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Some Music Teachers Are Ruining Young Kids' Love of Music

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

By assigning practice time unrealistically, and having the same expectations as college-level students.

 

Learning a musical instrument is hard. It takes discipline, coordination, memory, pattern recognition, and the effort to be able to practice and understand this "new language" that is unlike anything else most students have seen beforehand.


In my years of teaching, I have seen over 1,000 private students (1 on 1). I've worked at Music Stores, institutions, taught privately for over 6 years, and have built this music school with the vision that kids will have fun while learning their instrument, and will not see it as a "chore", think of it as "boring", or give up due to losing motivation.


If you teach at a music store or an institution (conservatory, private music school), then you most likely see your student once or twice a week. Along with teaching this student, you often begin to get to know the parents as well. From small conversations regarding life while the student is setting up, to the general "music talk" that the parents like to share, which is when they discuss the practicing habits of their kids, as well as how their progress is going.


The biggest one I would hear: "I'm having a hard time getting Jimmy to practice for an hour every day... what should I do?"


 

This question is always a tricky one for the parents, and a head-scratcher for their friends and family members. There are all sorts of theories that roam in their head and they want to hear the golden answer that will help them make their child start practicing.


They reach out to their friends and other coaches and the answer they always suggest is:

"They may not like it, but they’ve gotta do it. They don't realize it now, but they will thank you later in life that you made them practice".



And I disagree.



I, as a teacher, know that the parents simply want the best for their kids, and seeing them not practice is something they want to fix.


I would smile and respond with "That is 100% normal, don't worry". - knowing that I do not require Jimmy to practice for 1 Hour every day, as he is only 9 years old.


The truth of the matter is; The kid doesn't want to practice - So he/she isn't practicing.


Practicing isn't fun. Ask any musician, ask any music-lover, and ask any professional. Nobody likes to practice. The difference is that a professional musician has learned the importance of practicing and knows what it can bring - a kid that is just starting out does not.


As we dive deeper into this question, you might realize that even though you tell your kid and you show them how important practicing truly is for them or their future, they might pick up the violin but only for 5 minutes.


You ask them: "Why? Keep going! Practicing is important, right?"

And they will respond with: "Yes, but I don't wanna do this for 55 more minutes!".


And a responsible parent would say: "I know sweetie, but Mr. Jonathan said you have to practice for 1 hour every day to get better!".


The kid hears those words and it puts them back into the thought process of:

"This isn't fun." ... "This is boring"... "I don't want to do this"...


And they're right.


It is boring to practice for 1 hour every day.

It is absolutely draining and not fun to practice for one hour straight when you are just a kid.

 

Music Teachers are assigning homework unrealistically.


Any teacher that assigns more than 30 minutes of practice per day to a child that is under 13 years old is effectively shortening that kid's "joy" in that instrument.


It makes that student dread the time they have to go to the piano and "practice".


And I am ready for all of the criticism that will come my way, or the parents that choose to stop reading this post.


If you do force a kid to practice the time that most books/methods suggest regardless of their age, then in two months, when asked if they are still having fun with their instrument, the answer will be No.


They have grown to hate it, as they cannot possibly justify having to go to the piano every single day for 1 hour straight to do what feels like an "obligation".


The teacher took the FUN of playing an instrument out of you and only focused on making you a prodigy player.


Why does this happen?


Because nobody has tried to break the cycle. Your teacher was taught by their teacher that you must always practice, even if you don't like it. Their teacher before them taught them the same principle. Practice Practice Practice. - It is the same algorithm that they have followed throughout their path to becoming professionals, and it has worked.


So all teachers teach based on the way they were taught.


The only problem is that they don't take into consideration that these 7, 8, 9, 10-year-old kids do not want to "practice in order to get better". - They want to have fun.

The 8-year-old kiddo wants to play handball outside, or play on the computer with their friends and be a kid.

The 13-year-old kid wants to be a kid and worry about their first ever crush on a girl, and everything else that comes with being in middle school.


