Many scientific studies have shown how learning how to play a musical instrument improves a child’s personal and social development. Music students tend to score higher in subjects such as math, and tend to be less disruptive in classes (see http://www.encoremusiclessons.com/benefits-of-music-education/success-in-school)
However, student drop-out is often a reality. Theresa Chen has an excellent blog post on how she sees students as going through 6 stages, with the 5th stage being the one when most students drop off. She’s included a helpful diagram here:
I agree with her perspective, and personally, I found piano the most difficult during my high school years, and it wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 when I had to volunteer as part of my Gr. 12 graduation that I started to really enjoy playing the piano for myself. This is my story:
Every student in grade 12 had to complete a number of volunteer hours in order to graduate. I thought I would pursue medicine, so naturally, I sought a position at St. Vincent’s hospital. At first, I was instructed to help in the geriatric wing, where I would serve the patients tea or coffee, and other refreshments, and talk to them or keep them company. I enjoyed doing this, and had many engaging conversations with the seniors and their family members. Eventually, this ward was closed down due to budget cuts, so I was assigned a new position at a different hospital, but also in the residential care facility for the elderly.
The volunteer coordinator looked over my resume and realized that I could play the piano! So I was assigned to play piano for about an hour to the residents. She dug up a binder full of music from the 20’s-70’s and suggested I play those tunes because the residents would find them familiar and enjoy them. I hesitantly agreed, and went home nervously. I decided to check out the local library to see if they had any music book collections, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they did! Long story short, this was my introduction to new music, stuff that I had never heard before, but the more I learned and played the pieces, the more I enjoyed the sounds from this era, and the more inspired I was to continue to learn music!
In short, during the “downs” in my years of piano study, what helped propel me were several factors:
-supportive but firm parents. My parents changed their approach as I grew. In the beginning, my home practice was regimented, and there was a time that I had to sit down to practice. My mom sat beside me, and helped point out the notes, or just made sure I was following my teacher’s notes in my book. As I grew up, my mom no longer sat beside me or scheduled my practice time, but she did ensure they happened regularly. Practice was something that had to be done as part of our day
-an understanding piano teacher – we used to have lessons every week, but as I became more busy with schoolwork, he agreed to let me come for an hour, every other week. This allowed me to continue piano lessons while focusing on my increasing school workload
-discovering new music, and learning it on my own, for myself. I realized that my music education was limited to the repertoire my teacher was familiar with, but there are many other genres of music and that it was very exciting to find out what kind of music resonated with me
One of my piano teachers once told me this story about his two sons:
This piano teacher and his wife both taught music. They had two sons, so naturally, both sons grew up in a musical environment.
The elder son he forced to practice and complete an exam in practically every level of piano. This son grew up attaining high marks in piano, alas, never returned to the piano after completing his final exam. For his second son, the father changed his approach: instead of forcing his second son to take every exam, he allowed his son to play different pieces and have more freedom. In fact, this son ended up only taking one exam – the highest level. He passed with flying colors. But what is most interesting is that this second son attended a music camp one summer, where he was inspired by his peers. He began buying music from stores and listening to great performers, and listening to which performers played brilliantly, and which performers played mediocre performances. This further motivated him to continue his musical education, and he did – completing a Bachelor and Masters in music at Julliard and is now an amazing concert pianist touring the world, by the name of Ian Parker.
I’m writing this blog to encourage all music teachers and parents out there…don’t give up because the final payoff is worth it! If someone is not working out because the teacher is not a good fit with the student, or because a child is too heavily scheduled in activities, or there are too many other distractions, it is possible to make a change in order to preserve the student’s continuation in music lessons.