Why do children quit the piano, and what can we do to help them stick at it?
As part of setting up my music school I have worked towards each pupil having such a positive experience that they will not give up easily. It means I’ve needed to watch for signs that indicate someone might stop lessons and address them.
Here are the main reasons I have heard from people who gave up learning piano:
- They didn’t get on with the teacher in some way.
- The material they were learning was boring.
- They preferred playing by ear over reading music and focused on that, never really learning to read. Once the music got beyond a certain level it all got too hard.
There are other reasons too:
- Not able to keep up the practice needed because of too many after school activities.
- A sibling or a friend, also learning, is doing much better, so discouragement sets in.
- Parents are too busy to give support and encouragement in practice at home.
- Cost of lessons, books, etc. becomes prohibitive.
- Wanting to switch to another instrument.
- The family situation changes and maintaining lessons and practice no longer works.
- A bad performance experience discourages them and they are unwilling to give it another go.
- Practicing on a poor/inadequate instrument…or even trying out lessons to see if they like it without any instrument to practice on (true story)!
Many of these issues come about due to unfulfilled expectations from the outset. I like to set my pupils up well so they are off to a good start, making sure the parents have an appropriate instrument and that they have a realistic understanding of what needs to be in place as their child starts piano lessons. It’s a given that if one is paying for lessons, the investment should involve careful follow up from what their child learns at lessons each week.
- Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child’s teacher. If there is something you don’t understand in their learning, or there is a struggle in a particular area, email or phone the tutor. I often find that the children who do the best are those whose parents actually attend the lesson, even if infrequently, and depending on the age of the child. That way, I connect with them about how to follow up on what is being learned.
- If the music they are learning is boring, again, talk to the tutor. In developing my own piano course, Headstart Piano, I sought to create a range of music to be engaging and nice to play, even at a simple level. Also I want to know if there is music that they particularly want to learn to play too. Where possible and practical for their level I will arrange this music for them.
- Sometimes children express an interest in learning to play the piano through an ability to pick things up by ear. So if they are presented with only learning written music they can find that quite a challenge. I use special pieces to help pupils learn to play by ear, as well as other pieces for reading music. Sometimes the music they specifically want to play can be learned by ear too.
These are the main areas to address for now. There are ways to work through the other 8 reasons, which I’ll maybe get to another time. I’d also like to look at how to help the many adults I chat with who’d love to pick up again on the lost opportunities from poor childhood musical experiences.
I try to keep two things in balance as part of my mission statement to awaken my pupils’ musical awareness: I want to be sure the pupils I tutor are learning what they need to learn (a skill set that needs practice and attention) in the process of becoming a musician. But along with this I work alongside them to inspire them to keep at that learning process by helping them play what they want to play too.
This tightrope balance is all in the hope that I can keep anyone on my watch from saying in 20 year’s time that they wished they had never given up the piano; that, on the contrary, they still play and it is one of the most wonderful things they ever put their hands to.