Setting the Stage: Educating Students To Stay With it for the Long Haul.
A student signs up for lessons. He and his family are super enthused.
“He’s so naturally musical,” his proud parents tell you at his first lesson.
“He practices all the time. We don’t even have to ask him!” his parents marvel two months in.
And then…maybe in 6 months, maybe in a few years, there’s the all too familiar…
“Getting him to practice is such a fight.”
“He’s so busy with sports and school work, it’s hard to find time to practice.”
“I’m tired of battling him to practice. We’re going to take a few years off from piano and see where things go.”
How do we, as teachers and studio owners, stop this from happening? While certainly there will be counsel and encouragement needed throughout the students years of instruction, I believe that setting the stage before a student even begins lessons can be the most effective in combating the above scenario from playing out.Educating parents from the get-go about the unique commitment and time involved in learning a lesson is key. Here are a few important things to convey (from my perspective as a music teacher and a parent!).
Music is a long-term commitment. This is different than most after-school activities. My 6-year-old will play T-ball for a season, or take a package of six swim lessons, and then it is over and she can either rest and relax or move onto the next thing. When I signed her up for ukulele lessons, though, I explained to her that this is different, “We’re not quitting after a couple of months. We’re in this for the long haul.” There have been ups and downs, but we never even discuss the possibility of taking a break or stopping lessons. It’s not up for negotiation.
Practicing is a priority, and something the parent needs to be involved with. If your child practices on his own from the get-go, which he likely will because he is excited, that’s wonderful. But this will pass. Working with your child to set up a practice schedule from the beginning is SO IMPORTANT. I cannot emphasize this enough.
I know kids these days are super busy. While music lessons are a priority in our family — and we often don’t enroll in many after school activities for that reason — not every family feels this way. Sometimes my students will come in and list off every single thing they had going on during the week in an effort to convey to me why they didn’t have time to practice. And while I sympathize with a busy schedule, I always tell them that despite the many activities they have, they still are expected to carve out ten minutes of time. THAT’S IT. Ten minutes. Parents — this is not up to your students. This time to set aside for practicing is up to you!
At our house, practicing piano is one of my daughter’s daily chores. She doesn’t earn her allowance at the end of the week if she skips out on her chores — whether it’s not making the bed or practicing the piano. Because of her young age, I sit down with her to practice. We do it either immediately after school, or if she’s too tired, right before bedtime. No excuses. And the cool thing is, because she sees how quickly she progresses and how much more she learns when she practices, it’s rarely a battle. It’s simply part of life as she knows it.
Your child will struggle, and that’s okay. One of the things I love about music lessons isn’t just that my daughter comes out of it learning how to play really cool pieces. She also happens to be a perfectionist who cries if she doesn’t get something right away. This can often make practicing super frustrating FOR ME (not just her!). But, she has had to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and to be frustrated and to take awhile to master a song, and she has become so much better and being patient with herself and understanding the value of hard work. And if I let her quit because she was frustrated and I was frustrated, I would be robbing her of learning that important life lesson.
See the big picture. Your child is not capable of understanding what it really means when he gives up music lessons. But you are. Perhaps you were a student who quit after a few years, and have always lamented that you didn’t stick with it longer. I can’t tell you how many parents have expressed a deep regret at never learning — or not studying long enough — an instrument. You are the wise adult who can fully comprehend what that means. Even though it may feel like a battle to get your child to stick with it, I promise you, it is a battle worth fighting.
Your child will thank you for it.