Practice struggles or wanting to quit

There are times when your child may be resistant to practicing piano and/or talk about discontinuing their lessons. I have worked with parents in a few different ways when this problem has come up and I can sympathize with it from my own personal experience as well.

Many times I have been able to work through phases with students whose parents have privately shared the struggle they are encountering at home to get practice done without daily complaints. Often we are able to work through this period and arrive on the other side with more energy and skill than ever. It is very helpful to communicate with me (or any teacher) when you are struggling at home, as I can take special measures to mix things up, revisit older songs with new focus, or introduce something novel and interesting to the student. Depending on the child, at times asking a leading question about the child’s feelings about piano and lending a supportive ear can be the valuable use of our session.

Take time to sit down and ask  your child – in a calm, supportive tone – to share his or her feelings about piano lessons and practice. Avoid this talk right before or after practice/lesson time, when emotions may be high. Aim for a neutral window of time to hear your child out. What are the reasons for wanting to quit? Are there too many other activities competing for his or her time? Is he or she bored by their songs? Does the amount of practice seem like too much to attempt each week? You may get a clue about where the resistance is coming by listening to what they have to say.

Try to avoid making piano practice simply a chore. Celebrate music in your world!  Consider taking a special effort to expose kids to piano (and other music) in their world, whether it’s commenting on a piano rift you hear on the radio or in a commercial or inviting them to play a song you’ve heard them working on for the family. If your child would enjoy a special theater event, they might like to visit one of the piano concert series performances at the classy Villa Montalvo in Saratoga for a special outing. Or keep your eye out in the community announcements for other shows that may include piano performances.

Why not browse around modern music videos to get pop-culture role models for young, hip people playing piano? Some kids are more angled that direction and inspired by the media more than the classical sounds of traditional piano songs. I love this entertaining video by Sara Bareilles. You can hear Vanessa Carlton’s piano playing here in Carousel and boys might check out one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jamie Cullum.

Most children do not have the long view or the internal drive to push themselves willingly when encountering stumbling blocks in their music education. As parents, the burden falls on us much of the time to help them persevere. Maybe you can remember a section of math, or difficult writing or reading assignments your child may have struggled with. Chances are that given the choice, they would not have sat through and studied on their own. It is fair that parents and families offer their own private incentives to encourage a child to continue their lessons. How about tickets to a favorite band’s concert next summer if they keep up with regular lessons and practice consistently? How about announcing that finishing “X” level curriculum books will result in a shopping trip for an artistic, trendy outfit (I like to paint a positive picture in a tween’s mind such as, “This hat would look so cool if you were, say, performing one of your songs for an audience!”)? A special acknowledgement at home for milestones, such as finishing a curriculum level, helps break up the feel that piano study is a constant path that just gets harder and harder. I have a prize box in the studio to honor my students as they progress, but kudos and pride from family will be a big reinforcement for a student.

If you’ve had other successful methods of keeping your piano practice at home a positive experience, please feel free to share!

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