Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It)

Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It)

 by Anthony Mazzocchi

 Article originally posted on The Music Parents’ Guide

 

Every year almost 100% of public school students begin an instrument through their school’s music program (if a program exists).  One or two years later, more than 50% of students quit; unable to enjoy all that music education has to offer for the rest of their K-12 schooling, if not beyond.  

 

grinvald/iStock/Thinkstock
grinvald/iStock/Thinkstock

 

 During my time as an educator and administrator, parents and students have shared with me several reasons why the child quit their musical instrument, including:

 

  • The student is not musically talented (or at least thought they weren’t).
  • The student is too busy with other activities.
  • The student hates practicing (or the parents grow weary of begging the child to practice).
  • The student doesn’t like their teacher.

 

…and there’s more…

 

But the real reasons that students quit is often beyond their own understanding.  It is up to teachers and parents to create moments for students to want to continue on their instrument during the early years of study in order for the child to be successful and stay with the craft.

David Sacks/DigitalVision/Thinkstock-83480796
David Sacks/DigitalVision/Thinkstock-83480796

 

Here are reasons students quit, and ways to combat them:

 

  • Parents need to find music just as important as other subjects.  The sad truth is that many non-music teachers and administrators do not find music equally as important as math or English language-arts, but parents need to.  Besides, you wouldn’t let your child quit math, would you?  Many kids would jump at that opportunity.  Music is a core subject…period.  The more parents treat it as such, the less students will quit.

 

  • Students don’t know how to get better.  Without the proper tools and practice habits to get better at anything, students will become frustrated and want to quit.  It is the role of the music educator and the parents to give students ownership over their learning.  Teachers must teach students why, how, where, and when to practice, and parents must obtain minimal knowledge about how students learn music in order to properly support them at home.

 

  • Parents and students think they aren’t musically talented. Sure, there are some kids who pick up an instrument and sound decent immediately, but they will hit a wall later and have to work hard to overcome it.  Most everyone else won’t sound that great at first.  Playing a musical instrument is a craft that, if practiced correctly, is something that all children can find success in.  As long as students know how to practice and that it needs to be done regularly, they will get better.  

 

  • Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts.  The same goes for playing an instrument.  A year of musical instruction can quickly go down the tubes over the summer vacation if students do not find small ways to play once in a while.  Picking up an instrument for the first time after a long layoff can be so frustrating that a student will not want to continue into the next school year.

 

  • The instrument is in disrepair.  A worn down cork, poor working reed, or small dent can wreak havoc on a child’s playing ability.  Sometimes the malfunction is so subtle that the student thinks they are doing something wrong, and frustration mounts.  Students, parents and teachers need to be aware of the basics of instrument maintenance and be on top of repairs when needed.

 

  • Teachers don’t create enough performing opportunities during the year.  The best way to motivate students musically is through performance.  Weeks or even months on end of practicing without performing for an audience gets old very quick, and student will definitely quit.  Teachers should schedule performances every six weeks or so in order for students to stay engaged and practicing.  Parents can help by creating small performance opportunities at home — a Friday night dinner concert or a planned performance for visiting family members are great ideas.

 

  •  There is not enough “fun”music to practice.  It’s very important for parents to be aware of music that interests their child, because it exists in sheet music form for download or purchase.  It’s important that all students play music that is aligned to their interests in addition to other pieces that are worked on in school.

 

  • Other activities are pulling at the child.  Between art lessons, sports, karate, and other activities, parents grow weary of having “one more thing” to be on top of schedule-wise.  Parents need to understand that the enduring social and psychological benefits of music are as enormous as those of sports — in the same and different ways.  Budget time accordingly and children will have 10 minutes a day to practice an instrument, for sure.

 

Much like any worthwhile venture, practicing a musical instrument has its ups and downs.  Kids need to be reminded to practice, of course — but they should not be constantly pushed, and they should not be completely left alone.  It’s a balancing act where sometimes the parents will need to give their child a break for a few days and other times will need to bribe them to practice.  Either way, all children are capable of thriving with a musical education, and students will indeed thank their parents for not letting them quit.

