Time to quit? - Stopping lessons

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed May 02, 2007 7:33 am

It's quite common for younger students, and even adults, to go through a period in which their interest in piano lessons lags. For most people, the right decision, in the short term at least, is to stick it out. However, is there a time when ending lessons makes the best sense for all concerned? If so, how do we know when that time has come? If it hasn't, how can we best rebuild interest in lessons? These questions can have as many answers as there are students, but the differences themselves should be interesting to discuss.



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Postby Stretto » Wed May 02, 2007 3:38 pm

That is a very good question. I'm sure we've heard adults say, "I wish my parents had made me stick with lessons." We've probably heard others who hated lessons and wanted to quit as a child and their parents wouldn't let them. When they are adults, they may close the piano lid never to touch a piano again. Then there are those who want to learn piano and may reach points of frustration and question whether they should continue although I would encourage anyone that feels that way to persevere.

I don't have any really good answers. I might suggest if interest in piano sways to try another teacher or two before quitting altogether especially if a person has only had one or two teacher previously. A different teacher might offer a new perspective, a different approach, different music. Another thought is to try finding a teacher that teaches a different style of music. If you have a teacher that teaches mostly only how to read written music, try finding a teacher that teaches how to play by ear. If you've been learning mainly classical, try finding a jazz piano teacher. Especially if there is any ounce of interest in piano whatsoever, I would try a different teacher and/or one that teaches a different style before quitting altogether.

When it comes to teaching students whose interest has lagged and parents who have questioned if they should allow them to quit, I could provide "case studies"!




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed May 02, 2007 4:00 pm

Stretto wrote:As far as teaching students whose interest has lagged and parents who have questioned if they should allow them to quit, I could provide "case studies"!

By all means! :D
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Thu May 03, 2007 7:08 pm

I prefer to stay clear of the word quit. It gives the impression of giving up.

When I child wants to stop taking lessons, there are many things to consider. First: hopefully it is at the end of the piano year (school year). Second: Why does he want to stop. Is it too hard for him? is he over-booked with activities? does he not enjoy the music he is playing? does he hate to practice?

When child, parents and teacher had talked and tried to have lessons a happy learning experience, and it is not, then it is time to stop. If there is a problem that might be solved in the future or the student changes his mind, leave the door open. Sometimes a new teacher may be the answer. Be sure you have contact with some teachers in your area so you can reccomend some.

When a child has had two years or more of piano, he may want to try a new instrument. Some wish to continue with piano and others find it too much. Age and maturity and interest of the child play a big part, as do the parents and the teacher.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu May 10, 2007 8:37 am

But how do we know when it's time to "stop" lessons or change teachers or just take a break? For example, most children, after the newness wears off, would rather be out playing (or watching TV) than practicing or going to lessons. Does that mean it's time to "give up"? In my view, probably not.

On the other hand, suppose the child has been attending lessons religiously for a year or more and has done an acceptable amount of practice, yet is not making progress and still hates going to piano lessons. Is is time for a re-evaluation? Yes, I think so. Maybe the piano isn't the right instrument or the teacher isn't the right one for that student. What are the signs that it is time to take another look at the piano lesson situation?
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Postby jenscott90 » Thu May 24, 2007 10:08 am

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a checklist of signs that the student should stop. I could say that the student crying at lessons would be a sign, but then, are they crying because they "just can't get it" and you should move them to a review stage for a while to increase their confidence? Perhaps the crying is because something is going on at home or school and this is the place they release and feel comfortable. They may get next to nothing accomplished for piano lessons, but do you then turn them out? Not in my studio, and I doubt in any of yours, either. Not that we are counselors, but isn't piano bathed in emotion? Maybe we can channel it into a piece that expresses those emotions.

Crying is just one example of a sign...coming to lessons unprepared, being hostile or rude, etc could also be signs. It depends on the situation and the student. I have a paragraph in my studio policy that states that some students will come to my studio not wanting to be there. I will have a conference with the student and parent if it happens consistently (that being left up to me to decide) and that there are some times when I will no longer be able to accept a particular student.

I imagine that will be few and far between.

If the student is bored or unenthusiastic, it is OUR job to do something about it. I can't make every moment at home "fun time" but I can make my lessons encouraging, uplifting and a place where they want to be.

