Have you ever heard someone say this…
I wish I hadn’t quit those music lessons when I was a kid…?
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that phrase over the last 20 years.
I think most of us could agree that music lessons are a good thing and if we just stuck with them they would greatly benefit us.
So why don’t more people stick with it? The answer may surprise you…
The obvious truth is, it’s not easy. But after over two decades of teaching I’ve come to believe that isn’t why people quit. I think the answer is a little more complicated than that.
You see, when I was a kid I took piano lessons. And at first I really struggled with it because I didn’t like to practice which (as you might imagine) made it difficult for me to really progress. It wasn’t until I was a little older after taking lessons for a few years that I started really progressing.
So what was the key for me?
Well, first of all it wasn’t all about practicing…
Wait what?? Don’t you have to practice to get better??? Isn’t there a strict discipline you must maintain? A rigid regimen you must follow?
Personally, I think far too many people fall into this trap. Which is often why they burn out and quit. For me it was my motivation that changed. I got a new teacher… This teacher would give me prizes every time I would practice 5 days a week or more. And I LOVED to earn prizes! Then, every 6 months she would have recitals. This became an even bigger motivation for me to practice because I wanted to impress my friends and family! The recitals gave me a platform and stage to do so.
Over the years as I got better the prizes seemed to get better too! For instance, at the recital I would be one of the last students to play (they always save the best for last). The honor of getting to play at the end started to become the best prize of all.
Then I started entering competitions and winning a new kind of prize… I started winning trophies and scholarships. This trajectory continued through high school and college and all the way to a Symphony Hall in Khabarovsk, Russia.
You could say that I was talented or that I just had a regimented discipline to practice every day. But I would argue that my teachers understood one thing about me very well… They knew how to motivate me.
One thing is true… Your never going to get good at anything if you don’t stick with it. No matter how talented a student is, if they don’t stick with it they won’t improve. But the only reason they will stick it is if they have a motivation to do so.
Kids, just like parents, need a reason. Most kids don’t really think too far in the future. But, let’s be honest, most ANYBODY doesn’t think too far in the future. So it is very important to have a reason. Kids need a reason to practice their instrument.
And “practice makes perfect” is NOT a reason.
I remember when I was a kid and I was taking piano lessons. Their were always certain times during the year that I would practice the most. Usually they were right before recital time. I practiced more because I had a reason.
I have found the same is true for pretty much everybody else. If they don’t have a really good reason to practice they just simply won’t do it. Very few people just simply do it out of discipline. Or if they do, it doesn’t last very long before they just get tired of it and quit.
So this issue of having a reason is very important.
I have found that recitals motivate kids to practice more than anything else. But there are other ways to motivate kids to practice during all the other times of the year.
One way that I have found to be very effective is to give goals with a beginning and an COMPLETION date. The benefit of this is that it gives them something tangible and achievable. Once the goal has been completed there should be a reward for the accomplishment. This shows your child that there are extra benefits to learning the instrument.
Another way that is even more effective is recognition. I have yet to meet someone on this planet that does not like to be recognized for their efforts. Kids are even more so needing of this affirmation. Frequent recognition with trophies and certificates (the more the better) go a long way to sustaining self motivation and overall enjoyment of the process.
As always, the younger the child, the more parental involvement the better. If your child is between 3 and 7 they will probably need some sort of help during the week to practice. There are always exceptions to this of course, but for the most part this is pretty consistently true.
Just like most things in life, the more you put into this process, the more you will get out of it. Learning a new instrument is definitely a discipline that requires self motivation. But sometimes we have to foster the self motivation in our kids a little before they will have it on their own.
With everything from soccer, gymnastics, or any other activity after school you may be feeling like adding music lessons is just too much.
But if your on the fence about adding music lessons consider the benefits your child will gain just from the exposure to them. Sure, your child probably won’t be the next Mozart,
but he or she may test higher in school, maintain focus longer in a conversation, even have more courage to accomplish and be more productive.