 

 

 About the author:

 

tony

A GRAMMY® nominated music educator, Anthony Mazzocchi has performed as a trombonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, Riverside Symphony, Key West Symphony, in various Broadway shows and numerous recordings and movie soundtracks.

 Tony has served as faculty or as a frequent guest lecturer at The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and Mannes College of Musi c.  He has taught students from K-college, and has served as a district Director of Fine and Performing Arts in the South Orange/Maplewood School District.  Tony has been a consultant for arts organizations throughout the NY/NJ area.

 Tony blogs about how to be a successful music parent at The Music Parent’s Guide.  He has written a method book for music teachers called The Band Director’s Method Book Companion.

 Tony is currently Associate Director of the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University in New Jersey.  He is also Executive Director of the Kinhaven Summer Music School in Weston, Vermont.  Tony is a clinician for Courtois – Paris.

 

 

Kristen Rencher Nuss, Social Media Coordinator. March 27, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

 

 

  • Debbie Hintzer

    I think there is one very important reason that was left out. Not every child that starts playing an instrument, gets to choose which instrument it will be. In my case, i was told that i would be playing clarinet..and so i did. For about 2 years, and i wasn’t terrible, but i didn’t want to play clarinet. I quit because i didn’t like the clarinet, and i wasn’t permitted to select something else.
    You are correct about the “fun” music, though. Had i been introduced to klezmer music all those years ago, i might have stuck it out. But it was the mid-sixties, and i am 1st generation on my father’s side, and barely 2nd on my mother’s (she was the only one of 6 kids born here). Klezmer music was something from the old country that was considered low class.

    • Mikerrr

      You raise an interesting and probably very important point – although I don’t know how a school band could get around this completely. You can’t have a band with 38 percussionists, 2 trumpets, 57 flutes, and a tuba. Not every kid in a school music program will get to play their first choice instrument because you have to have a balance of instruments to play as a band. However, I think one way around that is for kids to be encouraged to take up a second (or third or fourth) instrument. Of course, that can become quite expensive. . . which is another issue.

      • Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

        When band and orchestra instruments are demonstrated in a masterful fashion (i.e. played at the highest level for each student), there is a higher chance of balanced instrumentation through students gravitating toward their “sound”. I have worked in many districts that only started students on mallet percussion on only offered sax as a secondary instrument (flute or clarinet primary). It worked out very well.

      • Matthew Wendell

        Sometimes I wish I taught orchestra because instrumentation is not as important or as difficult to balance.

        Plus all the instruments are the same key and the same shape. And when they hear or see an orchestra, especially when the orchestra visits them, kids see tons of string players compared to so few “band instruments.”

        They don’t transpose and as beginners, the teacher tunes their instrument animist music is on open strings.

  • Fred Wichmann

    These are all true. Additionally, music teachers need to look for opportunities to promote the social aspect of being a band member. I gave younger musicians a chance to describe a success they had during the week of practicing, we joined another band for a joint, fall performance sporting t-shirts we designed, we had “show-off Friday” where musicians could perform in solos or groups non-concert music they prepared (and receive cheap prizes for bravery that they pick from a hat). Anything to help the group bond.

    • Tenant Dad

      Some good ideas there.

  • Alex

    While I definitely believe music can have a positive impact, I’m afraid that I don’t agree that it is as important as the core subjects of language and math. I could make a case for music ranking at least as high as something like history in its benefits. But language and math are so fundamental to our success that they really are in a class of their own. People who are ahead of the curve in these areas simply lead very different lives than those who are behind.

    • John

      The Arts (visual & performing) are a part of human development since the beginning of time, before language and math. It is the ‘core’ of who and what we are.

      • Alex

        I would say that math and language likely preceded the ability to hear.

    • musicisliterature

      Music is language and math.

    • All subjects are equal regardless if they are math, science, art, music or history or geography. Making money as an adult is another very different subject. The two should not be compared. Money or income is not the goal, knowledge is. What most people do not realize is that the people who make the most money are lacking in certain human emotions. Usually empathy. The ability to not care is usually the most important trait to financial success.

      • Alex

        Math and language are the most critical for more than just the paycheck. They are the gatekeepers for many creative pursuits and affect our ability to make a positive contribution to the world. Quite simply, we can see and act upon more opportunities when we have strong foundations in those areas.