Now, to the student who is doing well, progresses when he/she practices but is lazy... I bring the parent in for the first part of the lesson, ask if we can spend some extra time that day (I try to pad 10 to 15 minutes between lessons so I can get a drink, run to the bathroom, make a call, etc and gear up for the next child)...so I allow my padding time to be consumed at my discretion... and allow the parent to hear the poor performance with very little input from me and I don't ask the student to stop and go back. I let them sweat it out, in other words. Then I ask if they were happy with how that sounded, etc. I ask the parent to go ahead and either stay if he or she likes, or if they have to go run an errand, that's fine. We use the lesson as practice time and I basically guide them and model a good practice session. MANY STUDENTS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PRACTICE! I never was told much about it and had to figure it out, which was soooo frustrating.

We get through, they have to repeat sections multiple times, I provide encouragement and guidance, we count, clap/tap rhythms, find places in other books we are working on where there is a connection made in Theory or something else, and by the end, there is an enormous difference made in how that piece has come along.

So, this whole diatribe has not probably helped much on how to know when to stop, but when to know when NOT to stop. Sometimes we all just need an extra injection of fun or just practicality in our lessons, and the parents need to hear the enormous difference positive encouragement and just plain work can make! :)

Hope this is helpful to someone.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu May 24, 2007 8:51 pm

Sounds to me like you have a really vital studio, Jen--thanks for sharing these ideas.

I was forever telling students, "I can't teach you to play--I can only teach you to practice. Then you teach yourself to play."

That's a little oversimplified, but it made the point. And lessons were often a workshop in practice techniques and strategies.

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Postby Stretto » Fri May 25, 2007 5:40 am

We can teach a student how to practice but we can't make them practice. When a teacher has bent over backwards with motivational material, going over a piece at lessons as far as how to practice it, given clear written step by step instructions for the age level to follow at home, tried to make learning at lessons positive and encouraging, given positive PEP talks on the importance of practice, also had award incentives for practice, and the student still comes week after week having done little or no practice. In addition, the parent has really put in the effort over the long haul to require their child practice at home. If the student is still not practicing, the parent is tired of trying to get the child to practice at home and it has turned into having to nag the child to practice with a child putting up a fuss, getting the student to practice becomes a battle, the parent really wants their child to take piano lessons, while the child was not totally against it and liked piano "O.K". The teacher has asked the student about their interest and the student tells the teacher when asked at regular intervals over the year that they like piano, while the parent says it's a different story at home. The parent has talked several times to the teacher about it and put in a full effort of trying to get the child to practice, after about 2 years of lessons, the teacher convinces the student to stick it out another year, the parent also has told the child they will be required to stick it out until the end of that calendar yr. At the end of that time, the parent is burnt out trying and finally says, "it's not worth it if it's not enjoyable for anyone." Should a student quit lessons in such a case?

This was my case study in a nutshell. The student was about 10 or 11 years old and took lessons for about 3 years from me. I realize I made some mistakes along the way, the primary mistake was at about level 2, jumping to too difficult of music that also turned out to be poor sounding arrangements. Although, the student was choosing pieces they knew and liked, there were too many new concepts chalked into one piece. After the first piece of this nature, I realized we needed to stop the piece and do something else, but I was almost certain if I said, we needed to stop the piece, the student would take that to mean she wasn't capable. She was in fact capable of doing the piece, but not without some work. After a while it was the parent who asked she be taken off the piece. The parent asked if she could do "children's songs" so with a book of childrens songs that were a little easier, we still didn't get anywhere as the student didn't put forth the effort at home even being asked to learn one new line or phrase a week. I also let the student choose the next piece out of a level 2 book, but again it was hard although a piece she was familiar with and loved. After 2 or 3 pieces like this, I finally got her a different book that was even labeled level 3 but the pieces were simpler and only 1 pagers rather than 3 so she could "divide and conqer" the music more quickly. By then interest was already going down hill so perhaps it was a little too late. She still, however, didn't even try these pieces at home that were quite a bit easier. Perhaps she viewed them as too easy for her and not worth her time. She also had an older sister and they were taking their lessons back to back. For the first couple years, I'm sure it didn't help that she was always behind although they had separate books, the older sister caught on more quickly. There was a lot of competition between the two. The older one quit due to getting quite interested in a sport that demanded a good part of her time. The younger stayed on for another year but still no more effort. Toward the end, after I received a notice they would be quitting at the first of the year, the student finally at lessons said some things that basically implied, "piano was my mom's idea". I did learn some things in giving these 2 students lessons, and I have made several changes especially in the area of what pieces I assign, going back to a graded, step-wise approach not allowing a student to jump forward to a piece with too many new concepts at once, and now refuse to teach pieces with poor sounding arrangements. I wouldn't be opposed to a student trying something more challenging for them but it would have to be in addition to and not at the expense of their other music. It's a catch 22 sometimes as some students are motivated by the challenge, some would be better off with simpler music they can "divide and conquer". So the flip side, some students might loose motivation if the music always seems too elementary. I mentioned to the parent of this student in our talking about the student's interest, the music may be too difficult, but the parent didn't think that was the problem. Despite all of this, the student did over the three years, had memorized several of her primer and level 1 pieces from her first year or two of lessons, and could play about 10 pieces from memory, and that is what she practiced and played the most at home and always wanted to play these at lessons.

