Dr. Kathy Kucsan
I have heard variations of this comment dozens (and dozens) of times over the years:
“I wish I’d never quit piano. It feels like I gave up on myself.”
“I wish my parents had never let me quit violin.”
“I wish I could still play trumpet. I gave up music when I made the basketball team.”
“I used to play the flute but I got bullied. So I quit.”
My stock response has always been that it’s never too late to return to music. (It’s also never too late to start studying an instrument.) People hear that and nod or look wistful. “I think it is too late,” some of them say. “I should have kept going when I was a kid. It’s too late for me now.” I used to try to argue, because I don’t believe that for a second.
What is it about giving up and quitting music lessons that comes back to haunt people?
Knowing that this may happen, telling your 10th grader that they’re going to regret quitting piano in 40 years is not a viable strategy and will certainly result in an eye roll. There may be more compelling things going on in a kid’s life (soccer, Fortnite, AP Calculus) and practicing scales is not on their list of top 10,000 things to do right now. Or maybe it’s one of the following reasons:
Again: sports, video gaming, or academics can nudge music aside. Loss of interest may be valid. And that’s okay. Refocusing is possible, though.
Mastering an instrument is a never-ending challenge. Sometimes, it just seems too hard and it looks like the only option is to drop lessons. But consider what Pablo Casals said when asked why he kept practicing at age 83: “Because I think I am making progress.”
The teacher isn’t a good fit
It happens. The teacher-student relationship has to work, and occasionally it doesn’t. If that happens, you can move on to a different teacher. You don’t have to quit entirely.
The instrument isn’t a good fit
This happens, too. Maybe your child had her heart set on trumpet but ended up on clarinet (or vice versa). It’s okay to switch. We need the right instrument in order to sing the way we want to.
…from parents, friends, teachers, peers. It adds up and erodes so much student progress and enjoyment. In his book Every Good Boy Does Fine, pianist Jeremy Denk talks about his mother tossing out critical comments from another room. Did it prevent him from becoming a successful concert pianist? No. But someone less resilient may not persevere. Calling out encouraging comments from another room can work wonders, however!
One of the worst things we can do to kids is to force them to take lessons. Practicing becomes a form of torment, dragging them to lessons is unbearable. Who wouldn’t want to escape that?
Not knowing or understanding how to practice often translates to hating to practice. Being forced to sit at the piano or in front of a music stand for 15 (20, 30, 45, 60…) minutes is not a way to practice. It’s a sure way to make a child despise music. Teachers can help with this, offering some practice strategies. They’re experts at the practicing thing.
Parental support is vital for successful music study. But providing a running commentary during lessons or practice sessions doesn’t allow the student to learn independently, at her own pace or in her own learning style. The difference between helping and hovering is very important.
It still happens all the time, unfortunately. The kid who quit flute went on to play football instead of playing his “girly” flute. Heartbreaking. Parents and teachers have to pay attention and interrupt these kinds of interactions. Bullying finds its way into music lessons and ensembles, as it often does in school settings.
We can do better.
If, after pondering the above reasons, you or your child decide that quitting is the thing to do, then that’s the way to go. You can’t know what you/they will feel 10, 20, 40 years down the road and whether there will be regrets for packing away that violin.
I can tell you that there are many happy avocational musicians playing in our jazz and concert bands or singing with our musical theater program. And there are those who wish they could, wish they hadn’t quit way back when.
We’re here to support your music lesson journey now, at whatever level you happen to be.
Making music is all about the now, and keeping it going is a big part of what we do.
If you have questions, want to talk about quitting or starting up, I’m available! Drop me a line.