Do We Quit Music?

Updated on June 02, 2017
J.G. asks from Chicago, IL
19 answers

Last June, my son asked if he could take guitar lessons. I was extremely hesitant because he was only 6. I was worried about commitment, maturity and dexterity. I spoke with a few instructors and we determined to give it a try.

He is doing remarkably well. However, practice is a nightmare. My oldest (9) is also taking voice. She too barely practices. I remind them. It doesn't matter. It isn't a priority. My husband and I believe that if they were really interested, they would practice. He thinks we should pull them. I am of mixed minds here. A part of me feels like my son is young and it isn't easy. With my oldest, she is your typical lazy super smart person. Of course her laziness pays off, so it's all good in her mind. Of course she will never be excellent because she lacks the practice.

In my mind, I'm spending a lot of money on something they aren't taking serious. I'm ready to just pull them. If they really want to learn the guitar or to sing, they can u-tube it.

Thoughts on this? All I know is that I have no interest in having to nag them to do something they asked to do! I get that it's my job to teach them self-control, but this is a very expensive lesson.

They say they want to take classes, but like I said, they barely practice.

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone! After posting this the other day, I remembered I had bought dry erasure calendars a few months back. I told the kids that if they practiced consistently, then they could continue with lessons. If they didn't, then we would no longer feel comfortable spending the money. We shall see how it goes. I have to let the music school know by the 15th of the month if the kids are going to stop lessons. My daughter seems committed. I think my son doesn't believe me.

My mom forced piano lessons on me for 2 years when I was 6-8. I hated it, but then when I decided I want to learn the flute at 10, I was so thankful I knew how to read sheet music! And then at 20 I wanted to learn the guitar, again, I was thankful and picked it up quickly. I want to support music in their lives (I've been playing my flute with my 4 year old), and my husband plays the guitar and flute on a daily basis too. Soon we will have a piano. But I just can't be a nag. It's too exhausting. I'm hoping the calendar system helps them cultivate the habit without me having to remind them.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

At 6 & 9, I wouldn't give them the option of practicing. I wouldn't remind them to practice, but I would tell them that it is time to practice.

I understand what you are saying. It sounds good to say that if they were really interested they would practice. But I really don't think that's an age appropriate expectation.

This isn't just about music. It's about life lessons. They need to learn about hard work. So, music, sports, another hobby, whatever ... teach them that practicing is not an options, it is an expectation.

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L.C.

answers from Washington DC on

When my children were young, they both took piano lessons. The teacher would tell then how many times to play each piece each day -- 5 times a day on this one, 4 times for that one. They could take it slow or fast or however they wanted. They played every day for a very short time and progressed quite quickly. The teacher didn't require 30 minutes -- just the length of time it took to play each piece the requisite number of times. And because it took a very short amount of time, it could be done right before dinner or right after school or whenever...

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L.U.

answers from Seattle on

I started playing the flute in 5th grade. I was a natural....easily picked up how to play the instrument, read the music, keep the beat. UGH. I hated to practice. My parents would nag, I would groan about it, and then I would go and practice.
In 7th grade I started playing the baritone sax. I taught myself. I played in the jazz band and played flute during my regular band class. Ugh. I hated practicing. I would do it..but I moaned and groaned about it.
In 9th grade I played in our church orchestra, jazz band (at school), and orchestra (at school). Ugh. I hated to practice.
In 10th grade I picked up the Eflat Contra Bass Clarinet. I played that in school orchestra, baritone sax in jazz band, and flute at church.I FINALLY started to practice on my own! We would do music competitions, we traveled to play at jazz festivals, and I practiced with Kenny G's private instructor.

I give you this whole story because A) Music was a huge part of my growing up. It made me who I was. It gave me a niche once I hit high school. B) practicing sucks...especially when you are still learning. You can only play "hot cross buns" so many times before you want to pull your hair out! C) I miss it.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

I believe that music enriches lives, and learning a musical skill is of value. I also think that kids' interests go up and down and that they are not going to be passionate about something like this all the time. I think of my own childhood and my piano lessons. There were times that I practiced at home for a long time because I enjoyed it. There were times (a few years I think) where I almost never practiced excepted for a little frantic practice an hour before my lesson to try to make my teacher think that I had practiced all week (never worked LOL). However, because I knew how to read music really well, I picked up other instruments easily and played multiple instruments in middle and high school band (clarinet, xylophone, plus all the percussion pit instruments) and those groups were great for me as a teen. As an adult, I no longer play (don't own a piano), but I love that I appreciate all types of music, I love that I know how to read music (I've joined a bell choir at church, which is a significant anti-stress activity for me), and that I can help teach my kids to read music. Those piano lessons had lifelong benefits for me.

