As a parent, have you ever had to ask your kids to practice? Does that sound like a familiar tune often met with protest? You’re not alone, but there is a good chance what they’re saying is not really what they mean.
When kids tell us they hate their music lessons, it’s rarely because they actually dislike music. Liking music is probably what got them started in the first place. To understand why kids stop playing music, it’s important to really understand what music means to them and the role it plays in their lives.
Culture Wars in Music
Lets start with how we think about playing music. That’s right, we play music, we create music, and we make music. We certainly don’t work music.
Play: The very nature of the word we use to describe the art of performance is the same word we use to describe fun time in the sandbox or game time on the field. In some other languages, this is not the case. Psychologically, our culture associates the art of making music with a joyous and casual-natured, non-work-like experience.
For example, the literal translation of tocar la guitarra is to touch the guitar. It really means more than just touching the instrument, and music resonating from the guitar is implied. But the words used to describe the performance experience more closely align with touching or the physical nature of instrument manipulation.
This also may have a direct connection with a general public perception of musicians’ laziness or lack of hardworking nature here in the States. Professional performers and educators are incredibly hardworking and driven artists. But because we play music and do not work music, perception is often misaligned.
Are we working music?
Forcing practice time creates a disconnect in our brains relating to how we perceive the goal or intent of music in our lives. Music is a source of joy and fun, but practice and work is generally not what the kids signed up for. Practice is necessary, but the idea of playing music is always more fun than working to get good at it. What kids need is a balance between the two. Work hard, play harder, right?
Repertoire plays a big role in the development of skills but also maintaining interest. Practicing non-performance based rudiments are helpful in skill building, but a sure-fire way to lose your students interest without practical application of said skills. In other words, mix it up and start playing songs you know so you can relate to what you’re learning. The reward and satisfaction will build confidence and motivation, while inspiring to continue development.
Set goals. Use technology. Scales, fingering charts, technical exercises and piles of sheet music are about as interesting to a 12 year old as a school textbook. Play along with recordings, compose songs, perform for family and friends, and download helpful apps. Learn one of the latest pop tunes you keep hearing on the radio! Keeping students engaged will transform their experience into a more rewarding endeavor.
Overbooked and underplayed?
Last, being well-rounded is essential in anyone’s life. But just like anything else, balance is key, and without it, you can start to find diminishing returns. Exhaustion can demotivate. Demotivation will lead to decreased time focused on learning, leading to diminished skills and, by extension, poor performance capabilities. That by itself will de-inspire. Guilt can set in and practicing then becomes another yet weekly chore kids are forced into and feel burdened by.
Steps to ensure perseverance
So what do they mean when they say they don’t like music? They really mean, ‘it’s not fun for me anymore.’ Rather than quit, take the steps to make it fun for them.
- Make sure your teacher connects with them personally and represents a good role model.
- Vary the material, mix it up, and make sure they’re working on material they recognize so they can identify with it.
- Set small achievable goals each week, and don’t solely focus on rudiments – that’s the quick way to lose attention.
- Don’t overbook or it just becomes another burdensome chore.
- Take them to see a concert. Whether it’s Beyonce or Broadway, if it’s something they enjoy, it will inspire.
When they say “I hate music!” they’re really saying “make it fun.” Let’s not let a few words ruin a relationship with music.
More resources for homeschool music!