Foundational Ideas of FiddleQuest

Music lessons and when to call it quits

Julie started violin when she was 8. Her older sister had been in lessons for a few years already. So she was primed for the quick advancement that younger siblings experience.

But Julie’s interest in the violin never developed. She came to lessons but was clearly not that interested. In the beginning, she didn’t dislike lessons. It felt like an extension of her school day that she’d prefer to avoid.

To make matters worse, she was not inclined to practice and, being a rather strong-willed child, her parents chose to not press that issue.

So, she’d come to lessons week after week working on the same song. It felt like she was enduring the lesson. Finally, she began to tell her parents that she wanted to quit.

So, finally Julie’s parents had to tackle the question: Do we continue lessons or do we quit?

Some parents would say this situation already carried on too long. Why pay for lessons and spend time each week coming to lessons when the experience is generating so many negative outcomes?

Part of the reason, no doubt, was that their oldest daughter loves music. They love music. They have a clear vision in their mind of a musical family. And along comes a non-compliant child.

I have compassion for that experience because that was my situation, too. My youngest son, like his sister, took piano. But, by the time he was 10, he was making it painful for us. The only way that he would practice was being told. And then, it required me sitting next to him on the bench. It was a battle of wills and a drain on my supply of parenting energy.

Finally, when he was 12, I came up with an exit strategy. I told him that when he finished the next song, it would mark completion of the musical skills I wanted him to have and he would graduate.

This was not the finish line I had dreamed of, but I had to recalibrate. I had to put a flag in the ground, declare victory, and get the heck out of there.

In retrospect, I kept Theo going too long on the piano. But I have a never-say-die tendency and will keep pushing on a project, even my child’s music, long after after all the vital signs indicate it is time to quit.

Somehow, I managed to not do too much damage. Now, in college, he comes home with a mandolin and wants to play music with me and my friends. This blessing is not because I insisted on his practicing. It is because he saw me doing something fun that he wanted to be a part of.

When we tell our child they have to do their math homework, we have the support of our culture backing up that opinion. There are messages everywhere about the importance of education.

But children recognize that music is a discretionary activity. And they are right. To play music or not feels more like choosing whether to wear a raincoat or not. At some point, it is up to the child.