Lundblad Piano Studio

The Peaks and Valleys of Learning a Skill:  Dealing with students who are losing interest

Many parents think their child should just rush home and want to practice the piano.  Some do.  Most don't.  Children need help getting motivated to do things that are work, and although practicing can be is also work.  Children go through peaks, plateaus and valleys during their years of musical study.  Trends I've seen:

  • There is usually a motivational "honeymoon period" at the start of piano lessons. Everything is new and exciting, and parents tend to take more interest and help more when lessons begin. 
  • As lessons progress, however, students begin learning the basics on the staff, and their pieces sound pretty...basic.  They realize that they have to work to make their piano pieces sound good, and just want to sound good without the work that goes into it.  This is much like the time where children are learning to read.  At first it's fun to learn the letters, but when they come to the point where they are highly encouraged to begin reading, they suddenly decide that they don't need to learn to read, after all; it's too much work.  This time in piano lessons (especially when students start reading steps and skips on the staff) is often where students plateau or start to lose interest.  Parents may help at home by encouraging and supporting their child's practice, and teaching them about short-term and long-term goals.  I, as a teacher, really encourage note reading, because that is one basic step that is foundational to all future years of piano lessons and their enjoyment of music, in general.  I often add a special "fun book" of familiar pieces to help motivate students at this time.  Other times, especially with transfer students, we will try a whole new method to get another perspective and another try at how to read notes.
  • It usually gets better, though!  After students get over the "hump" of learning basic note reading--differentiating steps, skips, and repeats well, they begin to "get it" and start to enjoy the sound of the music they're making and start going up in both motivation and progress.  This is akin to the time when students have learned their letters in school, learned basic words, and suddenly understand how to read basic books.  Reading is suddenly fun, and they want to read more and more books! (Side note:  Kids who don't practice regularly sometimes never master note reading.  They really need to do it every day to push through this phase.)
  • Some students keep going "up" at this point, reading more and more difficult pieces, and some slump and plateau again, and this cycle keeps repeating itself over and over through the years of piano lessons.  This is how it is with learning many skills--especially academic ones such as reading, writing and arithmetic.  How many times has your child wanted to just give up on those, and you kept persevering, knowing the final payoff will be extremely beneficial to them? 
  • Other trends:  Students often want to end lessons at the following times:  Major grade changes, such as a change to junior high, or a change to high school, or a change to another school.  Students sometimes take lessons to learn to read basic music with the purpose being to play a band instrument or sing in the choir later on.  Just knowing that these times or change are coming up (and deciding how you will handle these situations in advance) will help to further prepare you to decide how long your child will take lessons.  Will they "push through" at these key times, or switch from piano lessons to try their hand at making music in choir, band or orchestra?  Will they take both instruments?  Would they like to pursue college scholarships, or play for the pure enjoyment of making music? 
  • No skill worth learning will be easy or fun all of the time.  Some years will go well, and there will be trying years for some students.  But the top of the mountain is well worth the peaks and valleys of the climb!

Tips for parents in these times:

  • Keep the student practicing consistently:  Make sure your child keeps practicing at least 5 days a week.  If they are downward-spiraling, the spiral and loss of interest will only intensify with little to no practice, because not only do they not like it, but suddenly nothing that they play sounds good (because they're not practicing!)  The only way to get out of this kind of pattern is to practice and through practicing, start enjoying playing piano again.
  • Keep encouraging and paying attention:  Start listening to your child at home as often as you can.  Make encouraging remarks about their progress.  Ask them how their piano lesson went after they have it.  Invite others to come and listen to them, too! (You can even Skype or FaceTime grandparents, friends and other relatives.)
  • Alternatives:  Piano is arguably a tough instrument, as a student often has to read and play many notes at a time per beat, all stacked on top of one another.  Some students have trouble with this kind of reading and coordination, but may be musically successful switching to a band instrument or using their talents in a choir.  (Both band and choir usually have you play or sing only one note at a time, which can be easier for some kids.)

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