but another when I see people advertising to teach piano, flute, and violin. Y’all, it takes years and years of dedicated time to master just a single performance area, much less two or three. Occasionally a very rare talented person can do it, but that is the exception. 



B) Are you currently doing anything to improve your own musicianship or teaching skills?

Look for answers like: 

Taking lessons

Attending workshops with local music teachers associations

Seeking certifications

Attending pedagogy conferences

Reading books

Taking classes


This is an important question to ask because often “music teachers” aren’t really committed pedagogues.  You want to send your child to someone who sees music as a vocation.  You want them to go to conferences that inspire them to be the best teacher they can and be actively honing their craft, because your child is the one who ultimately benefits.


I once took lessons from an instructor with a DMA in flute who talked about what she learned in her lesson with her teacher that week.  It really made an impact on me at the time because I thought, “You have a doctoral degree in flute! What else is there to learn?!”  It just goes to show you that there are always ways to improve and people should always seeking to be better. 



C) Are there any particular books or workshops on pedagogy that have made an impact on you? 

Ask this question to make sure they aren’t lying about the previous question. :)  Then check the answer.  


D) What are some of your own musical problems you had to struggle to overcome?

Everyone remembers taking PE in school. There was a subset of kids who were naturally athletic and competitive who loved sports and physical fitness.  There was a subset of kids who felt awkward or clumsy and detested gym class for various personal reasons, and there was everyone else in between these two extremes. Of course, I don’t know the exact nationwide statistics of the kids who hate gym class vs. those who thrive on it.  Now, out of these three populations, which subset did the gym teacher belong to when he was growing up?


It’s not surprising that students who are naturally gifted in one area often seek a career in that field.  Children who are talented in science become scientists. Children who love to cook become chefs. There’s nothing wrong with that!  Usually!

Does anyone see a problem with the fact the instructor who naturally relates to only one small group of students will be responsible for designing and instructing a curriculum for the entire student body?  What happens to this group over here, then? The group that hates gym class?  Each generation of jocks will produce new gym teachers and each new gym teacher will produce a subset of students who hate gym. Don’t you think schools would be more effective if teachers who really struggled with math (but overcame that struggle) taught math?  Think of all the empathy and patience they would have!


My point is 1) Everyone has struggled at one point or another, though one person's struggle might be completely minor compared to another's, and that 2) teachers who have had to work hard to overcome difficulties often turn out to be fabulous trouble-shooters. Of course, there are always exceptions, but this is just something to keep in mind.



E) Have any of your students ever had a music problem you couldn’t solve, and what did you do about it?

Hopefully, the answer is YES, because if the answer is “no,” then I would wager the teacher is either very inexperienced or not knowledgeable enough to see a problem staring at them because every student encounters difficulties at some point, with technique, posture, or tone and teachers don’t always have all the answers to every single difficulty.  Ideally, the answer would be that they experimented several weeks until the issue was resolved, or that they researched online and in textbooks, or they reached out to their colleagues for suggestions.  You want to know that the teacher you find will really stick with your child and help her if your child suddenly develops an obscure complication.


F) Have any of your students ever outgrown you?  How did you handle the situation?

This is an important question.  There are some extremely qualified teachers (like university professors), who might teach a child for years and though the child’s music skills improve exponentially, they still won’t reach the level of the teacher, and that’s ok. 


Sometimes after several years, a very dedicated student might advance tremendously, and a teacher with less formal musical training needs to refer the student to a more accomplished teacher.  Remember what I said before, about some teachers just teaching lessons to earn a few extra dollars?  Teachers should be committed enough to their students that they absolutely 100% want what’s best for them.  Similarly, if an instructor’s teaching philosophy is different than a student’s expectations, the student might do better in the studio of another instructor.  If a student is not a good fit for an instructor’s studio,for whatever reason, the teacher is doing a disservice to the student by not referring her out.