My kid’s not practicing — should we quit?
(We know, we’ve blogged about practice before but it’s been about a year, and it comes up just about every day, so here we go again…)
Practice is a big problem. We hear very frequently from parents something like “My daughter doesn’t practice.” The sentence usually ends there and the parent is hoping that we have some quick and easy answer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer. Sometimes, we’ll be honest and say, “You’re going to have to make her practice. Whether you offer a reward, or threaten a punishment, or just plain tell her she must do it.” But we try not to say that. Why?
Because whenever we have that talk, it usually means we’re close to losing the student (read: the parents) altogether. A few weeks will pass and the parent may say “She doesn’t want to practice, it’s turing into a fight every day. Let’s just stop.”
So if your child isn’t practicing, should you just quit? Maybe. Maybe not. There are a couple things to consider: First, music is a performing art, but it’s also an academic subject. So if your child isn’t learning pieces as quickly as you’d like or isn’t going to her instrument to practice each day, that doesn’t always mean that she isn’t getting anything out of lessons. Most of the benefits between musical study and increased success in other areas like math have little to do with the performance aspect of music. It’s about the academic side: the reading of music, the understanding of historical context, the focused attention on pitches and their relationships, and of course fluency in the mindbendingly cool language of music theory. Kids who don’t practice often can still glean some of those benefits (perhaps not as much, but they’re still there).
Next, there are several paths to proficiency on an instrument. The most straightforward path is diligent practice. However, persistence is also a valid and effective path. It takes longer, but over time, even students who practice infrequently do learn to read well, understand theory, and develop good technical habits.
So if your child isn’t practicing, should you quit? If you are unwilling to be patient and persistent, and you are not overly concerned with the benefits of music as an academic endeavor, AND you also won’t encourage (or require, even if there’s backlash from the student) practice on a regular basis, then yes, you should quit. However, before deciding to risk crippling your child’s future for the sake of immediate gratification, please first consider a change of teacher or instrument. Not every student can work well with every teacher, even if it’s a good teacher and a good student. The same is true with certain people and certain instruments. Quitting should be considered only as the very LAST resort.
ADDENDUM: There’s one more reason that some families favor quitting, but it’s a sensitive topic that parents are understandably reluctant to discuss openly — the cost of music lessons. If your family is struggling financially AND little Johnny is fussing about practicing his contrabassoon, it seems like quitting lessons is the only option that makes sense, right? No way. Not at LionWhale Music, anyway. We believe so strongly in the power of a music education that we offer financial assistance to any family with a genuine need for it and a genuine interest in music. If you or someone you know could use some help, please talk to us. We want to help you move your family in the direction you want to go!