“We taking a ‘break’ from piano lessons.” Note: ‘break’ is code word for ‘quit’.
This is my head and heart's reaction when I hear these words from a parent whose child is giving up on piano lessons before I am ready to give the student up. You see, as a teacher, it’s *all about me* (*words are dripping with sarcasm here*).
Peaks and Valleys
After teaching piano for a couple of decades, I can tell you that it’s normal for kids to go through peaks and valleys in terms of motivation on the piano. It’s also completely normal for kids to explore various interests in their teen years.
I think the most valuable thing about learning an instrument is that it requires long-term commitment. It’s not an activity that you do short-term, gain an easily-learned skill and then move on.
Playing the piano requires months and years of “stick-with-it-ness” to get real results. The fabulous part of this, however, is that the results are long-lasting and life-enriching! Kids (especially in our microwave generation) aren’t often exposed to these kinds of activities that require long-term work; it’s an experience that is (unfortunately!) new to them.
A Half-Baked Frontal Cortex
Sometimes, it’s easier for kids to want to quit piano because it’s simply easier to not have to put effort into something. He may say that he’s ‘bored’ or ‘doesn’t like it anymore’. It’s almost impossible for teens to think long-term about the fact that he may actually want to be able to be able to play the piano later in life. (The frontal cortex - part of the brain that is involved in problem solving, judgement, impulse control, among other things - is not fully developed until around the age of 25 or so.)
Because kids typically think in the here-and-now, they may not be able to truly decipher exactly what it is that is causing their “valley” in motivation at that particular moment. If you find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to push through the low points. You may just find that in a few short weeks or months down the road, your student will be back to loving music.
Dig In and Do the Work
Piano lessons are also one of the only extra curricular activities that require children to ‘dig in’ and practice own at home. With most sports, you are required show up and practice or play a game.
Piano is different. It requires a sense of self-discipline to continue the learning at home; it can be hard for kids to see the benefits of developing this self-discipline.
I can tell you with 100% honesty that I have never, ever met someone who said “I’m sure glad my mom let me quit piano lessons.” In fact, I hear the opposite from people all of the time!
I understand parents’ desire to not make piano a dreaded activity; music should ultimately be an expression of joy. My studio’s focus is on creating opportunities for piano to be as fun as it can possibly be. And, I love to give students the opportunity to use their creativity often. However, as with learning any new skill, there are times when the learning is just, well, ‘hard work.’
Think of a time when you conquered something tough. Don’t feelings of self-esteem and confidence come bubbling to the surface?
If we let children quit when things get tough, then they lose the opportunity to prove to themselves that they can do it; that they can work through an obstacle and come out on the other side better than they were before.
If we leave the decisions up to them in instances like this, their “kid-ness”takes over and they choose the easy route, because that’s what feels good in the moment. As I often say when my own children have made ‘questionable’ choices, “That was a decision that lacked a frontal cortex!” (A bit of humor takes the bite out of any bad situation.)
I have seen first-hand the social, emotional, and academic benefits that playing the piano brings. These benefits are the main reason I run my music studio (and started it in the first place).
If it truly is time for the student to move into something in which they are truly passionate, and you ‘know’ this, I support that decision and will most likely feel that opportunity for your student, too. When the student has had 'enough' piano, they can and will return to it with renewed passion.
So, as a parent, just like a mother bird, when this time comes, we must open our hands to our child's passions and let them fly.
*This article's ideas are shared in part with a 2013 blog post from teachpianotoday.com.