Over the years through teaching piano, I’ve witnessed many families struggle through the crossroads of when to let a student quit and when to encourage them to continue. We’ve all known people who regret quitting piano lessons – adults who wish their parents would have forced them to continue. And we’ve also heard stories of the flip side: forcing a student to practice piano can take all of the joy away from the experience and potentially keep them away from music for their lifetime.
One of my childhood piano teachers put it simply: “If you give a child the choice to go to school, would they choose to go every day?” Kids under 18 don’t yet have the perspective, awareness, and capability to make the broad educational decisions that will affect their life forever. Providing young students with a cohesive and comprehensive music education has just as many benefits as reading, math, science, and social studies – one could make the case that it provides even more! Yet, with today’s generation of parents, I regularly witness the shift of more power given to students as young as kindergarten in decision making for skill development. Furthermore, parents of today’s youth are uncomfortable seeing their children struggle while learning. Struggling is part of the process of becoming an expert at anything.
Learning to read music takes a lot of commitment, self-discipline, and focus. Many parents have told me that it’s the only area in which their child is challenged during the school week. The brain is asked to process and synthesize a lot of concepts simultaneously, and furthermore, the body is learning coordination and motor skills at the same time! Most kids require adult encouragement and support to find the self-discipline required to practice piano regularly; sometimes, just a warm reminder of how much they’ll enjoy that piece once they master it is all they need.
Occasionally I’ve had a piano student who wanted to quit and it was clear to me that it was time for the parents to let go and give the choice to the student. If there is an adamant resistance to learning, growth won’t happen, and the power struggle between the student and parent will dominate the situation. But these cases are unusual and usually stem from a lack of student interest from the start or power struggle between the child and parent in general. Sometimes the student will return by their own choice once they reach high school, and when this happens, it’s a precious gift to the student and piano teacher.
In the past few years, I’ve come across several community college students who want a career in music but are restricted by a lack of motor skills and music reading fluency that are very difficult to attain as an adult. The majority of music programs across college campuses are not designed for the novice, but for individuals who have already had years of training on their instrument. I’ve also had retired adults take piano lessons with me and become frustrated their rate of progress. There is a huge difference in an adult’s ability to progress if they’ve had some private lessons as a child versus starting as an adult.
By including music in your child’s education, you give them gifts for a lifetime – physical, mental, and emotional. The ability to sit down at the piano and express music is a tremendous source of joy and peace for individuals of all ages and backgrounds.
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