I wonder sometimes, if there is anything I could have done differently to keep this student more interested in piano.




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Postby jenscott90 » Sat May 26, 2007 8:36 am

Stretto,

I am a 'young' teacher, not in age, necessarily, but in experience, and it's my humble opinion that most teachers, piano or otherwise, get into teaching because they love the kids and they love the material and want to pass it on. We do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time and the resources available to us, including the raw material "inside" the student. You did your job, went beyond what many teachers would have done in similar cases, and that student now has a foundation where he (or she? I am not remembering) will be able to build again, if they choose later in their life. In other words, what you took time to foster in that child will NOT go wasted. Whether they understand music they listen to better, go to a concert they might have avoided without your instruction and time, or simply take more joy in singing familiar tunes, music is about expressing the joys and pains of life, and we all are better people when we can give that expression voice, instead of keeping it in and bottling it up.

You'll never know until this life is over, just what you did for that student. Until then, trust that it was meant to be a 'season' in your life, with the benefit to you as well as to the student. :)

Thank you for sharing that. You are right...there are times when everything else has been done and it is time to move on.

Cheers.
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Postby Stretto » Sat May 26, 2007 9:21 am

jenscott90,

Thanks so much for the encouraging words. It's funny because I told the parent a very similar thing but never thought about the same being true on my end. The parent had put such a commitment into trying to interest her kids in piano and keep them going. To try to make her feel better, I mentioned to her who knows that she might have planted a seed of musical interest along the way in life and later in life and sighted all the adults that return to music and piano who took lessons as a child. I told her that she had provided her kids a solid foundation in music. Basically, I encouraged her along those lines.

It's funny, my dad, now in his 70's took music lessons for 2 years and quit simply because of getting busy in other activities. He liked it but he got busy one summer and into school with lots of other activities and then just simply never returned. But he talks about it with fond memories and likes to "brag" about the pieces he could play. So even his two years of lessons give him good memories, something to reflect on and brag about the accomplishments he did make in that time even years and years later. How many times have I heard him say, "I got up to where I could play Winter Wonderland and then quit." He is still really proud that he could play "Winter Wonderland" :D .

He also seemed to have taken a little of piano, a little trombone, and a little bit of guitar. Although he never kept up with any of them or played an instrument when I was growing up, I really have to credit the interest in music he had sparking an interest in us kids, having his old instruments around for us kids to mess around on, and having his old piano books around, and buying an old upright piano from a guy he knew getting rid of one for $50 when no one was even going to be taking lessons. Having all that around to experiment with just instilled our curiousity in music as kids. So who knows, someone who took only 2 years of lessons could very well spark an interest in their own kids or grandkids.

It's easy for we teachers and parents who really put in the effort to feel we failed in someway and ask what we could have done differently. Your post is a reminder that even a minute of learning about music is not wasted time. :)




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Postby Tranquillo » Mon Dec 03, 2007 3:20 am

I know people that have quit and haven't regret quitting. On the other hand I am one of those that took a long break and came back and felt bad for that lost time.
The reason why the people that I know quit and not regret quitting is due to a number of reasons.
Some of which include:
- They want to focus on what they found to be their 'real' passion ... weather it'd be sport or some other instrument.
- They want to learn more contemporary styles and feel that they have learnt enough to play contemporary styles
- They get to the point were they feel that they have went as far as they would like to go, no further

There are many other contrbuting factors they are just the main ones I have conjured up.
On the other hand sometimes it isnt really time to quit. Its sometimes time to re-evaluate and set new goals. The thing is a student and a teacher should always aim towards something ... that gives lesson a real purpose. Also, sometimes the teacher's method wears away it is time for a new teacher. Some teachers believe that a student should be exposed to other teachers and learn other styles of learning, other approaches and methods.
I think more oftenly it is not time to 'quit' more likely it is time to change or to re-evaulate, to set goals to do personal reflections and look at he/she is feeling about taking lessons.
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Postby Stretto » Mon Dec 03, 2007 7:39 pm