That is my own experience that informs my perspective on this. Now I have a kid who sounds just like yours. He's learning an instrument. When I ask him he says that he really likes to play. However, he rarely practices. He's in the middle (not 1st chair and not last) in the band and he doesn't get picked for the solo pieces. I think this is OK, and I plan to let him continue as long as HE says that he likes it. When he says he doesn't want to play anymore, then he will be done.

And, there is this in your post "I'm spending a lot of money on something they aren't taking serious." They are 6 and 9 year old kids. How seriously do you expect them to take anything (especially the 6 year old)?

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J.C.

answers from Philadelphia on

I hear you. My daughter was actually "fired" by her piano teacher. He said he felt bad wasting our money. My daughter however did play the piano daily...but her teacher explained there is a difference between playing the piano and practicing the piano. My daughter just wanted to play (like at a recital) not practice (fix mistakes made). She was in 8th grade at the time.

At 6 yo I think you should sit with your son while he practices. Just spend 15 minutes a day with him. He is too young IMHO to practice himself. FYI... my FIL owns a music store. He won't accept guitar students until the age of 10ish when there hands are big enough to handle the guitar properly.

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C.N.

answers from Baton Rouge on

I paid for piano and voice lessons for my daughter because she asked for them. She practiced when she felt like it. My ex was of the opinion that she should have a set practice time every day. I told him that music was something she did for her own pleasure, and that I refused to turn it into another item on her list of chores.

She is now grown. She can pick out a melody on a keyboard, and sometimes does if she is around a piano (I no longer have one). And she sings all the time. Not for other people, but at home. She has a better understanding of how something she loves (music) works as a result of having had lessons, and THAT makes them well worth every penny I paid for them.

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C.C.

answers from New York on

"Practicing" is an amorphous term. Do you mean that your daugher does not sing much / your son does not touch the guitar much, outside of class? Maybe you should try asking the instructors to give your children "homework" ("play these three chords five times each day", etc). That way you could just remind them to stay on top of specific assignments. But I think your children are too young to understand the general concept of "practice" - it would be like telling a child that age to "study".

I think that you should try something like that before deciding to stop paying. Too many schools these days are cutting music programming - I don't know about your children's school, but your private classes might be the only good way to expose your children to music.

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B.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

Is there a way that they could participate in a band or choir that would not involve private lessons?

I played clarinet growing up and had years of private lessons. I remember practicing, and I remember NOT practicing. When I had moved up to a clarinet teacher that played professionally, I remember her yelling at me for not practicing. At the time I felt she was so mean, but reflecting back today, I now have the maturity to understand that I was not only wasting her time but mine as well (and my parents money!)

Even though both of my girls play instruments, it is not their passion. If it was I would get them private lessons, until then I won't waste anyone's time or money. I guess this is one drawback of homeschooling, in public school they receive free lessons. I won't pretend to understand homeschooling but is there the opportunity for lessons through your co-op?

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Quit music?
No.
Quit that particular instrument?
Maybe.
For now.
6 is pretty early for some kids to get involved with playing an instrument.
Sure some do - but not everybody can or does.
He might do better trying something else when he's a bit older.

Our son started playing recorder in 5th grade.
In 6th grade he took up clarinet - which he has played now for 6 years and he wants to take it to college with him in the fall.
I have NEVER had to nag him to practice.
He enjoys it and he loves playing in band.

Band is way cool and there are so many great kids in it.
Maybe your son would like drums/percussion, or brass (trumpet, trombone, tuba, etc) or a wind instrument (clarinet, saxophone and flute are popular).

As for your daughter - "she is your typical lazy super smart person".
Well, that might be a problem.
An old boyfriend of mine was brilliant - every one expected him to do great things - and he resented the expectation.
He ended up working at the post office and just never really applied himself to anything.
Smarts without ambition, motivation and get-up-and-go just doesn't get you very far.

They both need to find something to be passionate about.
It takes some time to find out what that will be.
But if what they are doing now isn't doing it for them, it might be time to move on to something else.

My sister plays 3 instruments - flute, piano and guitar - and she hates singing.
I tried piano and violin - and practicing was just torture.
I was so happy when I could finale quit - and I joined chorus and totally loved singing.
I was in the church choir and I even auditioned and won a spot on our schools Swing Chorus.
I never minded practicing, and even sang in my sleep (I've always talked in my sleep).