 

There are two reasons that a kid under the age of 14 years old is taking music lessons.


1) Mom or Dad wants them to learn this instrument. - It's their dream, or they want to give their kid something to become successful at.


2) The kid heard the instrument somewhere that interested them in learning it, hoping that they'll be able to start and produce the sound they heard. (They try a couple of lessons, and quickly realize this is going to be hard and they will have to practice, which leads them to lose interest in it and lose motivation).


None of those reasons were "Because they want to become a child prodigy!".


If you ask a college level or even a high school student why they are playing or practicing their instrument, they will respond with "It is what I want to do in life".

"I want to be a Violinist when I grow up".

"I want to join a symphony"

: I want to move up a chair in my orchestra and become the first chair".


In all of these scenarios, when kids are older, they are now motivated by their choice.


What is our takeaway?


That most kids under 14 do not want to practice. They cannot have the same mindset that your teacher taught you, that "you must always practice every single day", and you shouldn't expect them to!


It is unrealistic for you as a teacher to expect the kid to go home and practice.


 

So, How do you fix this as a teacher?


By approaching the lesson with Understanding. By approaching the lesson knowing that this 10-year-old kid in front is more busy BEING A KID, rather than sitting and practicing every single day diligently and carefully like a college-level student does.


Become okay with the fact that your student may not progress as fast as you would like them to, but remove all expectations of "how fast they should be advancing", and begin molding and adapting to how they learn.


Change Your Mindset to conduct lessons where your job as a teacher is to preserve the "fun" and "interest" the kids initially have while leading them through progress in their instrument at whatever pace necessary to keep them engaged.


If you are a teacher, what should you do? Not Assign Homework? Not Assign Practice?


No. But be realistic with the amount and what you assign.


When I assign homework for a student to practice, I only assign what I know will benefit them the next time I see them. When I assign it, I am realistic about it. I don’t expect a kid to sit down 7 days a week and do this exercise!


Instead, I think very objectively about how much time it would take for the kid to learn what it needs to learn from this "Etude" or "Excercise". - The answer most of the time depends on the age.



On average, I would suggest

​6 to 7 Years Old: 10 Minutes two or three times a week. (it is important to just get these kids playing and getting used to what this instrument is all about)


8 to 10 Year Old: 15 - 20 Minutes Every OTHER day. (Once again, practicing at this age is mostly just doing what you did with your teacher over again to get the coordination right and get used to the instrument)


10 to 13 Years Old: 20 Minutes Every OTHER day. (At this age, you are now practicing to begin improving your skill and what you learned during the lesson).


13-15 Years Old: 20 Minutes Every Day. (Every day will be hard, so we lower down the time to 20 minutes. This is plenty of time for you to begin getting the hang of whatever technique or song you are learning every day).


16 - 18+ Years Old: 30 Minutes to 1 Hour Every Day. (At this level, you are now playing this instrument and taking lessons because YOU want to. YOU have motivation to learn this instrument, and the “fastest” way is 30 minutes to an Hour every day).

This varies and varies for different levels of play, different types of students, and depending on the type of piece/etude they are learning, but this is the average scenario.



 

Parents, It is important that you spend a good amount of time not only looking for a teacher that is willing to adapt to your child's learning patterns, pace, and interests, but also spending some time taking a look at your own expectations for your kid. Allow the teacher to take the lead when introducing them into the world of music, and do not try to enforce a vision of how much You think your kid should practice.


Teachers, make sure that you re-assess why you do what you do. If your vision is to become the world's most reputable teacher, and gain the biggest clientele, then you are doing it for the wrong motive. You will gain the most recognition, and your clientele will grow much faster when you prioritize whether your student actually wants to play piano, or if they are being forced to.


 


IT IS WORTH teaching in a way that the kid cannot wait to pick up their instrument and start to play.


The individually-approached student might progress slower than one that is forced to practice daily, but it will NEVER "stop progressing" until they reach a point where proper motivation begins to form.






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