    • Peggy Kapolnek Nuccio

      And most people that play an instrument excel with higher scores in math and language than those that don’t.

      • Alex

        And they generally did so before playing an instrument. Smart kids are drawn to music. There is much less proof that music makes kids smart.

    • Brian

      Alex, are you aware of the fact that those who play in band or orchestra have a higher average across the board? Are you aware that their SAT scores are considerably higher? Music students who play in a school-based ensemble also perform better in a classroom thanks to their ensemble experience. These are not propaganda based figures, these are facts. Kids who have music in their lives are higher performers across the board. In my own orchestra, I have students who are on top robotics teams at their high performing schools. They credit music with giving them an organizational center. They consider it an amazing way to focus.

      • Alex

        I’m very aware of that, but I’m also aware that a disproportionately large percentage of the top students join band rather than athletics. There may be factors involved where music and ensemble participation increases our academic performance, but it is not nearly as significant as the numbers make it appear. Put simply, smarter kids tend to join band (and according to TMEA stats I looked at years ago, even smarter ones joined orchestra). There’s obviously nothing wrong with this. But it would not be logical to assume that if we put EVERY kid in band, we’d see the scores increase.

    • Matthew Wendell

      You may not agree that music is “as important.” I disagree with you the point is that music education and an understanding are critically important. A rounded liberal arts education is desperately needed or we will be manufacturing people who are even more heard bound and nothing good can come from that.

      I do agree that people who are ahead of the curve are different. But what is it in their life and education that helped push them there? Talent? Or a rounded education?

      • Alex

        Music is not critically important to producing creative, unique people. Every field has opportunities for expression and creativity. A physicist is not necessarily less creative than a composer.

        • Giuliana S

          Are you kidding? Music is so important that few of us go more than a few hours without hearing some, be it conscious listening, or as a soundtrack to everything from movies to ads. Gaining understanding and some degree of mastery in something that thus saturates our lives certainly merits “core” status.

          • Alex

            Would you argue that deaf people are not creative? Polls show that a vast majority of Americans feel that math and language are far and away the two most critical subjects. According to a 2013 study, 34% of Americans say math is the most important. 21% say English/Literature/Reading. 12% say science, and 2% say music.

            To be honest, I really disagree that people should be required to study music. I don’t believe that an enhanced understanding of music makes me more capable of enjoying it than someone who has never studied it. But even more importantly, I believe that a diverse appreciation of music is valuable, and I don’t want everyone trained to look for the same things that I was. There are aspects of music that training has made me less able to enjoy. When listening to music, I pay attention to different things than I used to because of what I have learned. I don’t want everyone to see and hear the same things as me. There are no right and wrong reasons for appreciating music. For every trained music teacher, there are dozens of untrained people who love music just as much as they do. That doesn’t need fixing.

            I was told by one of my music professors in college that it was our duty to educate the public on the merits of classical music. I would never be a part of that mission. Some people want to learn to play an instrument or learn about the things I know. I’ll happily teach them and write software that helps them. But I will never claim that my method of finding joy in music is better than someone else’s. Not everyone should be required to study music as I have. It is not a core subject, but something that is very personal and very individual. Making it a core subject would only limit it.

          • Giuliana S

            My but you’ve got a bee in your bonnet. Deaf people, for one thing, do experience music, as rhythm. Music IS language, and music IS math. I would also argue that everyone ought to learn to draw.

          • Alex

            But deaf people can’t experience all aspects of music, and blind people can’t experience all aspects of drawing. I don’t believe they’ll lead less creative lives simply because of these limitations.

            I can see music being called a type of language, but for the purposes of this topic, that doesn’t really fit. The argument for the importance of language is based on its usage. Learning to read, write and speak English are fundamental to functioning in this society. Many people don’t “speak music” and get by just as easily as those who do.

            The “music is math” statement has been used by a lot of us musicians, myself included, to attempt to demonstrate value in musical study, but we really shouldn’t do that. With the exception of people who are working with FFTs and pitch and audio analysis, there’s not a lot of practical overlap that we can point to as evidence that studying music is an efficient means of improving our understanding of mathematics. There aren’t many jobs which require math skills where we can go in and point to our comprehension of note divisions as evidence of our qualification. Physics is closely related to mathematics, and just about everything relates to math through physics, including music. But we’d hardly do ourselves any favors by setting out to study everything.

