When your child wants to QUIT piano lessons don't despair and DON'T let them quit. I'm a firm believer that ALL children can not only learn the language of music but fall in love with music!
I promise if you keep pushing them forward (as you would with reading, math, science, history, etc.,) they will thank you someday and enjoy the many blessings of playing a musical instrument.
Though, to be fair, the road towards musical literacy is TOUGH at times. Especially for these little minds that can become overwhelmed and easily discouraged. Their egos get bruised, minds get overwhelmed with fatigue, musical pages become riddled with markings and you get headaches!
To help you through the tough times I've collected some of my favorite GO-TO's to survive the "I WANT TO QUIT!" moments.
My Parent Survival Kit (along with a little aspirin) may help!
1. SCHEDULED PRACTICE/TIMER
Easily the MOST important tool in your survival kit - consistent practicing. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this is to student success. SO many students could be saved from quitting music if parents could keep practice scheduled and consistent.
Make sure the practice time is scheduled and daily or else there's a good chance it's not going to happen. I also HIGHLY recommend doing practice in the morning before school, sports and extracurricular activities get in the way. I know that seems crazy because mornings are already hectic, but I've seen amazing results when parents make it a part of their morning routine.
If their teacher has a required amount of daily practice time be sure to have a timer/clock next to the piano. You can purchase cute playful little timers for your kiddo here that come in many varieties. Make it special and have them pick out their favorite. Anything that makes piano more fun! Even if that means purchasing them a practice timer that's in the shape of a hedgehog.
2. STICKY NOTES
Part of the key of unlocking the mysteries of successful practicing is SIMPLIFICATION. LESS is always MORE. Often times students make the mistake of trying to learn everything at once and that quickly becomes overwhelming. And I don't blame them! It would be! Looking at a new piece of music, no matter how exciting it might sound, can feel discouraging and soul crushing for a child.
However, if you can remind your child that little baby steps of progress will lead them to success they WILL learn that "impossible" piece. And more than likely it will become their favorite thing to play!!
But Kiddos can't help themselves sometimes (nor adults!) and we end up spending an entire practice session running through the mistakes over and over again. When really focusing on the tricky sections would be more beneficial. SLOW, mindful practice is key.
Which brings me to my next Parent Survival Kit solution. STICKY NOTES!
Next time your child has a new piece or tricky spot do this:
"You seem to be struggling with that passage (or new piece). I suggest making a small goal today and aim to achieve that. Let's use these sticky notes to block off what goal you're going to make. What do you think your goal could be?"
Have them suggest what a reasonable goal is and you can guide them with this.
BLOCK off the goal with sticky notes. So let's say the goal is to get measures 5-8 under their fingers, you'd put a sticky note over measures 4 and 9. This literally gets them to start AND stop at the correct spots. It's veeeerry tempting to continue on! The sticky notes really force the student to focus. AND for my students who like to play the beginning part over and over again - just cover up that entire section with sticky notes (pictured above).
3. NEW MUSIC
Oh, those lovely little Amazon packages. Don't you just love getting a package in the mail from Amazon? Especially if it's something you're SO pumped and excited for. They really add that amazon smile to your face. Learning new music from a brand new special book can have the same effect on your child which is my third Parent Survival Kit tip!
Secretly, ask their teacher for a book or two that they'd recommend that's fun and engaging. When the package comes make sure to make a BIG deal out of it. Have your child get it from the doorstep, let them open it and make that book sound as exciting as Disneyland.
If you can play piano demonstrate some the pieces for your child yourself. If not never fear because you can find most pieces recorded on YouTube (don't you just love the internet!?).
Be sure to make this a really special moment between you and your child and be really PUMPED! They will feed off of that emotion and excitement. Let them handle the new books and look through them, listen to the pieces together, comment on which ones you love - really get into it!
One reason students want to quit is because music isn't as exciting or engaging as other group sports or games. One way around this is to play duets with your child or ask their teacher to assign them a duet with another student in the studio.
However, another more creative (and silly) way to create play at the piano is getting a little goofy with your child. This Survival Kit trick is especially helpful with young beginners, but would probably still result in a laugh or two if you did it with your pre-teen/teen.
Take out your child's favorite plush toy and let it dance on the keys while your little musician is playing OR better yet buy this adorable Mozart Mouse (pssst they also make a Beethoven Bear and other versions). Let him dance on the keys, on top of the piano, on their arms, their head... anything to make them laugh!
You can do fun games like:
- making him do an extra special dance when they play well/get a passage right
- you and your child dance with Mozart Mouse to a recording of the piece
- have Mozart Mouse help conduct
- have Mozart Mouse respond to how loud or soft they play (dynamics) by dancing small movements vs. BIG movements.
- have Mozart Mouse respond to the emotions or articulation of the piece
If your child is a little too "mature" for the plush toy other creative PLAY Survival Kit Ideas:
- Watch a performance of the piece on YouTube and discuss your favorite parts
- Have child play favorite part of piece and record on your phone to share on social media or with friends/family
- Encourage child to explore composing their own music by purchasing them their own staff paper
Stickers is a MUST to add to your Parent Survival Kit and can be used in a variety of ways. If your little musician is still young enough to enjoy stickers purchase some fun ones you know they'd love! During those tough practice days award them with productive practice by giving them a sticker on a sticker book, hands or (to make them laugh) their face! Kids LOVE getting stickers on their face.
Another fun sticker game is playing musical chicken pox! Cover your face with loads of these circular dot stickers and proclaim that you have musical chicken pox! The only way to cure it is beautiful piano music. Lay on the ground and make a big fuss about the "musical pox" and wait for your child's fit of giggles to cease so they can play you something. Each time they play well they get to take a spot off your face - eventually curing you!
You can keep the game going by adding the "pox" to their face afterwards, to a sibling or even Mozart Mouse.
5. REWARD SYSTEM
Of course, having an incentive for them to practice can be one of the most powerful tools to add to your kit. This looks very different for each child. So you need to put some thought into what will work for him/her.
For example, if your child loves to play video games use that as an incentive to practice. No video games until AFTER piano is practiced. They may drag their feet at first but as soon as that becomes the "new normal" they will get that practice done!
Another idea is using more common rewards like candy, toys, prizes and/or a fun experience to share together. I use a jar at home that my kids get to fill up with puff balls every time they practice. Once the jar is filled we get to go to the local indoor trampoline gym!
6. MUSICAL POPCORN
This is a practice technique I use everyday in my studio. With my help I ask the student to divide the piece into separate sections marking each with the letter name A-Z. For instance measures 1-6 could be section A, 7-12 section B, so on and so forth. You want to focus on dividing the pieces by its musical ideas/phrases.
Encourage your child to practice the piece in sections STARTING at the very end of the piece OR another place they don't play often. Have your child focus on sectional practicing each day rather than the entire piece all at once.
Make a game of it and have them "pop" around the piece while you call out different section letter names for them to begin at.
I hope I've given you some helpful ideas to apply at home! Let me validate that I do know how difficult it is to motivate our kiddos to practice. It really takes a LOT of effort sometimes and often times it's not enjoyable. BUT neither was potty-training, getting them to eat their vegetables, teaching them to ride a bike ... LEARNING is hard. It's not just exclusive to piano.
It's less about the piano and more about the journey of learning that discourages children.
They don't hate piano, they just hate not being amazing at something right away. Remind them to be patient with themselves - that this is a process just like riding a bike. They WILL fall and hit a brick wall and want to give up. But with parental encouragement, loving guidance from a qualified teacher and patience with themselves they can learn!
Thank you for reading!! And of course, I'd love to hear your favorite tools! Let me know in the comments below.