My Kid Wants to Quit Piano!?!?

Piano Cut in Half with ChainsawIt is not uncommon for kids, usually about the time they reach the middle school years, to begin to temporarily lose interest in their piano lessons. If they are allowed to quit lessons, they usually regret it in later years. It is possible to get your children through this difficult period without having them make a decision they may later wish they hadn’t made and for which their young age and limited experience makes them ill prepared. I firmly believe that while kids say they know what they want at Jr. High and High School levels, they really don’t understand the impact that quitting the study of the piano will have in the long term. Rather, they only know they are unhappy at the present moment. I have had countless adult students who kick themselves for having quit and now realize the folly of a choice they made as teenagers.

Part of the problem is that while many parents want their children to play the piano because it is ”good” for them, or because they themselves took piano lessons as children, few actually know how truly beneficial piano instruction is. For more information about that topic, please visit the Benefits of Piano Study section on this website.

Parents often also do not realize that children do not hate piano per se. Rather, they dislike the long-term commitment and daily year-round dedication that is required to master an instrument. Over the years, I have seen many parents who allowed their children to drift from instrument to instrument with the same result: the student did not want to commit to any of them after a few months of study. The long-term commitment required for successful music study is one of the many reasons to study piano. It is a skill sought after by employers, and college admissions officials; both know that music students will not quit after the first tough assignment or demanding course.

So, if as I do, you truly believe in the intrinsic value of a music education. If you believe, as I do and as Plato and Aristotle did more than two-thousand years ago, that music should be a integral part of the life and mind of any young person, the answer to the question: “Can I quit piano lessons?” Should be the same as to the questions: “Can I quit math?” or “Can I quit History?”

One thing that often works well in keeping kids in piano lessons is a tit-for-tat agreement to continue lessons in exchange for some privilege or reward (sometimes known as “positive reinforcement”, other times known as a “bribe”). Such rewards need not be monetary or material. For example, a possible “contract” might be allowing your daughter to get her ears pierced in return for her continuing piano lessons for 3 more years. Similarly, you can reward good lessons and participation in recitals and contests, irrespective of whether your child won.

I also help this process by rewarding students. The Studio’s reward system acknowledges students’ hard work, participation in recitals and other music-related activities at the conclusion of each academic year. I can also help by gearing repertoire, within limits, towards your child’s tastes during those difficult years. Gershwin and Chopin may appeal to teenagers a little more than Bach or Beethoven and can be musically and educationally just as valid as learning goals. Because social development and acceptance are so important during the early teen years, I also arrange opportunities to participate with other teens—playing chamber music, duets, or any other musical group activity—which stresses classical training. The guiding principle is to find ways to make the musical experience as fun, exciting, and new as all those other activities that compete for a teenager’s time and interest.

Whatever reward system you choose, make it clear to your child that this must be a good faith agreement on both sides. Regular practice and attendance at lessons are every bit as important to the child’s fulfillment of the contract as you allowing the privilege. For this to work, the child has to know that if they renege on their end of the contract, you will not trust them in similar situations in the future and they will lose those privileges they might otherwise have gained. Such an arrangement not only helps keep your child in piano lessons, but also builds character and responsibility for their future.

Despite your best efforts, your child may refuse to cooperate. Should you force the child to continue lessons? Every situation is individual, so I can’t tell you what to do here. However, in this event, careful consultation with the child’s instructor is called for. I may be able to rebuild interest by changing repertoire, using computer teaching tools, setting up opportunities for playing in groups with other children the same age, or other incentives based on the my knowledge of your child. Simply allowing the child to quit lessons is usually not the best way to handle a resolutely uncooperative child. Such a decision should only be taken as a last resort and involve extensive consultation with the teacher.

Finally, a word just for you parents: hang in there, it’s worth it! Give yourself a pat on the back that you recognize and are dealing with the issue. Chances are your children will thank you when they get a little older for encouraging them to stay in lessons.

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