            This really is pretty simple. Which of these people is going to have the the least difficult time in life? 1. the person who has never learned language/communication; 2. the person who has never learned any math fundamentals; 3. the person who didn’t take band, choir or classroom music growing up.

        • GUEST

          If you’ve ever been to, say, a “Star Wars” movie, try to imagine it with out John Williams musical score. Or the whole sound track filled with popular songs and rap music. On huge advantage classical and jazz music has is that it can express deep and nuanced emotions and can change those emotions mid stream. But, in order for you to feel/understand it, you have to speak the language. But, to return to the “Star Wars” metaphor, who cannot help but feel the emotions of courage and conquest in the opening title music? Just as with great writing, one must develop the appreciation to be able to comprehend it. Hopefully, when you are in music class, appreciation or performance, you are learning a language.

  • Kaitlyn Willy

    Another reason: The student is playing an instrument they don’t want to play. I never wanted to learn to play the piano (although now I wish I could), so I never practiced. I wanted to play the guitar, but I’ve never been able to afford lessons as an adult (or the time–life is busy). Both my parents and I now wish they had spent all that money on guitar lessons instead of piano–I might have kept up with it.

    Letting the student choose the instrument instead of the parents choosing whatever instrument THEY wish they had learned to play could make all the difference.

    • Aaron

      I took 8 years of piano and then taught myself how to play guitar. I also never had a guitar lesson in my life. My opinion is learn the piano and then use the knowledge and fundamentals learned in playing the piano to move into other areas of music.

    • Matthew Wendell

      As adults with busy lives…. We all know that when something is important to us, we will make the time for it. Often times that means identifying our distractions and re-organizing our lives to better ourselves. Otherwise, we just make excuses and have nothing but shoulda coulda woulda regrets and no change. True for everything. #betteryourselfchallenge

      • Kaitlyn Willy

        There’s not always time for everything that’s important to us and there’s certainly not always money to afford lessons. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but your comment comes off as judgmental. No amount of organization can create more than 24 hours in a day.

  • The bassist

    Then again, maybe they weren’t playing the ‘right’ instrument in the first place. just as different sports appeal to different people, so do different instruments.

  • Paintpeace

    Please don’t lump visual art lessons as a distraction from music practice. Hopefully, they feed each other.

    • Nycticorax

      It’s all about opportunity cost, and all activities and skills take time to practice and develop.

      • Jay

        I dunno if you’re disagreeing or agreeing, but just thought I’d add that opportunity cost can vary for each person, even if there are a few trends. One musician might play a few hours a week, spend $300 on a crappy drumset, and be satisfied. Another musician might be in the studio often, spending hundreds a month. There are just so many avenues, so I don’t think any art form inherently requires more sacrifices than another, and it seems that even strong correlations between art forms and opportunity cost even exist.

  • Peter Walker

    There does come an “hours in the day” problem. I got into a lot of other activities at 16 that led to me putting down the violin, but “fun music to play” was part of it. I liked the classical repertoire I was learning, but it didn’t thrill me to the bone. Then 15 years later, I discovered Celtic music (eventually settling on Scottish trad), and now I can’t stop picking up instruments.

    If a kid with clear aptitude for an instrument seems to show a flagging interest, maybe exploring other genres to see if one of them grabs the kid would be one thing to explore.

  • Barb

    I love this article. I have taught in the school districts and also privately for over 30 years. Students who play an instrument and are supported by their parents excel. There has to be support to continue. Not every student excels at the core subjects. There are many who love the arts and you need to support those students. Teachers who think music is an extra, need to check the data on how music effects the brain at all levels. If core teachers helped the music teachers, just think of the mountains we could climb!

