When Do You Let Your Child Quit Their Music Lessons?
I was sitting with a mother whose children were now in their 20s. She grew up in a very musical family and was very disappointed that, with both her son and her daughter, the piano lessons “never took.” She had told them if they continued their lessons for five years, they could quit. They did their five years and then they were free to quit…. and they did. “I don’t know what I did wrong,” she lamented.
I thought back to my conductor husband who at 12 wanted to quit piano. His mother was very clever. She suggested that perhaps he would like to take jazz piano lessons and found him a teacher. For 3 years, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin were put on the shelf. He took lessons every week and learned to play popular songs, improvise, and play by ear. Suddenly, he was the kid who could sit down at the piano and pound out a current hit for his friends. He was the one selected for the jazz group. He was the one who accompanied the high school musical. At 15, he went back to his classical teacher and went on to pursue a career as a conductor…. and be the hit at every party as he slid onto the piano bench.
The skill that had given a socially awkward, or perhaps simply shy, adolescent a way to be accepted became a lifelong gift to everyone who knew him.
He sat in with the band at weddings and parties, slid onto the piano bench when the club pianist took a break, and was always happy to play a few tunes. You never knew what would come out: Handel? Beatles? Adele? The Mike Mulligan Song that he had just composed.
Why had it worked? Because music lessons became relevant to his life – his music became part of his social world. Perhaps your child should not play the piano, but rather the guitar. Perhaps not the clarinet, but the saxophone – and when the band director says they already have too many saxophones, give him some private lessons so the band director will want him in his band. Maybe it’s the drums – don’t flinch. The best part about having a budding percussionist today is that there are digital drums. Your son can wear a headset and go at it to his heart’s content, and you never have to hear a thump, if you don’t want to. There are all kinds of “good” music and they are not all classical.
The right instrument is part one; part two is the right teacher. The “best” teacher, namely the most accomplished player, may not be the teacher that will inspire your child. If your child hates his/her teacher, go shopping and find another quickly. Assume that your child is not asking for an “easier” teacher, but rather someone who understands them as a person and is encouraging them to love music and continue. A good teacher leaves a student wanting to go home and practice, because they want to be able to play - you fill in the blank.
J.P. McShane who worked at Maestro Classics teaches classical guitar, but also jazz and electric guitar in New York City and even a student who does not want to learn to read music, just learn to play a few songs. He is the perfect example of someone who loves music, loves playing classical guitar, but also is willing to meet a student at the student’s point of interest and not be judgmental.
Almost every adult I know who studied piano or another instrument as a child says that they wish their parents had not let them quit.
As a parent, your job is not to make them the greatest performer in the world but to try to keep music in their lives. Encourage them to play an instrument or to sing, to listen to all kinds of music, and to let their Dr. Beats headphones explore the wonderful world of music.
Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, M.Ed, M.Phil.,
President of Maestro Classics