Take your kids to hear band/orchestra concerts, see marching bands, see singing groups - expose them to The Arts.
They may see something that eventually inspires them.

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B.A.

answers from Columbus on

I started taking piano lessons at that age, and I never practiced without my parents nagging me. Even then, I'd do every thing I could to avoid doing so. Looking back, I realize it was because I was so new to the instrument that I couldn't play the songs that I really wanted to play. Learning to read music and playing scales just wasn't fun, but they were essential building blocks.

Fortunately, my parents wouldn't let me quit, but they at some point backed off on the forced practices. After a year or so, I was proficient enough to start playing modified versions of songs that I liked. And then I was hooked. I ended up taking lessons for 10 years, and my parents never had to ask me to practice.

I'd let him continue taking lessons and not worry too much about practicing. His unwillingness to do so doesn't mean he's not taking it seriously. He's just not at that point developmentally. Most 6 year olds I know fight doing their homework also, because they just don't understand the benefit of doing so.

I've never played guitar, but I don't think that you-tube videos are a substitute for lessons. Learning requires feedback-- someone to listen to you and observe your technique so you don't form bad habits.

As far as your nine year old goes, she's old enough to understand so I'd probably make my expectations very clear and then stop the lessons if she won't practice. She'll have other opportunities in middle school and high school.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

The last year my son took piano, I stopped nagging. I didn't remind him to practice. He suffered the consequences, and at the end of the year he told me he didn't want to take it any more.

Our feeling here is - if you're signed up for something, then you are ready and committed. So when we take our kids to hockey - they are up and by the door, ready to go for early morning practice. They know if they are not, they don't get to be in hockey.

My son took clarinet. It was same thing. I had to remind him to practice.

When I took piano, I practiced because I enjoyed learning pieces. I played for many years. I did not see this same level of interest or commitment in my son. True, kids seem to have more distractions these days - but I agree with you, if they loved it - it wouldn't be a chore.

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D.D.

answers from Boston on

I'd say to pull them from lessons and let them learn on their own if they are interested. Kids try a ton of things. Sometimes they are very interested and excel other times they lose interest fast and are ready to move onto something else.

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J.K.

answers from Wausau on

If I have to nag, then the thing isn't worth MY time and effort.

Make practice a condition of continuing class, with a specific deadline. They don't meet it, then you stop the classes. It's really just like any other behavioral situation. Set the bar, expect it to be met, consequences if it isn't. You have to be serious and follow through.

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

My girl started band in the fall, not at the beginning of the semester. She transferred into the class from Choir. I made her take a music class because I think it's important.

She won't bring her flute home, she won't practice, she won't even bring her flute home after school or on breaks.

I figured she just isn't that interested in it.

BUT she moved from being a beginner, had to take 6th grade beginning band all first semester. She wasn't working on music at home so I figured it was a flash in the pan sort of thing.

The band director called me near the end of last semester and told me he had concerns about putting her up in 7th grade band. That the other 7th grade flute players were excellent, so excellent he can say he's never had such an excelled group. So he had concerns that she'd move into 7th grade band, be last chair, and never move up.

He wanted my promise that she'd take private lessons to bring herself up to the rest of the groups standards or he could leave her in beginning band. I committed to private lessons because I have 2 friends that both play flute, one of them in studying music in college on scholarship, she plays flute, and the other played all through school and then into college and still plays for entertainment now.

I figured I could get them to help her out and do a few private lessons so she could play for them and they could help her get past any problems.

She moved up, was last chair. Still, never brought her flute home except on lesson day. Then she'd come home and leave her flute in the truck.

She didn't practice at all, got that? She did the same thing with piano when she was younger, played excellent for a beginner. Same thing with voice, she has a crystal clear soprano pitch and had a beautiful voice. After private lesson time she wouldn't practice.

She moved from last chair flute up 3 chairs the next test time. Then she moved up another couple of chairs next time. At the end of the school year she had moved up to 3rd chair, out of about 9 flute players. She didn't practice, went through an exercise once a week or so for fingering, she was still technically a beginner since she'd started in September.

She had moved from 6th grade beginning band up to 7th grade band and had moved into a group that was an example of excellence the band director hadn't seen before, and she didn't stay in last chair but actually passed 8 other girls to make it up to 2nd chair.

So practicing at home isn't a signifier of talent or interest. They might love the guitar or piano or some other instrument and never once practice at home.