  • Mikerrr

    I think it’s important to recognize that NOT every kid can learn to play an instrument well and that a parent’s desire for their kid to play an instrument doesn’t magically impart that ability. Not even the kid’s desire to play a particular instrument will ensure success. I’ve wished I could play guitar for decades. I’ve practiced. I’ve worked at it. I’ve struggled. I’ve literally played until my fingers bled. All for naught. I can technically “play guitar,” but I do not have whatever genetic make-up is required to be a guitar player. And, I’m unwilling to go down to the crossroads to make a deal with the devil to do it! I’ll stick with drums.

    I also think the article ignores a significant factor: the “band geek” factor. Some kids quit (or avoid joining) school music programs (i.e. band) because their friends will think they are uncool for being in band. Not sure how much of a role this plays today, but I suspect it’s nearly as significant as when I was in school. I frankly didn’t care what other kids thought about me being in band, but there was definitely a stigma associated with marching around the parking lot wearing a big furry hat and white spats on Friday nights. That, too, needs to be recognized and addressed.

    • Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

      The “band geek” factor is something that can easily be addressed during the first few years of study. I believe this factor is outdated in most areas anyway. I have seen way too many schools where the culture is such that band/orchestra/chorus are the “cool” things to do.

    • Former Flute

      Much of what you call the “band geek factor” sometimes comes from within the band itself. I enjoyed playing my musical instrument from fifth through eighth grades, but once I hit high school those in band went from being normal people who happened to play musical instruments together, to weird, attention-starved social rebels with tacky gypsy-style clothes assembled from the racks of Value Village and zero life or outlook beyond band. I could have handled that some people might not have considered one of my activities “cool,” but what drove me away was that most people involved deliberately made themselves as alienating as possible. Sometimes if there’s a social perception, it came from somewhere.

      • Orange Sunshine

        Did you give it more than one year? Each school year brings in a new crop and the other kids grow up. IOW it was YOU, not the “social rebels”!

    • Matthew Wendell

      it is a social activity. Not only do the band geeks get flak from peers, they get it from teachers, the media, and if one student quits, then their will be a fallout of many more students who will drop out to follow their friends.

    • GUEST

      I think the school atmosphere/culture has much to do with how prevelent is. If you have a school where being an “under achiever” is dominant and socially in, where the only activity outside of the class room where students can achieve without downward pressure is atheletics, then music (especially “being a bando”) can be viewed as negative. Part of this is just pressure from kids who are too lazy to practice putting peer pressure on those who do put the effort in. But, further, I feel the last generation of music educators dropped the ball… some were right on track, but most succumbed to the pressure to equate teaching music to producing entertainment for halftime at football shows. And, for many, many principals, that was the only justification for even having a music program. Somewhere along the way, music educators opted for the easy way out…. produce a football band, and don’t worry about “teaching music as an art”. Even now, most music educators justify teaching music as reinforcement for other academic subjects, not for the art itself. Part and parcel of the educational mandate in this country these days…. if it won’t help a student make money when he/she graduates, it is at best a distraction. The value of teaching “music as an art” has gone along with the value of a “liberal” education, regardless of what Jefferson said. Congrats to music educators of that era as well as current ones who push back against this notion. After all, “musical” intelligence is considered one of the unique intelligences. And maybe, just maybe, playing music might promote the art of listening.

      • Colleen Elliott

        Wow- food for thought!

      • Romana Porumb

        Agree.
        Sound culture is more “noise” mix nowadays…

  • Gwen

    This statistic is not even close to true: “Every year almost 100% of public school students begin an instrument though their school’s music program (if a program exists).”

    Also, you have a spelling error in that sentence.

    • Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

      Hi Gwen, thanks for your comment. In the programs I have supervised and consulted in this is true; over 90% of students begin. Would you kindly share your data?

      • Gwen

        So you’re saying almost every kid (a) learns a new instrument (b) almost every year is correct? That pretty much every person has been taught several kinds of instruments through their school?
        You know that’s not true. Where’s your data? You’re the one that wrote the article and you have zero citations for these statistics.

        • Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

          Gwen, I am saying that almost all students learn an instrument in 5th grade (if it is offered in the curriculum), and one year later almost 80% quit. In schools that offer this as part of the curriculum, this is common. But let’s say that only 50% begin in a grade — in many schools perhaps this is the case — 50% – 80% are still quitting after one year. The takeaway here is that a huge percentage of students quit playing an instrument after one year of study, period. I’m sorry that you are upset that there are no citations. There are plenty of dissertations online you can feel free to peruse if you like.

