Inspiring perseverance and not quitting music lessons

Over the last 25 years of music teaching, one of the common questions that parents ask, is how to encourage their child to practice and not quit after learning for several years.

When we first start learning music we go through those early, simple pieces at a fast pace. Often we can learn 1 or 2 pieces in a week so learning the instrument is really exciting. However, when we start to approach the intermediate stage, the pieces become longer, more technical and require longer practice time to master. The key to remember is that although students are definitely still making progress, it doesn’t feel as quick as at the beginner stage. This is often when perseverance starts to wain and less practice takes place.

So how can we find better solutions for students who have reached that intermediate level and are considering quitting music lessons?

It’s important at this stage for parents to not turn a lack of practice into a punishment. There are lots of reasons why students have periods where they stop practising and lack perseverance. Often this is not because they don’t like learning the instrument anymore but other reasons such as tiredness, over-extended school commitments, excessive homework and coursework, friendship groups, sports and other activities.

Having taught in secondary schools for a long time there are certain points throughout each term where the work load for students, especially HS students, gets hectic and it is understandable at this point that practice takes a lower priority on the weekly schedule. Students in this situation always know that they haven’t practised enough and will normally start the lesson with “Sorry Mrs Hardman, I haven’t practised. This week has been crazy busy because of …”. At this point, kindness and understanding for a student’s situation really does go a long way to keep the motivation and perseverance for music in place.

So here are some top tips for not quitting lessons and inspiring perseverance!

  1. Make sure your child is learning with a teacher

YouTube and online teach-yourself courses will help with the beginner stages but do not substitute for a professional teacher in the long term. A qualified and experienced music teacher will have specialist knowledge about repertoire and technical challenges specifically to the instrument. This means that they will help your child make faster and more satisfying progress. But more importantly they will play duets, know how to fix an instrument, where to get the best equipment and resources, create performance opportunities and know about music within the community.

2. Decide on your music goals

If you find your teacher isn’t meeting your needs in the lessons then chat with them politely. Take the time to share your goals and vision for your music-making and what you hope to achieve. Most teachers will respond positively to support you and help you be successful. Also, ensure that your instrumental music teacher knows what your child is studying in music classes at school so they can help. Knowing a child has an audition, performance or even studying GCSE, IB or AP courses can help the teacher makes links between classroom and instrumental music lessons.

3. Change Teachers if needed

If you find your lessons aren’t working for you then before quitting the instrument you should consider changing to a different path. Whether this is a new teacher, different style of music or stop taking exams. There is nothing wrong with changing direction but you will need to be clear what that looks like for you. I have had students who came to me who were uninspired because all they did was just play graded exam pieces and scales all year with their previous teachers. So we worked at finding a wide range of different repertoire and learning music that inspired the student to practice again.

4. Buy music books

I really can not over-emphasis this! There are literally 1000s of books and pieces for every level and instrument. If you don’t live near a music shop that sells sheet music and books then music books can be bought online and delivered directly to your house. There are 100s of great books with backing tracks that are fun to play along with and lots of exam board books with backing tracks. Really, if you are not buying new music books or sheet music every year then it is no wonder that students find their perseverance waining. The other danger with trying to find ‘free’ music on-line is it can often be notated poorly or be too hard. That’s why I would always recommend books that have been published and properly checked.

5. Quality of instrument

As students head towards the intermediate level then it is even more important to ensure they have a good instrument that is regularly serviced and that they have the right accessories. A bad instrument is so frustrating to play, will slow progress and kill the enjoyment of music-making. This also applies to not having accessories such as new reeds. Reeds only last a certain amount of time before they don’t work well and more importantly become unhygienic to play on. Instruments are like cars, if you don’t service them regularly, they don’t work properly.

6. Join a band, orchestra, choir or chamber group inside and out of school

Traditional instruments such as clarinet, flute and saxophone are great to learn but are really instruments that need to be played with others. So if your child’s perseverance is starting to wain, then look at encouraging them to be involved in music ensembles at school or out in the community. Not only is it a totally new skill learning to play in an ensemble but also a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people who play the same instrument. Time after time students who quit instruments are those that do not take part in any ensembles.

7. Playing in concerts

Music is meant to be performed – even if that means a front-room concert just for your family at a family get-together. Experiencing the process of performing does encourage students to practice, to learn from any mistakes made and more importantly enjoy the positive feeling of performing in front of others. This is a great motivator for students of all levels and why I am a strong advocate for the importance of informal and formal concerts taking place in schools, community groups and music studios.

8. Attend workshops, conferences and music events

For the intermediate and advanced students attending workshops is a great way to be re-inspired. It’s a chance to meet other musicians, hear professionals, learn new concepts and make friends with other musicians who don’t necessarily go to their school. This is also applicable to adult learners. There are many annual conferences for each instrument that you can attend and are a wonderful experience. I recommend the National Flute Association (NFA) conference and the International Clarinet Association (ICA) conference. I have attended both and they are just mind-blowingly awesome!

9. Watch concerts

A fantastic way to be re-inspired is to go to some live concerts and watch a variety of bands, ensembles and choirs. There is something special about seeing live music. I also encourage all my students to listen to a variety of professionals who play the same instrument. It’s a great opportunity to hear new music for the instrument and the different tones and sound for all genres of music.

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