Why I let my children quit piano lessons

Finley Moore a beautiful piano playerIT broke my heart but this is why I let my children stop piano lessons. Making decisions for our children is 90% of this parenting gig. Making decisions to have them immunised (always yes), which kindy to send them to, which school, what foods to feed them, and so on. We make myriad decisions every day on behalf of our kids. Today I made the decision to allow my children to stop piano lessons after two years of dedicated study. I’ve shed some tears over this decision because I’m so very sad about it and a part of me thinks it’s the wrong call, but here’s why I did it.

We’ve been studying piano in the Suzuki method through a wonderful, wonderful teacher, whom I love like a mother. She’s nurturing and warm, while at the same time being strict and disciplined.

Remember Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? A first person account of a Chinese American mother who sacrificed her relationship with her daughters to make sure they learned a classical instrument (piano and violin) to concert standard. When I read that I fell in love with her tenacity, or perhaps her capacity to push her children that hard, with scant regard for the consequences of their relationship. I admired her ability to create a goal and focus on that end result, letting no obstacle get in her way.

Boy sits at the pianoBut I also agreed with her fundamental philosophy – you can’t give something up until you are good at it and you know fully what you are giving up. You must master it to then be able to make an informed decision. I’m totally on board with that.

So when I enrolled my children in piano classes I was determined to push them onward for years and, if they expressed a desire to quit when they hit high school, well, no problem. They’d be proficient by then and able to make an informed decision.

I also believe that to raise children to have self-discipline and the ability to work hard and stick at something, they need to be shown what that looks like. They need to understand that it takes daily practice and sacrifice to become good at something. It’s a valuable life skill and they’ll go far if they master self-discipline combined with a good work ethic.

Another driving force was a worldly understanding of basic chemistry – chicks dig musicians. I’ve been at plenty of parties where friends of mine (shout out to the adorable Marty Worrall and Scotty Aplin) have sat down at an old piano in the corner and started belting out some great tunes that got everyone singing along. Those guys are the cool guys in the room.

And so, at a nine-year-old friend’s birthday party recently, when my son lifted the lid on the old upright piano in the corner and started playing a few tunes and everyone rushed over to hear him play, my heart swelled with pride and a little smug voice in my head said, “Told you so!”.

At the Christmas concert every year, my three prepare a piece each and play it for the whole Suzuki family. Those concerts were a highlight for me because I could see how far they’d come. My children were playing complicated pieces, two hands, and doing it pretty much flawlessly. Mostly. And Finley thrived in the spotlight! He loved it. In our first year concert, at the end the MC asked if anyone would like to come up and play a second piece and he did – and leaped off the stage at the end with some Liberace pizzazz! It was a joy to watch.

But truth be told, those moments were few and far between in the two years we’ve been studying. And in between those moments are the daily fights getting the three of them to sit down and do their practice. Daily. Fights.

I tried every reward system under the sun and they would work for a little while before petering out. In the end I was using brute force. “Sit there and do your practice!” I would yell. “Back straight, feet flat, wrists up!”. They were miserable, I was miserable.

Girl sits at grand pianoToday, when my daughter achieved proficiency in a small part of a larger piece, I congratulated her and she said she wanted to go get a drink, or brush her hair or something, can’t remember what. And, disgusted she didn’t want to sit and finish the piece, I said, “Go on then, bugger off”. The tone was dismissive and hurtful. And she burst into tears.

This is not how I speak to my children. This is not the mother I want to be.

In that moment I realised it was time to give piano a break. I am not a tiger mother and I won’t raise perfect piano-playing children. And that’s the heart of the issue, and really, that is why I let my children quit piano lessons.

Maybe after a break, they’ll come back to it. But if they do, it will be because they want to and not because I want them to. It needs to be their dream, not mine.

In the meantime, I have asked their teacher to consider taking me on as a student and perhaps if I realise my dream, it won’t matter to me as much that they don’t play.

We’ll see.

What do you think?

Was I right to let them quit? Or have I failed as a parent? Have you got/had dreams for your kids that they stubbornly refuse to take on as their own? What happened when you let them quit?

16 thoughts on “Why I let my children quit piano lessons”

  1. Felicity, I think you did the right thing. I played the organ for years as a child (not as cool as the piano, but still!) and loved it, despite not being that great at it. Then as I got older, I found other things I was into and quit – my parents let me quit without question, which was great considering all the years and money they had poured into lessons.
    My current parenting dilemma is that I really, really, really, want my oldest child to play a sport this year – any sport! But despite my pushing and bribing and cajoling, he’s just not that into the idea. So, I feel your pain.

    1. Thanks Brooke! Hang in there with the sport thing. Lots of kids don’t get the bug until middle primary school when all their friends are doing it. I hope it happens for you!

    1. Yes, you’re right, Westie. Regrets are a waste of time. Better to learn a lesson. What I failed to mention was that Fin has joined the school band and will be learning bass guitar this year, so his musical journey continues, just on another instrument.

