I recently came across this post that outlines a parent’s regret at enrolling their son in violin lessons. After seeing an innate love for music and interest in playing the violin they began lessons. After several years this student became disinterested in music and didn’t even want to play around with the instrument anymore. The mother says:
Anyway, here we are several years later. He won’t play piano or violin and he doesn’t even like to listen to music. It breaks my heart.
He just wanted to hold and pretend to play the violin because he loved it. We killed that love by forcing him to do it the “right” way.
She goes on to ask advice on how to “fix” this problem. You can read the response in the post itself, which focuses on energy and organic motivation. Perhaps the answer to why this particular students lost their love for music lies within these things.
However, I was struck by parent’s assertion that doing it the “right way” was the cause of the student’s change of heart. This particular assertion was not addressed in the post and I believe it’s an important point to consider.
We read that this student took lessons for several years. Therefore this is not a case of unrealistic expectations that quickly lead to a lack of enthusiasm from a beginning student. You can read about this idea in my post How Expectations Contribute to Student Success.
This child, after several years of lessons, should have had a good foundation. They should have been playing enjoyable repertoire. They should have been able to play in a youth orchestra or school string group. A child doesn’t take lessons for several years and then all of a sudden dislike music because of “doing it the right way”. There’s more going on here.
Let’s consider some other possibilities.
Here are some other reasons that formal lessons may contribute to student disengagement:
- The teacher/student relationship isn’t a good fit
- A student develops unevenly in some areas, causing them to experience frustration in learning
- Parents have unrealistic expectations about progress that they foist upon their children
- The teacher doesn’t teach the student as an individual (expects them to fit a mold)
- The student doesn’t have any musical activities outside of lessons to enjoy and play with peers
- Parents and/or teachers create an environment that is not conducive to non-judgmental learning
- There’s a belief that music is all about having fun; an unrealistic expectation for learning that can breed frustration and apathy in students when they encounter something that’s hard for them
- Practicing is approached in a way that is ineffective
These are just a few reasons that formal lessons can lead to student discouragement. We can’t control everything as teachers and parents, but I think it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that doing things correctly causes students not to love music. There are so many other factors and contributors to student enjoyment.
In fact, I would argue that doing things the right way increases the chances a student will love music for a lifetime.
I’ve written about this in several of my other posts. The general concept being that when students are given the tools to read and interpret music themselves, and are taught the skills to physically execute what they see on the page, they experience success. Success is a natural internal motivator that produces intrinsic desire to continue on that path. When a student is not given the tools they need to be successful they will eventually hit a learning wall. They will not be able to do what they want to do with music. This frustration acts upon the student to diminish intrinsic desire and usually results in the student wanting to quit.
I would argue that it was probably not “doing things the right way” that was the problem, but rather that it was the way in which teaching the right way was executed that negatively affected this child. I believe doing things the right way is necessary for the greatest musical enjoyment, but when this end goal is gone about in a way that does not gel well with a student it can seem like the student would have been better off not being required to follow so many rules.
So, let’s consider what would have happened if this particular student hadn’t been enrolled in lessons.
What if they were just allowed to “play around” on the violin? Would they have been better off as this parent implies? Would they have been able to play? Would they have gained a lifelong skill and passion for music? Would years later they still be enjoying the piano or violin?
I would argue, probably not.
It’s fine for young children to play around and have fun with music, even beneficial for them to do so, but at some point formal lessons and doing things “the right way” is necessary. Allowing children to do things the incorrect way doesn’t provide the skills needed to participate in the musical activities that make music fun. It can also make injuries more likely, and breed frustration as bad habits rob the child of progress.
If you’ve been a music professional or active amateur for any length of time you’ve probably heard many people lament the fact that they were allowed to quit or that they didn’t achieve a certain level of ability on an instrument. I frequently hear stories like these. Conversely, it’s usually the students who were required to practice, who were taught the correct way to do things and who had parents who understood that music learning may not always be “fun”, that are the ones who are successful professionals and active amateur players.
There are of course exceptions to this, but I have found this to be the case most of the time.
Most children intrinsically love music and want to participate and play around with it, but without formal instruction this activity usually diminishes as they get older and school and activities compete for their time and attention.
I would argue that this student would be no farther along in their musical studies had they been allowed to just play around with music, especially the violin.
Many more students can achieve success and enjoyment from piano without much formal instruction. They may not have the skills to be in any professional role, but they can learn to bang out pop songs or play sacred music out of a hymnal for their own enjoyment. In contrast, in over a decade of teaching experience I have yet to know anyone who self-taught themselves the violin and plays anything that would be at all pleasant to hear.
In conclusion, my plea to teachers and parents would be this: do not blame “doing it the right way” as the reason a student or child does not love music or does not want to continue lessons. As teachers it is our job to teach students the right way; this is the way to success. And as parents it is in our best interest to find teachers that will do this for our children in a way that inspires and equips them to pursue their musical dreams.
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