Every now and then, a music school will lose a student due to “lack of interest” or “too many after-school activities”. These scenarios are often seen as “the nature of the beast” and “business as usual” for many schools, since we can’t please everyone.

Yet, there are often some unexplored paths out there to help students in these situations that many teachers and schools miss. This results in the student not getting the full value of a top quality musical education.

As a dedicated music educator, I would like to share my perspective and address this article directly to parents who might be questioning the value of their child’s music lessons. This is also an article for instructors around the country who would like some support.

I started teaching in 2003 and opened up my first music school in 2014. Since then, I have learned that when a student “has lost interest”, there are far subtler things at play, since “losing interest” is not really something that happens in a vacuum.

Before moving forward, we will assume that a student had interest to begin with (otherwise this article is useless). We also are assuming that because the instructors are professional, they are doing their utmost best.

In my experience, the lack of interest is always due to a faulty link in the communication between a student/family and the instructor regarding mutual expectations.

Regarding discrepancies in expectations on the part of the student, family, or teacher:

We educators have heard these two phrases before: “My son does not know what to practice” or “My daughter is not practicing at home” (hence, she is likely not progressing).

When I hear these two phrases, alarm bells go off in my head. Why? Because I know that they are entirely preventable scenarios. If a student does not know what to practice, we need to examine the communication between a teacher and student. Is the teacher sending home material in a clear fashion? Is the instructor making a list of things for the student to follow through with at home? Some kids respond very well to a list – others do even better with small video demonstrations taken during the lesson.

Yet, this can ONLY work if a family ensures that the student is actually opening the notebook that the teacher has written his or her assignments in. It is a sad state of affairs when a teacher, who writes copious notes for months, discovers later, that the student, previously soaring on natural talent, has plateaued or even regressed because she or he never actually took the time to read the finer details of what a teacher asked him or her to do!

In the case of a student who is not practicing at home, we need to hold parents partially responsible. Why? Because no matter what the subject learned at school, whether it’s math, science, etc., nothing comes without persistence. Yet, in the case of a young child who is below the age of 6, it is not necessarily expected that a teacher will require daily practice. The focus for young children should be more about developing a love of music and trusting relationship between the teacher and student. How this is accomplished depends highly on the individual philosophy of the teacher.

Teachers share equal responsibility in communicating with parents – not just students – what is expected of students at home. This will result in a much more valuable experience for everyone.

Regarding the Phrase “Music is not Fun for the Student Anymore”

Another reason for quitting is that parents say that “music is not fun anymore” for their child.

I have sometimes heard this line from parents of children in their pre-teen years or teenage years. This is a completely normal thing for children to experience. Yet, there are parents who believe that we live in times where students are expected to have fun in everything they do – sometimes this is placed as a higher priority than actual learning. While I believe that music should ultimately be a fun activity, I know that there are times when breaking through technical barriers to playing will require patience and perseverance – two qualities that kids – let alone most adults, may struggle with. As a result, families MUST support their children even when the going gets tough. Teachers must also know a student well enough to walk a fine line between coach and friend. Of course the younger students will not respond positively to a task-master, and we do not advocate that type of teaching for young children. If a young child is not ready or mature enough, so be it!

If music lessons are not seen as fun by older children, a discussion must be had between the family and the instructor as to what the actual expectations are. Children naturally enjoy tasks that they find easy. The reality is that as children get older, the expectation of developing their natural abilities increases and anything with value will take increased focus, time, and patience. A teacher has a very important role in simplifying tasks so that a child can find ease in progressing up a ladder of complexity, one small step at a time.

In conclusion, the problems addressed in this article all require a patient communicative approach between teachers, students, and their families. Children (and their parents) want to succeed and do well in any activity. They want to feel like what they do matters and they want to feel that what they achieve is within reach. If we remember these key principles, we will retain all of our students.

I do hope that this article has been helpful. See the video below for an interactive talk about Music Lessons and Self-Actualization!

— Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians Academy of Lexington, MA