When parents call our flagship Pennsylvania music school to register their son or daughter for music lessons, the conversation often leads to their own music lessons as a child. We’ve had a great number of parents say they regret quitting lessons. The running tally for the number of parents who’ve said they regret sticking with it? Zero.
It’s easy to list off the reasons why sticking with an instrument will pay off into adulthood: cognitive benefits, improved test scores, emotional expression, a way to meet people – even just having a way to blow off steam after a long day. But sometimes those benefits are hard to see when you’re struggling to motivate yourself to practice, or when you’re simply a thirteen year-old with a lot on your mind.
The fact is, there are a lot of reasons to stick with music lessons, but there are a number of reasons why people quit, too. When you take a closer look, you can see that some small changes can take that draw toward quitting and turn it into a path toward winning.
So, why do people quit?
Lack of Encouragement. In our teacher training sessions, Meridee reminds instructors that “children get more applause in one soccer game than they do in a year of making music.” It’s a startling statement, but it’s true. Even at a regular old sports practice session, there’s encouragement from the sidelines. “Nice form!” “Good pass!” These phrases are heard often. Yet yelling “Hey – sounding good in there!” from the kitchen during piano practice might seem unusual. Why not encourage parents to try it, though?
That small bit of encouragement, which not only says “keep it up,” but also “I’m listening. I support what you’re doing,” might be just what a child needs to overcome that next challenge or feel pride in what they’re learning. Encouragement can come in many forms – an enthusiastic nudge to practice, a spontaneous request from a family member to play a song or two, or just an inquiry about what they’re working on. This also prevents the isolation that can sometimes come with learning an instrument. (Isolation, notably, is another reason someone may quit an instrument.)
Performance. In music, performing for others is an act with many positive side effects: a feeling of achievement (more on that shortly), a long-term goal to work toward, a connection with others, and an incentive to build repertoire, to name a few. (Not listed but also notable is the opportunity to record a video to show to Grandma in Seattle or for proud parents to share online.)
Once students have a song that’s performance ready, that piece can and should be maintained as a part of their permanent repertoire. Having a few pieces that are always performance-ready is a great secret weapon for family get-togethers or on the spot requests. Those little moments turn into opportunities for success.
A Need to Achieve. We love this story. At 11 years old, a young, talented swimmer wanted to quit. (He would later go on to be an elite athlete, but at the time was experiencing a slump. Training was hard, and he was in the middle of a losing streak.)
His father’s response to the request to quit was this: “If you want to quit, that’s fine. But I don’t want you to quit simply because you’re losing... So I’m going to continue to drive you to workouts and force you to swim and once you turn twelve and [are] at the top of your age group, you’ll start to do well. If you want to quit then, that’s fine.” Of course, once he started winning again, the swimmer rediscovered his love for the sport., and later went on to compete in the Olympics.*
A “big win” — be it a swimming trophy or a completing an original song — brings an instant sense of achievement. It’s often followed by a thought of “how did I ever dream of quitting?!” Parents and teachers can help bolster this feeling by setting up chances to achieve.
Performances may be go-to opportunities for achievement, but there are other ways to have winning moments. Enter music contests. Set a long-term goal like writing an album, learning a certain piece or working on a video. Set up tests, quizzes and challenges. If it’s been a while since your musician’s last “big win,” talk with them today about changing that.
An Ode to (or Lack of) Joy. It’s simple, but to stick with lessons, you need to like them. Does your musician have a favorite piece from the radio they want to learn? Great! Arrange a level-appropriate version as a surprise. Really need a change? Consider adding or switching to a new instrument. While lesson book songs can sometimes be likened to “eating your vegetables,” aim to fill the rest of the plate with songs, games and activities that leave students fulfilled and eager to sit down with their instrument. If a student takes our quiz below and doesn’t score high in the “enjoyment” department, work with them to find new pieces and games that jumpstart your lessons’ musical engine.
There are a number of reasons that people give up, but so many solutions to try before it comes to that. The first step is often talking about what’s missing and what could be improved. We want all students to feel like well-supported, high-achieving, joyful musicians. With help from parents, teachers and some extra fun music materials, we’re confident we can help make that happen. Have students take our “Stick With it” quiz to see where they stand, and read the results to see how to boost your “stick with it score.”
As we’ve learned from those parents who call our school, quitting often leads to regret. But sticking with it? That leads to great music, confident kids and lifelong benefits.
About Meridee Winters:
Meridee Winters is a professional educator, musician, author and director/owner of a successful Philadelphia area music school.
Meridee began her journey as an educator teaching elementary students in a Florida public school, where she discovered the curriculum and school system left little room for divergence and creativity. She made the bold decision to leave and attend graduate school to study Music Composition, eventually starting her own private music school.
Today, that school has spent two decades introducing thousands of students to not just music, but to Meridee’s trailblazing method that encourages creativity, play and higher-level thinking with each lesson.
As a composer and professional musician, Meridee has instructed at all levels – from professional recording artists working on albums to computer music classes in the recording studio, and from young beginners taking their first steps on their musical path to intermediate students writing their first songs.
Meridee is a dedicated advocate of creative intelligence whose foremost passion is empowering creative and authentic self-expression in each individual. She now spends her time developing new materials and books to nurture these. She does her work as an author, as well as director of the school, from her home in Delaware County, PA.
© 2017 Meridee Winters. All Rights Reserved.
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