When should a parent let their kid quit lessons?

So your child has been taking lessons for some time now. Maybe it’s been just a couple years, maybe it’s been 10 years. At any juncture in a student’s musical journey, they will invariably question if they want to keep taking lessons. This is somewhat normal, and can be expected to happen at some point. When a kid throws this type of wrench in to their parent’s parenting life, it can go one of a few ways. And the way that it is handled, and the age of the student will largely have a big impact on the outcome.

 Look at that proud parent!

Look at that proud parent!

Let’s take a couple scenarios.

1) The student is struggling with the fact that piano is getting more difficult and the week to week progress is feeling less magical and notable. If a student wants to quit at this point, I would advise against it as this is a natural occurrence in learning an instrument, and not a good reason to quit altogether. This is a great opportunity for the teacher and the parent to connect and make some changes to the lessons. Maybe the student needs a fresh new approach to learning, or just a different song? I can’t tell you how many times it seemed like a student was losing interest in taking lessons purely because we had taken on a piece that was either too difficult for their skill level at the moment, or just became tedious. Move on from that piece! There are so many to choose from that can spark an interest again. Sometimes an even more drastic change is needed, like a new teacher. Or even something as simple as incorporating some composition exercises and letting a student attempt to write their own music can make a difference.

2) A student has been playing for a number of years, and while having had excellent practice habits initially has really let things slide. Perhaps they just entered a new grade where their teacher is assigning a lot of homework, or their various sports activities are making it much more difficult to keep up with their practicing. At this point a student could really feel like they are losing interest in that they feel overwhelmed by juggling everything. Deciding to quit or not would be a tough decision for the parent and student for a variety of reasons. Quite frankly, while studying music is a highly beneficial endeavor that has enormous rewards for those who have made it a priority in their life (just look at all of the benefits), it might be difficult for a student to see the long term benefits when they are overwhelmed by their current work load. At this point though, I would recommend against quitting altogether. Maybe some adjustments can be made, and expectations can be lowered while a student gets a hang of their increasing responsibilities while still finding regular time to practice. There are always ways to adjust the lessons to make everything seem more manageable. At a certain point, a student may find that they can learn to balance out all of their responsibilities and playing piano can still fit in. After all, taking lessons and making a habit of practicing regularly, even if it isn’t for an hour a day, is still an excellent way to work on one’s time management skills.

“Children who had a few years of piano study under their belts could remember twenty percent more vocabulary words than their peers” - Steinway & Sons

3) There will be scenarios wherein the question of quitting has nothing to do the above scenarios, where it isn’t an issue of the lessons getting more difficult, or time management issues causing a student to reevaluate. Sometimes, students don’t find joy in music anymore. If the student is younger and parents and their teacher have tried everything to get them more engaged and motivated to practice, and it is leading to arguments about practicing, and real resistance, then that would be a time to consider taking a break. Generally students don’t want to resume lessons at a later date if they are having these types of negative feelings toward piano or any other instrument for that matter. Sometimes its just really not fun anymore, and its not worth it to fight that. Sure, a student may decide to resume at a later date on their own volition, or they might not. But at that point keeping them in lessons will result in real diminishing returns.

Here’s my story with wanting to quit piano lessons. I wanted to learn piano at a very young age, and I started taking lessons around the age of 5. From what I remember, I performed quite a bit and even requested to play a harpsichord at some concerts which I guess required someone transporting a harpsichord for me (what a diva I was!) While I have spent more time as an adult composing music for films and teaching than I have spent practicing the piano, when I was young, I was expected to practice at least an hour a day, and I was at the level where I was placing in the top 3 of performance competitions. I wouldn’t say I was a prodigy, but I was an advanced student.

According to my mom though, when I was 12 or so, I wanted to quit lessons. My parents were more on the strict side, so I was not allowed to quit. I can’t recall what kept me interested in it, or whether I knew I just didn’t have a choice at the time so I kept slogging through, but at that moment, despite wanting to quit, I wasn’t allowed to. My mom’s argument was that I wasn’t old enough to make that type of decision for myself. So I kept taking lessons. Now a few years later, I did make the decision to take a year off from lessons while I was in high school. And after that time off, I actually wanted to resume lessons. Maybe I missed playing piano regularly and I knew that taking regular lessons would keep me motivated, or maybe deep down I knew that I was still very passionate about music and I wanted to continue. In any case, I resumed lessons and continued on through college while I majored in music.

At my graduate composer recital, my dad got up to talk and he mentioned this whole “almost quitting incident” to the audience stating that my mother was a smart parent to not let me quit, because had I quit then, would I have ever gotten to the point of having all of this music written and performed? Maybe still, but most likely not.

So a parent and their child may but heads on whether or not they should stop taking lessons at a certain point. But remember, there are certain scenarios where it isn’t worth it to quit at that moment, and the benefits of piano lessons will still far outweigh the perceived negatives. And sometimes there are times when its just best to throw in the towel. But you most likely didn’t decide to put your child into taking piano lessons on a whim, so the decision to quit should be carefully thought out.

And sometimes all it will need to keep the interest going is a new look at practice tips. Happy piano-ing!