How could music lessons do all that?
Read on and you’ll find out.
Music improves childrens academic mind
Quit simply, music and mathematics are very closely related. When a child learns about music they must learn about the rhythm, the beat of a song.
Let’s just take the beat as an example.
When you break a song down into beats, they must be divided, counted, understood, then felt and applied. Just to play or sing a song requires a multitude of complex math equations to be going on simultaneously in a childs mind.
The amazing thing about music is that because it engages our emotional side we don’t even hardly think about the fact that we are using all of these faculties when we make music
But we are.
That fact that it is so subtle is the reason young children can learn complex beats and rhythms and not even struggle with it. They are focused on the emotional pleasing aspect of it rather than the complex math required to put it all together.
Amazing isn’t it.
And this is to say nothing of harmony, coordination, scales, performing, and countless other elements to music that your child will learn just by exposure to music lessons.
Music improves children’s emotional level
Think of your favorite movie.
Now think of the most dramatic scene in that movie.
Okay. Are you ready?
Now imagine that scene without any of the music. How do you think that scene would feel now?
My guess is that it would probably fall completely flat and lose much of its emotion.
For that matter think of any commercial on TV.
How many TV commercials do you know of that have no music? Next time your watching TV think about it. How much music is playing throughout.
Music is used as a way to infuse emotion into whatever we are watching.
You see, we are all impacted emotionally by music so much that we hardly even notice it. But it greatly effects us.
Your children are effected by this music just as much if not more than you are. As they get older they learn that music can calm them down, give them a sense of peace, relaxation, joy, calm, and countless other emotions.
Balanced emotions is critical for a balanced life.
We have even found that kids in music lessons: test better in school, have more self confidence, have generally more success in society, and even have better emotional development.
Intellectually musical training also improves a childs ability to read and understand patterns, better SAT scores, more creativity, ability to relive stress, self discipline, self motivation and the list goes on and on.
It’s really pretty hard to find the downside to music lessons. In fact, of the thousands of students and families I’ve talked to over the years, one thing I have never heard ANYONE say is that they regret taking and sticking with their music lessons.
It is truly a gift that can last a lifetime.
Music lessons aren't actually about music. No-- music lessons are about so much more.
When you push through a hard spot and don't give up, you're learning perseverance and tenacity.
When you show up every week for mentoring from your teacher, you're learning consistency, keeping your promises, and how to show up on time.
When you practice, you are developing discipline skills that will last you a lifetime.
When your knees are shaking and you climb the steps onto the stage and perform, even though you're scared, you're learning that you can do things scared. And succeed.
When you play music in front of a large audience, you're learning how to get up in front of people and stay poised and confident.
When you totally mess up, you're learning how to dust yourself off and try again.
When you master a song, you're learning how to stick with something and conquer it!
When you drop your backpack every day and head to practice your music, you're learning time management skills.
When you hear a song on the radio and you know how hard it is, you have learned music appreciation.
When you go to a concert and admire the talent on stage, you have learned what it means to be a musician.
I have to admit. It's never been about music lessons at all. It's about all the LIFE lessons that you are learning along the way.
Parents, thank you for giving your kids the GIFT of music and life lessons!
Article written by Jen Hickle
“How much should my child be practicing every week?”
Well, of course EVERY day would be best. But you also don’t want to set them up for something they cannot maintain. 5 days a week is probably the most reasonable.
But before you worry about how many days a week they are practicing, make sure they have all the tools to practice during the week. The key is preparation.
One more note about practicing: it is usually a good idea for children to not take more than one day off from practicing at a time. The reason for this is simply that two full days of time away from their instrument will result in them forgetting much of what they were working on. They’ll get rusty.
So if they practice 5 days a week, maybe instead taking the weekend off. Just skip one day during the week, and one day on the weekend.
“How long will my child have to take lessons before they will know how to play the instrument?”
It is truly impossible to answer this for everyone. Some people may take lessons for a couple years and be perfectly proficient at their instrument.
