Credibility wih the Long Term Relationship
Mark M., New York
My daughter had been doodling on the piano for years, and at some point she expressed interest in the traditional lesson materials I’d been using prior to teaching SM. When I started SM, she seemed interested, and so she started taking lessons along with a couple of other kids in my first set of groups last Fall. She was 5 and has just turned 6.
For a couple of months now, she has expressed ongoing reservations about lessons, repeatedly saying she wants to stop, or she wants to skip a day of practice, or she wants to stop practicing after just a couple of minutes, etc. I have been as compassionate as I can while also being firm about supporting the long-term relationship. But the more this has happened, the more I’ve questioned whether she really “should” stay with lessons. Finally, today, I felt we’d reached the end of the line, and we declared her finished. While there are number of mixed feelings around that, there is only one aspect I want to seek advice on here.
Despite the truth of the nature of long-term relationships as the SM method describes them, it seems to me that not every pursuit really can be appropriate for every person. It is worthwhile to frame the long-term relationship with music as something which, if it’s lost, can potentially mean that a student may be impacted more generally w/r/t long-term relationships in life. But there isn’t an inevitability to this. Music may just not be right for that particular student, who then goes on to find complete success in cultivating a long-term relationship with some other pursuit and then with various other long-term relationships throughout life.
Listen, I’m not rationalizing about my daughter. I’m well aware that what I’ve just said may be the case with my daughter, and I’m very, very well aware that it might not be the case. My daughter aside, though, what I’ve just said is true. Giving up music doesn’t inherently mean giving up hope of cultivating either genuine lifelong learning or long-term relationships.
My question, then, is, *if* I were to be in a situation where I “let” my daughter quit for the “right” reasons, even that seems to put me in a precarious position as a teacher as I advise others about the long-term relationship and the need to support their kids to see them through. So I’m wondering if there is anyone out there who has been in similar situations, having perhaps “let” someone stop such a long-term relationship, but then found that you could still maintain credibility in talking about such issues with your other students/parents. I’m having a tough time right now seeing how to do that.
But I also certainly do not relish the only alternative I’m seeing right now, which is to keep my daughter in lessons in a way that really seems against her will, just so I can demonstrate to my other students/parents what it means to support a long-term relationship.
Beth S., Tennessee
Yes, I agree that not everything is for everybody, and it is okay for people to make their choices. But in the case of parent/child, it is the parent that sees long-term the benefits and/or necessity of certain activities. It’s quite obvious from your email that you are letting the child decide what to do, not you, and she is only 6!
It basically all boils down to the parent’s view of music, or in this case, piano. If you view it as an extra-curricular activity, then there is wiggle room for the child to get out. If you view it as a vital, absolute necessity to a meaningful life, then there is not. If you believe that the absence of this subject will leave a large “hole” in this child’s future life, then you won’t even consider any option but continuing. We view math, grammar, spelling, history, etc. etc. this way. We might even fight endlessly with a child over math or reading. Do we ever say, “Okay, you hate reading. You’re not that good at it. We fight continually about it. You can stop learning to read now. You’re finished!”? Of course not. How silly. But when it comes to music, there’s the idea that it’s not really necessary or we wouldn’t hesitate or even consider giving it up.
The way to finally convince one’s self is to make a chart for different activities/subjects and under each one make a list of all the pro’s it brings to life. Neil had us do this once for piano at a symposium. The list of benefits was endless, and this idea has never left me. Yes, I fulfilled all my academic requirements growing up, but the one that reaches deeper than any other, is the ability to sit and play piano at night in the dark when the kids are in bed and experience something that no math or science or history could now bring me. Piano for me has been a very long-term relationsh ip that didn’t really bring meaningful fruit for years and years; Very long-term, but worth the wait. I also fought my parents as a child. But they never gave in and now they are also reaping the fruit of their “stubbornness.” It is very fulfilling to them to come to my piano parties, watch me perform, listen to my compositions, etc. What a gift they gave us all!
Cindy B., Illinois
I’ve had this happen often enough that I’ve given it a lot of thought and am willing to share what I think is the bottom line. Let me start with a question. Why do we send our children to school or homeschool them? for an education, right? They need at least all of the basics to be able to function in a highly educated society, and get a decent job.
Is a music education as vital to their quality of life, both now and in the future, as reading writing and arithmetic?
If the answer is yes, then there is no question of compatibility. I can say without any doubt that school, from grades k-16.5 – was INCOMPATIBLE with me. But I had to go. If music education is as important, then there should be no question. If not Simply Music, then something that will provide them with a comprehensive musical literacy. The public ed system is not able to teach what what I personally believe our children need AS MUCH AS (dare I say it?) OR MORE THAN reading, writing, and arithmetic – which is musical literacy.
If music ed is NOT as important, but really rather just one of the many things my child does, then yes, there’s no reason to FORCE them to stick with it.