Becibu,
I really agree with your post. It got me to thinking also. I don't think I have mentioned this already in this thread but sorry if I am repeating something I already wrote. While some might find piano is not their thing, I don't think anyone should quit on music of some nature. Everyone should do something music related and continue to expand and cultivate interest in music their whole lives. If a person quits piano, try another instrument, and another, and another, try voice, try joining a choir, take a music related class, learn about making music on the computer, try composing, conducting, etc., etc., etc. You will hit on something music related that you enjoy. Just don't ever quit on music altogether and I mean more than just passive listening.

Someone was telling me about a relative who took one instrument, quit, another instrument, quit, and so on and so on and guess what they did as a career as an adult? - They became a sound engineer!

I quit clarinet (my first instrument) after a year or two and rather than try to tell my parents I wanted to quit I made a bargain with them. My mom always wanted me to take piano so I said, "I will take piano if you let me quit clarinet". And I've been with piano ever since. But I've expanded my interests and dabbled in composing, music on computers, music history, music theory, etc. There's other areas of music that I would like to learn about, other instruments too. Music is something that one can never stop learning.

What makes me happy as a piano teacher is not whether a student sticks with piano their whole lives but to hear that they have pursued some musical endeavors throughout their whole lives of some shape or form. One example, I had a student at age 14 who took piano lessons for about 3 or 4 years. He's a doctor now and I heard is playing the guitar sometimes in public venues just for fun.




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Postby Tranquillo » Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:38 pm

Stretto wrote:While some might find piano is not their thing, I don't think anyone should quit on music of some nature. Everyone should do something music related and continue to expand and cultivate interest in music their whole lives.

If a person quits piano, try another instrument, and another, and another, try voice, try joining a choir, take a music related class, learn about making music on the computer, try composing, conducting, etc., etc., etc. You will hit on something music related that you enjoy. Just don't ever quit on music altogether and I mean more than just passive listening.

But I've expanded my interests and dabbled in composing, music on computers, music history, music theory, etc. There's other areas of music that I would like to learn about, other instruments too. Music is something that one can never stop learning.

I cant agree with you more ... the fact that we already talk in tones shows that we are born with music, music is instilled in us and we all have ability. Its up to us weather we use it or lose it.
True, nobody should stop learning about music it is an international language and something that has exsisted since humans were around on earth.
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Postby Tranquillo » Tue Sep 09, 2008 10:59 pm

You know, when I think about it now. Its people who quit piano lessons altogether and never touch the thing again or have any musical involvement who really have a loss. Some take up another instrument and instantaneously find that this is their instrument after piano.

Often parents make the wrong diagnosis on what instrument their children should play. There is that terrible myth "if you can play piano you can play anything."

The student that plays after he/she is done with lessons is the one with success. I know many who still are playing the piano after taking 5-10 years of lessons then quitting. There is no wrong in quitting, its really the action afterwards weather the student goes on with other musical pursuits or keeps playing the piano.
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Postby Tranquillo » Wed Nov 26, 2008 4:57 am

This topic makes me think more and more. I don't intend to quit anytime soon but there comes a time with many advanced musicians where they stop taking lessons. Some choose to at fellowship level. Others take lessons on and off as a form of coaching.

Then there are non proffessionals, amatuer musicains that choose to cease taking lessons when they feel a level of competency and satisfaction. Other times a teacher would tell a student that its time to change or find a different teacher to gain differing approaches and perspectives.

Quitting is viewed as wrong ... but it's very rare where I hear the story of the person taking piano lessons for 20 or 30 years. Many music students don't end up as proffesional musicians. This makes me question wheather or not they continue to practice and perform.

I know this one boy that stopped taking piano lessons after sitting his associate diploma in piano. He felt adequate enough to continue himself and couldn't see himself continuing a career down the music track. I guess it boils down to why people take lessons in the first place and evaluating and seeing a reason to quit or continue.

Then there are many people who quit and don't play piano simply because other areas and activties dominte their lives. Piano ultimately is a leisure activity just as sports are but it seems more common to quit piano completley than sports. I think this may be due to being in association with people of the same interests. Pianists are often lonely unlike other musicians flautists, singers, bassists, etc that are in orchestras pianists often don't rub shoulders with other pianists. I think that is one thing within pianists that leads to complete alienation the instrument, due to the lack of association.
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