Others may take lessons for 5 years and still struggle with basic concepts.
It really just depends on a few key things:
This last point (#3) is important because if you really think about it. Anybody who is truly great at something must commit many, many years of their lives to it. It’s not like they can just take lessons for a few months and be rock stars.
It’s a commitment. Often times a life long commitment.
What’s great about music however is that the enjoyment comes not just in the playing, but also in the process of learning.
Besides, most things that are worthwhile don’t happen overnight.
The key here is commitment. Stick with it. You will never regret sticking with music.
“How often should we come for lessons to get the best result?”
Over the years we have had students come once month, twice a month, once a week, twice a week, three times a week, and various other frequencies. And I can tell you that the best frequency is once a week.
It’s just enough time for the child to practice without developing bad habits. It’s not too often for them to get burnt out.
“Whats the best teaching method to use for my child?”
I don’t think there is one right answer here. If fact I know there isn’t. What I DO think is that it’s WAY more important that they find the right TEACHER regardless of what method they teach.
In addition to the right teacher, the students need to be plugged into a system which gives them the opportunity to perform and earn rewards for their progress. This is critical and far too often over looked by teachers.
These two keys are FAR more important than any specific teaching method used.
“What do I do when my child says they don’t want to take lessons anymore?”
The first question I would ask the student would be, “why don’t you want to take lessons?”.
If they say they don’t like their teacher because they are mean, then you need to talk to the teacher and find out what is going on.
If they say they just don’t like to practice, then you would want to make sure you and the teacher are giving them proper motivation to continue (do they get a chance to perform at least once a year, are they earning trophies and certificates for their progress etc… Once again, don't underestimate the power of rewards and recognition.)
If they don’t give a reason other than that they are just tired of it and want to quit. Well, then it just comes down to their/your level of commitment. Which of course I cannot answer for you as it is a personal choice.
I will however say this: You will get out it what you put into it. EVERYONE comes to a point in lessons when it gets hard.
The ultimate question then becomes this: Will your child regret quitting when they are older.
My guess is yes.
Let me put it to you this way: Have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had stuck with my music lessons when I was a kid.” (I have personally heard countless people say this)
how about this:
“Gosh, I really wish I had quit my music lessons when I was a kid…” (I’ve NEVER heard anyone say that.. Have YOU?)
“My child says they want to take a different instrument. Should I let them switch or should I make them stick with it?”
Depends on how long they been taking their current instrument. Personally I think 2 years is a good amount of time for a child to get a good handle on an instrument before exploring a new one.
If they have only been taking lessons on their current instrument for 6 or 8 months, then I would be careful. Because once they move to the new instrument they may never play the old one again. ESPECIALLY if they never learned how to play a song or anything on the old instrument.
I’ve noticed that if a child takes lessons on two separate instruments. The strangest thing happens. They progress faster on each instrument.
The reason for this I think is because they are practicing twice as long per day (practicing two different instruments) and so they are developing themselves musically at a faster rate.
CAUTION: Don’t let them take lessons on two separate instruments unless they are prepared to practice twice as long per day!
“My child has never taken lessons before. What’s the best instrument to start with?”
First I would say ask THEM what they want to learn. If they truly have no preference, I would say piano. It’s the easiest instrument to learn at the beginning. The key for any of us when learning something new is to get results as quickly as possible. This gives us confidence, which leads to motivation, which leads to more learning.
5 questions you should ask before signing up your child for music lessons:
Here are 5 Great questions you can ask when looking at a music school for your child.
Are there opportunities for your child to play in a recital at least once a year?
Every child loves to make their parents/grandparents proud of them. Recitals do just that. It’s a time of pictures, video, and proud parents. Recitals WILL keep your child motivated too. When they see that older more advanced kid playing that REALLY hard song it will motivate them. They will go home and start practicing and want to get better. It really does work.
Can they earn trophies and certificates for their accomplishments?