  2. Hi Felicity
    You have given me food for thought here. I have done exactly the same thing as you, and pushed-HARD (every point you made here, I was nodding furiously). I have two sons who have reached year six AMEB and another about to begin year three. My twin daughters are just starting out. However, my wonderful music teacher’s husband has been taken desperately ill and she has suddenly stopped lessons. Which brings me to my point. The peace! OMG the peace! No more arguing in the morning, and if I sit down to play myself, I suddenly have all these instructors ‘helping’ (and taking over). Music is enjoyable. Fancy that. The dilemma is, do I have them start lessons with another teacher and keep the ball rolling? Or do we all enjoy a break. Is it for me or them? What is the right thing to do? It’s a tricky one…

    1. Oooh, Mrs Catch! Congratulations on such a wonderful achievement! Year SIX in AMEB is sensational! As is Year Three! Well done, you! (And to the kids who put in all the hard work!). Good luck with making that decision! It is very, very tricky.

  3. As you know, I went through the same thing, only a LOT earlier in the piece. My sanity & relationship with my children was far more important to me than them being proficient at an instrument.
    I would still like them to learn one though. I spent 4 years learning piano but, due to a distinct lack of dedication to regular practice despite actually enjoying the instrument, didn’t get past 2nd grade. Same thing happened with my three attempts at violin – though there it was more concern for the neighbours that stopped me practicing. However, now I am on my third instrument, the cello, and that early learning is making it much easier than it otherwise would be. Practice is still an issue – but at least it is only myself I have to argue with, or blame now. 😉
    It is never too late. Have a go at learning yourself, it is a great stress relief and you will fulfil one of your own dreams. Watch out for the kids interrupting and wanting to play when they see you do it though. 🙂 Bound to happen.
    And let me know when you are ready for a duet.

    1. Thanks Rachel, I’ve heard back from our teacher and she’s disappointed, but happy to take me on as a student – yay! I’ve been learning along with the kids and am only a few songs behind so hopefully I’ll be finished book one soon!

  4. Hi Felicity

    What a wonderful gift is the ability to make music. I grew up in a family where my father was an accomplished piano player and many of us grew up with music as part of the home. He played the piano every day and it was for enjoyment of himself and whoever was with him. If you can spend the time now, while the kids are young, to work hard then, I am sure, it is something they will be forever grateful.

    My father was very thankful he was made to do the daily practice in his youth and I am now disappointed that he thought I was better at climbing trees.

    Cheers Michael

  5. I think each child is blessed with talents given to him by God. For Gods glory, music can be enriching, beautiful and wonderful but at the same time, it can nurture pride in self. Music can bring one closer to Our Creator edifying our minds or go south. One does need to ask the question what spirit am i nurturing. I too have children, who practising music and have asked myself, what for this upward battle, i said to my children should they not want to practise, i will refuse to pay for lessons. Time spent training children to do gardening, cooking and other useful activities will probably be of far greater use to them. Rose

  6. I teared as I read this post. I just informed my son’s piano teacher that we are quitting. She tried to persuade me to stay on but we told her the decision is final. She realized that we meant it this time (ya, we have been talking about this issue for the past 6months). After informing the teacher, I told my son that the coming lesson will be our last lesson, I expected him to heave a sign of relief or be elated. I did not expect him to bawl and cry that he was not ready to give up and promise he will try harder. I couldn’t help it and break down and cried together with him.To be frank, I don’t want to give, but I am tired of being that nasty mommy who had to retort to cane to get my son to the keyboard. From praises to bribery, I hv reached to the point of threatening. Lotsa tension between us, also beteen my hubby and me. Hubby think that I am just exerting duress on his son. He regreted that he agreed to let him learn piano 1 yr ago. This is not the kind of learning journey I was looking for. I told my son he can go back piano again If he promised me that he takes the initiative to practise daily. He promised he will, but I highly doubt it.. Dare not raise my expectation too high.

  7. As long as you have to remind (and sometimes force) your children to brush their teeth, you’ll have to remind them (and sometimes force) them to practice the piano. Treat lessons like homework – they don’t have to desire a career as a concert pianist to get benefits out of piano lessons.
    -a former student who wanted to quit but her mom wouldn’t let her

    1. Sure, but they don’t turn brushing their teeth into a nightmare of tear-filled hours. They brush their teeth in 10 minutes. Piano practice takes hours and puts undue stress on them and me and strains our relationship.

  8. It’s not a “break”. You let them quit so life would be more convenient for you. Children need parents to teach them how to organize their time so they can practice and study. Will you let them quit math when the homework is hard? They probably will never go back to it. What a shame.

    1. The boys have since taken up bass guitar and the eldest has persisted for three years, recently winning a bursary at his school awards night for his persistence to his music studies. 🙂

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!