Ian M., Indiana
I think the most important thing to look at is the big picture, which I see as this: Our responsibility as teachers is to support the Simply Music philosophy, including the nature of the long term relationship and the commitment to helping our students retain music as a lifelong companion.
Ultimately, though, it’s the student (or sometimes the parent) who has the final decision at any point in the process. If someone expresses concern about some aspect of what’s happening with their lessons (or their child’s lessons), it’s up to us as teachers to try to help them figure out some different approach or strategy from where we’re situated – squarely within the SM philosophy. But if someone says “We’re going to discontinue lessons,” it’s up to us to be professional about it and say “I’m sorry to hear that.” (Though if someone is making noises about quitting, we need to make sure that we’re getting at the cause – “Is there anything I can do to persuade you to continue?”)
Mark, I’m sure that the decision you’ve made about your daughter is the one that will work best for your family at this time, and I encourage you to give me a call again in the future if she changes her mind, or if anyone else in your family would like to have lessons.
I really mean the first part of that sentence, and the rest of it is what I’d say if she were my student. (This all comes right after “I’m sorry to hear that.” 😉
So I don’t think your position is precarious at all. I think that if anyone from your daughter’s class wonders why she’s no longer in lessons, you just have a one-sentence explanation (as detailed or as vague as you think appropriate) ready and deliver it professionally with no embarrassment whatsoever.
Another way to say this is that brow-beating is the responsibility of the life coach – not the method coach. Of course, we hope that brow-beating isn’t the main strategy … 😉
I’m not sure if this will answer your question or not. The eternal question of when is it ok to let a child quit….. I have a parent who came up with a wise solution, I think… don’t ever let them quit when they are in a valley because if you do, then you will never know if they are quitting because they really have no interest, or whether they are quitting because it got too hard… temporarily. Time and again, I have talked parents through the valleys and encouraged them to stick with it. In every instance, when they are there to fully support the child and keep them at it with practice and all, they find things get better once they come out on the other side. And so far, I’ve yet to have a student quit when they were experiencing a peak.
As to keeping your daughter in lessons ‘against her will’, well, does that mean if she doesn’t want to do her math, or reading or other things you feel are important you will let her stop because you don’t want to make her do something against her will? Bottom line, do YOU feel it is important for her to stick with this? That’s no different from the decision every other parent you work with will have to make when their child hits a valley and wants to quit. Personally, I have no difficulty at all sharing my personal struggles (as a parent) with my parents. I’m no different from them, I CAN relate to what they are going through. Others may disagree with my approach, but it has been working for me.
Kerry V., Australia
Your words ring so true with my experience. The only difference is that my 5-year-old finished before I started teaching, or even learning, 10 years ago.
What I have found, not only my son but in many other children, that age 5 can produce two different paths for these little youngsters.
One, they love it and are able to continue for the long term. This is usually because of the support of the parents and constant watching the children as they progress and as soon as we see a problem we address it.
Two, they love it but are confused because their minds are not formed enough yet to make decisions. They possibly have much more fantasy or romantic ideas of what piano would be about or be like or produce. Then in reality something else happens. Typical of life. I think starting children at 5 may be an issue if not addressed correctly at the very beginning. I gladly start children before the age of 5 but after I have “interviewed” them and determined where they may be. As well as what kind of support their may be at home.
It can be a very thin line between keeping the lessons on to finishing them. A fine line in keeping your child in an activity or finishing it. You want the best for your child but how far do you go.
Questioning the relationship scale and asking her where she feels she is. Give it a rest, not quit, and revisit it later, after a discussion with your child.
My son is soon to be 16 years old and although he DID return to piano, with me teaching him, he was not interested. He then taught himself the bass guitar and is doing famously. He is in year 10 at school but was put into the year 12 music class. He is now teaching himself electric guitar. All these have been leant from his desire to have music in his life but simply, for him, not piano. Having said that, he still uses the piano for clarification of certain things and uses the songs into his guitar. He keeps asking me when will Neil produce the guitar in SM as he wants to teach it :).
So, maybe give her the break but allow her to know you are giving her the space to let it go, think about it later and revisit the conversation. When my son went back to piano we did give him set rules so he couldn’t just quit when he felt like it.
Anyway, see how you go and good luck with it, I really feel for you.
Janita P., Nebraska
You’re the parent, you are the one who can make the best decision for her. She is only 6, she doesn’t know what is good for her. Children would choose candy rather than broccoli at meals if they had a choice. Are you going to let her quit math class when she doesn’t like it anymore?
Tell her she is going to play the piano until she is 18 and moves out of the house. Make it a non-negotiable issue and turn a deaf ear to her complaining. She eats supper, she practices piano…that’s just how life goes…
She will thank you when she is an adult and can play the piano. I have never had an adult tell me they were thankful their parents let them quit piano lessons.