      • Giuliana S

        Mr Mazzochi, Have you been to inner-city schools, inner-ring districts, districts where over half the students are eligible for free lunch, and where many have such frequent moves that they pass through several school districts over their primary/secondary education years?

        • Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

          Giuliana, my decade-long middle school teaching life was in a title I school in NYC with 60% of students on free/reduced lunch. The rest of my time spent consulting and helping to write curriculum for NYCDOE. My students’ experience in instrumental music was, in many cases, their first and last. It was sad, for sure.

      • Matthew Bloomfield

        Yes, the sentence, as written, is wrong. It would imply that a typical high school graduate has learned 18-19 different instruments during their time in school.

        I think what the author meant is “nearly 100% of students study an instrument *at some point* during their time in primary school.”

        (E.g. Study violin in 3-6th grade)

        This revised sentence is more plausible, but even that could use a citation.

  • Pat Mullen

    Another important factor is that music is disconnected from the rest of the curriculum when it should really be integrated more. For example, how about teaching kids the mathematics behind musical harmony in their math curricula? The harmonic series, prime numbers, simple intervals and human auditory discrimination, the ideal of just intonation vs the practical uses of temperaments: These would have been very useful to me as a young musician, and if anyone had taught me about it I think my progress in both music and math would have been better.

    • Nancy

      And music needs to be incorporated into the other curriculum. Use music in science. Make music in math. Write music in LA. If students see connections to the rest of their education and life, they are more likely to.practice.

    • Bradley Monroe

      That’s music theory they need.

  • Bob

    Only one issue I have with this is that music is deemed a “core class”, which could be a stronger argument if it were art instead of music. Music isn’t for everyone. Painting, writing, acting and designing be just as conducive to fulfillment as music. As much of a bias I have toward music, that passage nagged at the conservative little guy on my shoulder (not to say I subscribe to strictly one way of thinking).

  • Lorie

    I really appreciated the mention of continuing lessons in summer. Unfortunately most public schools (and probably private schools) do not have someone who will give lessons, much less do they have an instrument loan program over the summer. This is a HUGE issue especially for kids whose parents can’t afford to rent an instrument or pay for lessons outside of school. And this makes learning to play something that becomes discriminatory. Our communities symphony orchestra partnered with the public schools for 2 years to offer a music camp funded by grant money. Now the funding has dried up. It’s a real shame and means the kids do not grow in their musical studies in a way that is motivating to them.

  • SteveDisque

    The second and third reasons, as given in the article, can also become cause-and-effect.

    The student doesn’t know how to get better — the exercises don’t get s’him better, and s’he doesn’t understand how to apply them. So s’he doesn’t get better — and, after a while, both the parents and the student believe the student has no aptitude!

  • Margaret

    Good article. Gives us some food for thought and some starting places to make things better.

  • Giuliana S

    I’m a retired musician who works across many grade levels and subjects as a substitute teacher in my district, a district with a fantastic legacy in music that needs some revitalizing. I
    would add to this that the smartphone world in which we live offers a lot of
    stimulation for the mere swipe of a finger. I think this plays into
    something with which I deal frequently: that many students get
    discouraged, in math as well as in music, if they
    cannot grasp something instantly. I do my best to keep them on task,
    break things down to what they already know, and remind them of the
    sheer fun there is in getting really, really good at something.

  • Giuliana S

    The
    problem, too, of school instruments in bad shape cannot be overstated.
    Adequate funding needs to be in place not just to purchase, but to
    maintain. My biggest complaint: pegboxes in newer string instruments.
    Holes carelessly reamed, pegs of cheap
    materials, the students end up relying of the fine-tuners, never learn
    to use the pegs, and the pegs for lack of use never have a chance to
    seat properly. Pennywise and pound foolish.

  • Robert Winter

    Thank you Anthony , we produce music practice Apps that we hope are fun to use as well as professional so that practice is made easier and more enjoyable. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/carnival-venice-advanced-trumpet/id722433065?mt=8

  • MLChadwick

    Two reasons why I stopped piano lessons back in high school:

    1) being forced to be in recitals (so much for the article’s insistence that recitals are fun and more would keep kids interested!). I was desperately shy, and was paralyzed with fear for weeks ahead of time (which meant practicing didn’t improve my skill) and mortified while struggling through my piece.

