I can't tell you how many people come up to me and tell me how they took piano for a few years and then their parents let them quit and they really regret it and wish they had stuck with it. Seriously, if I had $1 for every time I heard this sad tale, I could fund all my Disney travel desires.
Why is this such a common tale? Every year, many students begin learning an instrument. For some, it may be through a school band, orchestra or choir program. For others, they may start down the path of private music lessons. Regardless of the reason or instrument, approximately 50% will quit within the first 2 years.
WHAT?! I have candy that's lasted longer than that (ok not really...I mean only if said candy is hiding in a really good hiding spot...but you get my point).
Let's take a moment and think about what would happen if kids quit other things at that rate. What if 1/2 of all students quit math after 2nd grade? No multiplication, division, geometry...some of those quitters might have gone on to learn to love math and become engineers or doctors. What if we missed out on important discoveries because kids got to opt out of math or science. What would civilization be like if we all stopped reading after we mastered the Magic Treehouse books? Who would have made Harry Potter so popular that it became a movie and a theme park? Poor kids might actually think that the movie versions of The Hobbit are what Tolkien wrote (Don't even get me started on that)!
So what are the reasons that these kids are quitting? And how can we change those numbers? Well, I've got some ideas I'm going to share here.
1. Kids don't think they're good enough musicians. I don't know about you, but I work really hard to explain to my students that learning an instrument is a process. One lesson isn't going to make them a master. But I think that in today's society, where instant gratification is the order of the day, kids are so accustomed to getting what the want when they want it, that working for anything is a concept a little beyond their grasp. But it's such an important lesson to learn! Sure your student might not be a prodigy. But that's ok. Let them practice and learn and love music. Loving music is what it's all about anyway.
2. Parents get tired of nagging and students don't want to practice. I covered this in a previous post about practicing. But you've got to find the way that works for you. Don't give up! Every child is different. Maybe your students has a hard time sitting for 30 minutes. Let them break their practice time into two 15-minute slots! Have them fill up a sticker sheet for practicing. Once they've practice 30 days, give them a special prize. It's not easy and it might require some nagging. I know my mom nagged me A LOT! And I constantly thank her for it.
3. The music they play isn't "fun". I'll be the first to admit that I practice more if it's a piece I enjoy. However, students have to learn fundamentals before they can play anything "fun". I have all kinds of books with 5 finger and big note music from movies and Disney, but they still will have to be able to read notes. Some of them require knowing sharps and flats and that's something my students don't fully incorporate until toward the end of their first method book. But I'm happy to let them work to earn "fun" pieces. After they've passed off a certain number of songs (and obviously have the skills required for the piece they want), I let them choose from the pieces that I have. It would also be helpful to take them to concerts or recitals of advanced musicians so they can see what might be.
4. They're too busy for music lessons. I know there are a lot of options of things for kids to participate in. I just wonder why music seems to be perceived as a lower priority than other things. The lessons learned from learning an instrument are enormous (I've got another blog post on that). They are different, but just as important as the skills learned while playing team sports. And if learning an instrument is part of a school class, then that needs to be given just as much weight as any other academic class. If you can make time for 2 soccer teams, 3 dance classes and tennis lessons, you can make time for music lessons.
5. Students take a break over the summer. Goodness this drives me bonkers. Summer is the best time to get into a really good habit with your music! You don't have all the homework weighing down on you! You usually have fewer of those "busy" activities. And you're not spending 6 hours a day at school. But inevitably, every year I have students who either excuse themselves from lessons entirely, or just don't practice because it's summer. For school groups, if you don't touch your instrument all summer, what will happen when you go back? You're going to get frustrated because you can't do things that used to be easy for you. This will make you feel like a failure. That frustration will spiral, you're not in a good habit of practicing because of your summer hiatus and that's not likely to get fixed overnight once school and the insanity that comes with it begins again. If you don't read over the summer, you're so far behind in your English classes. Think about how much review is required in math classes once school is in session again. If your student to feel successful, help them practice during the summer.
6. Teachers don't offer enough performing opportunities. It's always nice to have something to work for. Recitals can be a goal for students to work toward. However, sometimes that can be a little intimidating, especially to beginning students. For my studio, I have group lessons a few times each semester. In group lessons, it's kind of like a mini recital, but only with the other students. This gets the kids used to performing in front of people. It also helps them learn how to be part of an attentive audience. Additionally, at group lessons I discuss with the students different topics. For my voice students, we might talk about vocal health. One time, we even did Vocal Yoga together (I really should have taken pictures of that...it was a riot). For my piano students, it might be the importance of following correct fingering. For any student, I often discuss topics like performance anxiety and etiquette or practicing methods. This gives my students opportunities to perform and a reason to be prepared with a song that I usually let them choose. It's also in an environment where they can feel successful and see others are struggling with similar things.
There really are a number of reasons that students might quit music lessons. Let's all work together to try to prevent more of the "I wish I hadn't quit" stories from being quite so popular!