Don't nag, don't do anything. If you just have to be that mom you can remind them once but then no more. If they don't practice their consequences is when they plan in front of their teacher and they can't do it. Let the teacher handle it. Let the teacher be the one to say "hey, you stink because you won't practice, your mom is wasting her money on you".

Talk to them when it's time to sign up again. Ask them if they want to continue the lessons. I think if they say they want to stay in it that I'd keep them in it. It's not going to waste.

But I would also find band classes for them as soon as their old enough to take in school so they can participate in a full out music program.

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V.B.

answers from Jacksonville on

6 is really young. Mine daughter didn't start until 2nd grade (age 7) and she was still pretty young. She loved it though. But yes, at that age you have to tell them it's time to practice. And practice is daily (or 5 times a week plus the instruction itself). The good news is these in about a year, he'll know if he really enjoys it. But he might not enjoy it. Perhaps take a break and try a different instrument. Daughter is now almost 16 and plays piano, clarinet, flute, and bought her own ukulele and violin. She just loves music.

Son tried piano in 1st grade. It was too much. He was also doing marital arts at the time, and it was just TOO MUCH. Looking back, I wish we'd waited a bit, or taken a break from martial arts so he could not feel so busy to really see if he enjoyed the music. He tried to take up mandolin in high school, but got busy with wrestling and then a job. :/

NO rush. But if he doesn't enjoy the music/lessons (complains about every aspect... not just forgetting to practice and having to be prompted) then take a break and let him try something else later. I know you can Utube a lot of stuff. Daughter knitted a blanket from Utube. But music, in mine opinion, really requires a live instructor with feedback to the student. At least in the beginning.

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R.B.

answers from San Francisco on

It depends on how much you can afford it. If you can really afford it, then keep him in the lessons and don't worry about how much he practices. But if you can't really afford it, well, he's only 6, and he's highly unlikely to become a famous musician.

You could stop the lessons now, and do it when he's older and ready to practice. It's really all about the money.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

I think 6 is really young. 9 may be as well. A lot of kids say they want lessons, but what they mean is, "I want to be playing the guitar" rather than "I want to devote time to practice even when I'm not good at it yet."

I have mixed feelings about letting kids quit. I agree that spending money on something that holds limited interest and nagging them is counter-productive. (Not unlike buying them a dog when they swear they will take care of it, and then after 2 days of walking the animal in the rain, the poor dog becomes Mom's pet for the next 13 years!) But I also think that spending the money and just "eating it" while the kids have no consequences is a mistake.

While I don't think they can be expected to pay back all the money you have spent, I think it's appropriate to have some sort of pay-back or chores, or at least some "deprivation" (as in, "I'm sorry, we can't go for ice cream or buy that extra pair of sneakers, because you already asked me for music lessons and then changed your mind. So I'm reluctant to spend money, once I earn some more to replace what I already spent, on something else you say you want but will change your mind about."

I would talk to the teachers about what level of practice they expect from kids this age, and to discuss the teachers telling the kids that it's evident they don't practice. Maybe setting aside 10 minutes a day (or 3 times a week, whatever is recommended) makes sense. Set the timer, and if the child chooses to sit there for the 10 minutes and not touch the instrument or sing the exercises (whatever the assignment is), so be it. But you don't have to be a nag machine, nor does the kid get to do something different during those 10 minutes.

I think it's worth taking them to see bands/orchestras/choruses or to see kids who really love and work at it. Maybe they'll switch to another musical instrument, maybe not. I think there's value in music and I hate to see them quit entirely, but I also think you have to stop throwing good money after bad.

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S.L.

answers from Denver on

One option in the future is to join school band or orchestra. My dd started with piano, but we didn't stick with it (she was 5-6 when we started and I taught her myself). But in elementary school she started playing violin and it was a great way to teach them how to read music and play an instrument. Best of all, it was totally free aside from buying the instrument and music.
We had to use a few Youtube tutorials since I don't play violin and I helped her read the music, but she figured it all out between school and home practice.
She's in middle school now and I can't believe how good she is! I never spent a penny on lessons and I never had to squeeze it into our schedule since it was an elective in school.
I can't believe everyone doesn't take advantage of this!

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N.K.

answers from Miami on

Can you take them out for some time, and then put them back in, assuming they straighten out and show more interest? That's what I'd do. Tell them that because they aren't showing much interest and dedication, you cannot afford to pay the lessons and have cancelled them. See how they react. Wait a month or so, and then if they beg to return, give them another chance. Perhaps they will realize you're serious about taking them out at that time, and will show more interest. Or, you may realize you've been wasting your money and time in getting them into music lessons, when they truly aren't interested.

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