    2) The teacher, though a sweet guy, told me that letting me listen to *him* play the piece would be cheating! I had no idea how the notes were supposed to sound, only that whatever I did while reading them on the page was wrong. I learn by imitating what I see and hear, so…

    3) My parents didn’t listen to music at home on the radio or TV or records, and never took me to concerts.

    Thank goodness I kept my mother’s piano after she died. Our kids learned how to play, and one still plays every day in her late 30s! I gave her hints about dealing with performance anxiety, plenty of support while practicing, filled our home with recorded music, sent her to music camp (her request–her sister preferred art) every summer for years, and took the kids to lots of concerts.

  • Mitchell Lutch

    In short – in most school programs, instrumental music instruction (i.e. elementary through high school) is presented, sequentially, as an inverted triangle: 1-2 days at the beginning level; every other day at middle school, every day or block scheduling at the high school level. Simply put: A house is not built that way for a damn good reason!! Instrumental music education, like the housing we all live in, must have a strong foundation – i.e. EVERY DAY when starting! Current day practice: contact time keeps increasing as the students get older because more performances are scheduled – so they have to catch-up. Problem is, you Never catch-up – that time is gone (unless one studies privately outside the school day). The once a week pull-out lessons? Remedial – trying to catch up.

    Dr. Mitchell Lutch
    Associate Professor of Music
    Central College
    Pella, Iowa

  • Faceless man

    Haven’t read the article yet but to answer the title…the kid must love music first before even touching an instrument. I did have a few lessons in piano when I was a kid but I stopped because different things are catching my attention (kids wanna have fun constantly). But a few years later I picked up a guitar and learned by my self. Now I’m a multi-instrumentalist and a composer creating all the music I want from jazz, classical to heavy metal.

  • Tenant Dad

    I think you make some good points. I am a former “Bando” and Choir type. Now with children of my own some in and through HS and some still in Elementary. I can affirm that some of these are true. I think there may be another factor coming from the early experiences in Music class. It relates to thinking they are not talented. A recent experience for one of my elementary age kids (who tends to be very self concious) was having to play a solo in front of the class. Everyone had to as part of the teacher evaluating the students. He was no where near prepared (not reading music well, Not getting steady tones out of the instrument, etc.) It did not go well at all. I think it is fair to say this may make an impact on his future choices. I hope not.

  • Colleen Elliott

    Great reminders-thanks!! From a Canadian music teacher reflecting on my elementary music year…

  • GUEST

    One gets a more interesting and historical perspective on so called “classical music” if you look at the place that it occupied in the time before the recording industry and the place it occupies in European and now even in Asian culture. First, like many things that are ultimately valued in one’s life, music is an acquired taste. I’m not speaking of “pop” music or protest music (like rap), but of “classical and jazz music”. Even with pop music, a person needs to hear it a number of times to become moved by it… and that is especially true of classic and jazz idiom. Before recorded music, the only way one could hear music was the radio (people used to gather around the radio for symphony broadcasts) or live performances. This made a radio or live performance an event to be valued, because you couldn’t hear it all the time (in the 19th century, for instance, it was common for movements of a new piece to be played multiple times at a concert if the audience demanded it). But with the advent of the recording industry, two things happened: you could purchase your own recordings to hear as often as you liked, and the record industry started to realize this could be a big money maker for them…. hence, the advent of pop music in this country. To be popular (and thus to sale records) music had to be shorter, and be danceable. This promoted music toward simpler and shorter constructs, and also toward a shorter shelf life. Fewer and fewer people had the patience or curiosity to listen to a work that they actually had to listen to and not be able to dance to it….. that pushed classic and jazz music to the side lines as far as the public was concerned. Music became about money and not art.
    But Europe had a more long standing acquaintance with classical music as they, in effect, had “grown up with it”. A majority of classical composers had European origins. And, Europe was not infected with anti intellectualism as the US was. In the US, even though music was taught in the schools, the view of classic and jazz music (undanceable music) was that it was an “egghead” activity, engaged in by nerds.
    I think these two factors explain the shrinking audiences for symphony concerts and jazz concerts except for the older generations and affectionados. And the downward peer pressure of students in many high schools and the general public, or at least the indifference toward a more complicated form of musical expression. Add the concept of music as an expression of social protest, and the decline of art music can be seen as inevitable.
    Some will say that the “marketplace” should decide the value of a current iteration of music…. does it sell? is it “popular”? But, if you take a longer viewpoint, what music is still around after, say, a hundred years? What composers and works effect us and influence our culture from the past? Food for thought.

