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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.