Supportive parent but student wants to quit
Megan W., Washington
I have a very nice boy in one of my 4 person group lessons all about age 7-8. We just started foundation 3. His mom is very supportive although she doesn’t play herself and has 5 other kids so she doesn’t spend much time with him at the piano during his practicing at home.
She values the skill of playing piano and has always come to lessons and is engaged during them. The little boy is very polite during lessons but he has been really struggling at home. He only wants to play the few songs he likes (only the classical ones) and bursts into tears and stonily refuses to continue practicing. His mom really wants him to continue but she is considering stopping because she can’t actually make him practice and she is having some major medical problems which require her to be away from home for the next 2 months on and off. His anger at practicing has been going on since the 2nd month of lessons. My own son is in this group as well and he cries a lot too but we’ve managed to keep going.
She asked me for ideas to help the situation but I’m not sure that I can give her many more. Her son is even at the point where he’s began to tell people how much he hates the piano (which isn’t that great for business since we are a small community) We’ve gone over and over the foundation session ideas and I use the graph almost every class.
What do you think? Should I let them go without a lot more effort or keep struggling on?
Christa S., Ohio
I have had two similar cases recently. In both, I used the progress chart on the back of the playlist (or poster) and we talked about where the student felt they were. I explained that these feelings were real and normal. And, that I, even as old as I am, sometimes have times I don’t want to practice, have pieces I do not like to play and hit valleys. I then asked the child to make a deal with me. For one week, I wanted them to focus on really playing everything on the playlist at least one time a day. Their 5 newest songs I wanted them to play twice a day and mark it down. I also told them I do not allow people to quit in the middle of a Foundation level because the parents have already purchased the materials and I have planned on them being in class (I ALWAYS talk to the parent separately and in private first and tell them this is what I am going to do). I tell the child that I believe they are old enough and mature enough to make this decision without mom and dad pushing them and we need to have the deal be between us. Mom and dad (or whoever the coach is) will remind them but will not fuss at them.
In talking to the parents, I ask them to take the emphasis off “practice” and remind the child to “play” the piano. I got this from the new playlist training and it has changed my thinking too. I also share with the parents that, while it is not pleasant, it is our responsibility to teach persistence and perseverance and it will pay dividends in piano and life later.
As we approached the end of the Foundations (levels 1 and 2 respectively for my two students) I started sharing what they would learn in the next one, while still offering that at the end they could stop (this was with the parent’s blessing – I would not have done it otherwise). In both cases, not only did the student decide to continue but they are both at peaks right now and are really absorbing and enjoying not only the Foundation materials, but accompaniment and arrangements. I saw both yesterday and they are excited about the upcoming recital. The little girl was at the nursing home the other night when I had to have the students play much more than I had originally prepped them to do (I had asked each to pick two songs but then we had several not show up). She confidently was able to play just about everything on her playlist and enjoyed the arena of performance.
Just my experience but I would encourage the child to continue.
Darla B., Kansas
I know where you’re coming from. I have been there too and it is so disheartening! I started teaching in the Fall of 2008, and a group that started soon after consisted of 3 students ages 6, 8 & 9. It was probably about a year after lessons that one of the boys began asking to quit and saying he hated piano. His mother was very supportive and engaged and came to me. She did not want him to quit, but hated the constant fight.
I searched Simpedia and wrote on the Forum for help. I ended up sharing with the mother that what I’d heard was most effective was to simply let the child know that piano is not a choice–just like school, brushing teeth, bedtime, etc, etc. It doesn’t matter how many tantrums are thrown, or how much whining, etc, piano still has to be practiced. I also shared that I had read that someone said that you should never let someone quit while they are in a valley.
It turned out that this was just the ammunition this parent needed. She made it clear to her son that piano was non-negotiable and she would not let him quit while he was in a valley. There have been many long valleys and plateaus since then, but this student is now in the 7th grade, and just finished level 8. This mom just emailed me two days ago with a video of her son playing an accompaniment to the Beatles’ “Let it Be”. She was so thrilled because this was not an assignment or part of his practice time, but playing for fun on his own–an absolute rarity with him even now. This mother thanks me often for giving her the tools to get through the miserable valleys and for the wonderful gift of music that SM has given her son.
She also said in the email with the video that she’s thinking now that she’s not going to let him quit after 8th grade after all. I made the comment that it was so neat to have teenage boys that are willing to continue lessons. And she brought me back to earth–she doesn’t know how willing he is, but it’s her decision………I would love it if all my students loved piano and always wanted to continue, but that’s not the reality, even with a great method like SM.
What I love about this story is that despite all the trials along the way, the parents in this family have found a way to effectively communicate the importance of music education to their children. This might not be helpful in your particular situation–there have been other parents that have not bought into this or been able to use it. However, every parent who really understood and made the decision that piano lessons is that important they weren’t going to let their child make the decision, has found a way to make it work.
As to your fear of him spreading a bad word about SM in a small community, I so understand that fear as well. I started off transitioning 10 traditional students to SM. 13 months later, all but one of those had quit and some with bad feelings–mostly because I had not effectively communicated the role of reading and how it would fit in. (I’ve learned so much from my mistakes!!) Anyway, I knew that one particular family was saying really bad things about me, and I was so worried, because I too live in a very small community ( a town of 3,000 in a rural area). However, my reputation has grown and at this point–4 1/2 years down the road–my studio is full with a waiting list. I also have great retention of students now.
Carrie L., Michigan
I recently have a student that wants to quit and the parent told him he needs to finish Level 4 first. That he can quit when he’s finished the project and not cause of laziness!
I think it’s great! We actually talked about it in the lesson and I discussed if he really works on his playlist and practicing then he can just quit faster!