From time to time, parents ask me to share some tips and tricks to engage and encouarge their children to stick with music. In response to these requests, please enjoy the following article, found at the following website:
Your 10-year-old daughter decides she doesn’t want to take ballet anymore after you’ve invested in years of lessons and the spring recital is right around the corner. Your 12-year-old son wants to quit the cello but begs to take up the guitar. And you’re wondering when is it right to push your child to press on or agree to let him quit?
While there’s no one answer that’s right for every child, there are several factors to consider regardless of your child’s activity. Our experts — a music education professor, a physical education specialist, a swim school director and a ballet school director — all agree: When your child begins an activity, create a supportive environment at home. This may help to keep his interest from lagging.
When it comes down to quitting or pressing on, the decision will depend on the child, her level of talent, the length of time she’s been involved in the activity and her reasons for wanting to quit.
1. Create the proper environment at home for your music student.
“Musical children are not born — they are raised,” says Robert Cutietta, author of Raising Musical Kids and professor of music education at the University of Southern California. It all begins by creating a “musical environment” at home. He suggests exposing children from an early age to different kinds of music, and getting them to focus by asking age-appropriate questions, such as “What does that sound like to you? Does it sound like a bird, a tree swaying in the wind?” If you play a musical instrument yourself, let your child see you playing and express your love for music. “Kids see what parents value,” says Cutietta. “If music is a part of your life and you value it, they will see that.”
2. Prepare in advance for the end of the honeymoon period.
For most children who start playing an instrument, there’s a honeymoon period when they are excited and anxious to play at every opportunity. “Parents are often tricked into thinking their child loves the instrument,” notes Cutietta, “but actually it’s just a new toy to them. From the beginning, parents need to prepare for the time when their child is no longer in love with the instrument. They should not take the child’s interest for granted. They should set realistic goals, which should not be time-goals like ‘practice for a half-hour each day’ but rather music goals like ‘play four measures of this piece.'” If you wait to put goals in place as your child starts to lose interest, it may be too late.
3. To avoid nagging, set a regular practice time.
Cutietta also suggests having a set time for practice each day to avoid arguing with your child who might say, “I don’t feel like it now; I’ll do it later.” If your child knows that at 4 p.m. everyday he is supposed to practice, there will be less need to nag. “It’s also OK to acknowledge that practice is not always a lot of fun,” says Cutietta. “Music is not all fun. It’s hard work and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
4. Don’t rely on the spring concert as an incentive.
Cutietta doesn’t advise reminding your child about the spring concert as a way to keep him engaged. “That could be light-years away, as far as your child is concerned,” he says. “It’s much better to have more immediate, easy-to-achieve performance goals.” He suggests organizing a mini-recital where your child can perform in front of a few family members and friends. This can be easy to arrange and becomes both a goal and a reward.
5. It’s OK to switch instruments.
“Letting a child switch instruments is really smart so long as they don’t switch every few months,” advises Cutietta. “It’s good for a child to start on piano or violin but it’s OK to explore different ones and some schools allow for that, too.” Chase Nelson, now a 24-year-old in California and an accomplished violinist, adds this about his own music training, “My parents didn’t compromise regarding my quitting but I always had the option of switching instruments. I moved from guitar to drums (the cool instruments) before returning to violin, an instrument with which I had accomplished quite a bit. I couldn’t be more thankful that my parents kept me in music. A video of myself playing violin was what eventually got me accepted at my college of choice.”
All of the advice given above are ideas that I have shared with a variety of families and with students. At the end of the day, the most important aspect to the musical journey is not only to encourage a fun engaging learning/practicing environment, but to also have open conversations to maintain the students’ interest during their entire learning experience. Engaging in conversations at all steps of the journey will help teachers, parents, and students to enjoy the process of making music for their entire lifetime.
Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents by Robert Cutietta (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Growing Your Musician: A Practical Guide for Band and Orchestra Parents by Tony Bancroft (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007)