What child doesn’t like getting recognition?? This is a critical part of the lessons experience. Trophies may seem silly to a parent but children go NUTS over them. They work. If fact they work so well that some kids will stick with lessons for YEARS so that they can win EVERY possible trophy. All the while of course they are becoming good musicians… :)
Does the teacher make the lessons fun?
This is paramount. If your child does not have fun then they will not stick with it. Period. A good teacher understands this and will make every effort to make the lessons fun.
Are there opportunities for them to play with other kids in a group setting once in a while?
While I’m not an advocate of weekly group lessons, I do think it is good for kids to play with other musicians occasionally. It gives them perspective, camaraderie, encouragement, and sometimes a little humility.
Are there options for them to learn multiple instruments if they can’t make up their mind?
It’s important for kids to have the freedom to try different instruments. And the best time to do it is when they express an interest! You want to find a teacher or group of teachers that will be able to offer multiple instrument options.
By David Martin
Director at Happy Valley Arts Academy
To learn more about Happy Valley Arts Academy check us out at
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Or give us a call anytime at 503.974.4997
Do you ever wonder this: are our kids learning enough in their music lessons? Is it REALLY worth the time and cost?
These are the 5 secrets that I’ve discovered over the last 25 years of music lessons that can help give you some direction and put your mind at ease with your children taking lessons.
SECRET # 1 - Don’t set unrealistic expectations for your kids
People often ask me how long it will take for their kids to learn their instrument. I will tell you this. The first year can be the hardest. Don’t expect them to be little Mozart’s after just a few months. It takes time. And each child will go at their own pace. The key is that they enjoy it. Otherwise they won’t stick with it. It’s also important to explain this to your child before they start. I would say if your going to invest in lessons, give it AT LEAST a year before deciding whether or not to continue.
SECRET # 2 - Practicing does NOT always come naturally for most kids
As a child I remember that I really didn’t like practicing the piano (which was my instrument). I took music lessons for about 2 years before I really made any significant progress. My parents understandably COULD have told me that since I wasn’t progressing fast enough I couldn’t have lessons anymore because they were too expensive. Or I wasn’t applying myself enough. Or, it wasn’t for me. Blah blah blah (YOU fill in the blank). Sound familiar? Let me tell you something. After those two years I started entering piano competitions and ended up winning various competitions (including the Oregon State Piano Competition). But I would argue that those FIRST 2 years were critical in laying the foundation for me long term. The key is this: STICK WITH IT. Don’t give up! Otherwise they/you will regret it when they get older.
SECRET # 3 - Recitals Recitals Recitals
When I was a student I use to LIVE for the recitals. I got a chance to shine in front of my parents, grandparents, and anyone else that was there. I have seen countless times kids saying they were tired of taking lessons. And I urged the parents to enroll them in our next recital. Almost every single time they could hardly wait to come to their next lesson after the recital.
SECRET # 4 - Trophies are critical
The older I get, the more I am convinced that THIS secret is more important than all the others COMBINED. Many studies show that one of the best ways to motivate someone is by giving them recognition. Well, if this is true for adults (which it is) just imagine how true it is for your child. They thrive on recognition. Especially from their teacher! Everybody likes recognition. Who doesn’t LOVE to be given an award for their achievement! As a kid I always wished my teachers would give me more opportunities to earn awards. Now that I own my own academy, we make a BIG deal of trophies.
SECRET # 5 - Be careful not to compare your child’s progress to another child
This is true especially within your family. I’ve even seen parents getting competitive with their own kids. But most of the time it is siblings competing with each other. Some competition is good. But when it gets too competitive it often results in one of the two children quitting their lessons. There are lot’s of ways to keep things from getting too competitive. The kids can take different instruments. They can take from different teachers etc.. I would say though that the most effective way to keep things from getting too competitive is this: Keep it fun. Don’t take it too seriously. At least not until they are serious players. But it shouldn’t be serious at the beginning. Just fun!