Or, maybe she was too young when she started. Give her a few years and let her earn the privilege of piano lessons and start her again with no options of an early out.
Dane A., California
Great discussion. I hear Mark and agree with him. But I also hear Janita’s opposition and agree. Just to
add something though.
As teachers we KNOW the cyclical nature of learning (ref: the “stock market” diagram). Things change.
As a teacher in this situation, I tell the parent pretty much everything Janita said.
I also will tell a parent in advance that it’s very common that at some point(s) children will want to quit. They know that. I wanted to quit! But listen to your child’s plight, be sympathetic with them, make sure they know you heard them. The parents biggest ally is TIME. Inform your child that you understand they’re unhappy, but if they still feel that way in the Spring/6 months/next year (pick one), then
you will consider it then. Promise them and make a decision later; for now you both have a big commitment. (Later on, it’s also clearer what the right decision should be.)
I believe our real job is: Help make parents make a good decision.
Mark also has an added variable. Teaching his own child. Mark’s dominant relationship is Parent’ having them as a Teacher can often be a messy prospect. I personally don’t teach friends or family members. I recommend them to another teacher.
Mary R., Michigan
When my SM families ask if either of my daughters play the piano I smile and say “No, the shoemaker’s children go barefoot!” Daughter one took traditional and played beautifully once she had learned a piece, but she struggled mightily with reading and helping her learn new music was making both her teacher and me lose our minds. I finally let her quit after 3 years. She didn’t touch the piano for years and just this year has started writing her own, beautiful compositions and will sit at the piano composing for long stretches. She is also a remarkable artist.
Daughter two started SM, but soon fell behind her group as she had no parental support—I was too tired teaching other people’s kids!! She seems not to miss it at all and has become a lovely singer, actress and wildly funny story teller. This summer she asked to learn The Pipes and I obliged.
This may seem like sacrilege but I do believe that piano may not be for everybody and each soul will find their own path to creative expression. So take off the cloak of guilt. She may come back to it –or not. It’s all ok.
Debbie V., Oklahoma
My daughter playing SM piano is what got me started. During level 3 she started getting “tired of it” and wanted to quit. She was 8 years old. I told her she couldn’t quit before the end of the school year, but she could have the summer off. After several weeks of not playing anything she would go back to the piano and “play around” with it. She would come home from church and figure out how to play one of the songs we sang. Usually only the right hand melody. She wouldn’t let me be involved at all.
When fall came we discussed piano lessons again and she didn’t want to take lessons. I ended up not forcing her to, but just watching what she was doing on her own. After several months she would “figure out” the left hand to the church songs all by herself. Occassionally she would ask a question. I would answer it and leave her alone. This went on for a few years. She learned so much on her own she could and still does play circles around me. She also took up the clarinet 3 years ago and has learned so much in three years she is the most advanced student the teacher has ever had. She is trying to start lessons with our 1st chair philharmonic player, but he said he doesn[‘t teach high school students. He changed his mind when he heard her play and talked to her band and orchestra leaders. She plans to go to college as a music performance major
My point is some people learn differently than others and may need lessons to get started, but are better off left alone when they are ready. My suggestion is don’t let anyone quit on their terms, but make it be at the semester break or end of year break whenever possible so if it is just a low time they will be over it and will probably continue.
If they want a break then let them have some time off and see where they are a month or two later. Also keep in mind music is in your house whether she plays or not. She is so young she probably will come back but may want to do something different from everyone else. Let her choose another instrument realizing she can’t quit until high school graduation if you agree to lessons again.
Claire L., Australia
My own take on it is this – whilst we all wish our own children to both share our passions, and learn from our ‘mistakes’ I am not sure whether is the best thing to wish on our children. Some of the best things I’ve learned as an adult I’ve learnt the most painful way possible!
Although as adults we can ‘know’ the joy that having a musical skill gives us, I’m not sure (at all!) that this means we can ‘know’ it will mean the same to someone else. At the end of the day I’m not sure I want my children to learn that they ‘have’ to do something that they feel no passion for whatsoever… especially when piano is a negotiable skill – it’s not something they need (as they do language, mathematical skills, reasoning, communication skills etc etc). Perhaps I feel the need to allow my children to develop some inner trust and to find something they are truly passionate about themselves. I don’t think I would thank my parents for forcing me to do something I truly disliked, and yet which was meant to be a positive emotional outlet. What a strange message that would be?
Clearly as parents we are all required to draw lines in the sand, and these lines differ for all of us. Some lines are evident – you need to understand mathematics, and you need to be able to discipline yourself and work towards long term goals, for example. But does my child need to learn piano? Of my 3 children, 1 plays the piano, 1 tinkers on it, and has a love/hate relationship with the guitar, and 1 has no interest whatsoever, but LOVES pottery. And, I have to say the last one is the happiest, most centred and balanced child of all of them.