  • Ron Malanga

    Great article, but it misses some things!

    Ask kids why they quit. If you’ve an honest relationship with them most will cite one word: boredom. You see, playing should feel like tone texting; making muscles mirror comprehended thoughts. But, we overemphasize technique to the near exclusion of musical thought.

    Instrument-quitters don’t quit music. They don’t go home & smash iPod the day they quit piano. Rather, they resume listening & moving to the same music they enjoyed before lessons began. 

    Musical enrichment eludes them, even as their own hands perform enriched music. Muscles (technique) and the logic of notation (theory) get trained, but tonal & temporal thought get ignored. She was accurately typing away at the piano, making sounds in languages (tone & time) she herself didn’t comprehend.

    Without musical thought, even advanced technique is just finger wiggling. That’s why it get’s boring and that’s why she quits.

    Remember, absent musical thought, we can teach students to play instruments–even with seeming expertise–through rigorous technique work.

    But we shouldn’t be surprised when, once the external reinforcers vanish (parental pressure, the esprit-de-corp of band, ABRSM/Trinity awards, Solo & Ens medals) they quit. By not comprehending the sounds they were producing, they were not making music in the first place, it only sounded that way.  BORING!!

    Simply put, a robust aural comprehension (which is not learned via scales & intervals) readies one for–and will sustain one through–instrument work.

    So, teach them to sing in tune, rap in time. Next, teach them how to identify Major vs Minor; Duple vs Triple by ear. Lastly, add instruments and watch ’em soar! The’ll be making muscles mirror musical thought. Joyful! Sustaining!!

    • sjlarsen

      Maybe the very first thing then, would be music appreciation–just having them listen to some great pieces, eyes closed, and then tell or write about how the music made them feel and what they think it was saying.

      • Ron Malanga

        Edwin E. Gordon had it sorted out. 1st: rich acculturation to all modes & meters through music play with parents & caretakers.
        2nd: contextualized tone & rhythm pattern imitation & improvisation.
        3rd: solfege to solidify & specify pattern work whilst allowing the mind to generalize from experience.
        4th: Identify modes/meters by ear.
        5th: Start playing (initially by ear)!!

        • sjlarsen

          I will look him up. Loved your comments, and appreciate this summary.

  • Very good points made here. I will add the following —
    1) Music is usually an “elective” in the schools. There are only so many electives a kid can take per semester or school year and music has to compete with all those other wonderful things to learn.
    2) Band or orchestra is a “social” endeavor. During the adolescent years particularly kids can find difficulties relating to other kids and that can make the school music experience less enjoyable. Then, too, some instruments — piano, guitar, harp — are fairly self-contained and ideal for the student who is more interested in playing solo than in a group. Unfortunately, schools are not really set up to teach solo playing.

    In both of the above instances, the parent and teacher need to ascertain if the student is quitting the instrument or quitting band or orchestra. These are two different things and private instruction is often the solution — the student can continue the instrument without having to enroll in band or orchestra.

    One very helpful thing, particularly for the student playing an ensemble oriented instrument (violin, clarinet, etc) is the availability of a wide range of printed music which has an accompanying cd. This music is in a variety of genres and a range of student playing levels allowing the student to play music they particularly enjoy in addition to the curriculum music and providing music to work on over the summer break.

    It is often helpful if the parent also plays an instrument. Parent and student can duet together (my mom played piano and we played clarinet/piano duets). Additionally, when the kids see their parents practicing then it provides an impetus for the student to practice as well. In this regard, the non-music parent should consider also learning an instrument.