When is it ok to drop a student?

October 21, 2019, 7:41 AM · Hey all!

My name is Michael, I've been a member here for years, but I mostly just lurk and learn from everyone else's posts!

A story:
Say you have a student who you've been teaching almost a year. They started out very enthusiastic and the parent seemed to be pretty involved and interested in their violin playing. Fast forward 6-8 months, several lessons this student admits "I didn't practice at all this week" and when asked why the answer is perpetually "I don't know". Parents seems totally uninterested in lessons and doesn't reinforce a practice routine.

You try giving them less to work on, cut their how long you expect them to practice, try changing material, so on...and no dice.

How long do you (personally, I want to see how other process this) let this go on before having the proverbial "we should see other people" talk?

Replies (40)

October 21, 2019, 8:27 AM · Do it now.
One question though. What excuse would you accept? Homework? Sports?
October 21, 2019, 8:40 AM · If both parent and student were interested at the start and now both are not, is it possible that there’s an issue at home that’s impinging on everything? Not sure what you do about that , though.
October 21, 2019, 8:54 AM · Michael,

I believe that there is only one reason for a person to play the violin (or any other instrument) is because that person really wants to play the instrument.

To be sure, there are parents who want their child to learn the violin (or some other instrument) because "it is good for them." Right! Also, it ticks off a box for their eventual application to Harvard.

It is frustrating as a teacher to have a student who has either no, or lost interest in the instrument. You can turn lessons into guided practice, ask the student what music they like and find some tune that they want to play and use that to teach as well as regain interest.

As a final tactic (I use this one) with parents who are ticking off the boxes, make the parent learn alongside their child - if it is good for the child it should also be beneficial for the parent. Usually, when I make that offer that is the last time I see that family again.

Edited: October 21, 2019, 10:41 AM · I would give a warning first. Something like, "I enjoy working with you, but if you don't have room in your life for regular practicing, these lessons are not going to be productive. I don't want to be wasting your time or your parents' money. I need you to commit to practicing (X minutes per day) for (X days a week) in order for these lessons to continue. If that isn't possible for you, then your lesson on (X day) will be our last.

The exact numbers will depend on the student's age and maturity level as well as on your tolerance. For a young student, I would suggest 20 minutes a day, five days a week as a minimum, and a two week grace period. For an older student, 30 minutes to 45 minutes a day, six days a week, as an average (it wouldn't bother me if a busy high school student did just 20 minutes a day on school days if they made up for it on the weekend--obviously not ideal, but I like to allow for exams, papers due, etc).

Editing to add, I once had a long-time student--like over ten years (she had started with me at age 5)--who basically quit practicing. I put up with it for much longer than was reasonable because of the length of the relationship. Finally I told her that I wasn't firing her, but I needed her to have completed two hours of practicing at home before scheduling another lesson. Needless to say I never saw her again.

Editing again to say that for an elementary age (or younger) student, the parent needs to be part of this conversation from the beginning.

October 21, 2019, 10:22 AM · I am not a violin teacher, but I am a parent of kids who take violin, piano, ballet, and karate as part of their extra curricular activities.

The only activity that I "nudged" them to take was karate (I showed them animated videos of princesses kicking bad people's backside... lol). They have a natural interest in music, and they were the ones who actually ask us if they can take violin, piano, and ballet lessons.

But there have been times when my kids missed lessons, or didn't practice, or didn't come prepared for their lessons for various reasons. There are even times when my kids just don't want to learn violin/piano/ballet/karate anymore. But fortunately, those moments are just fleeting.

There are times when both their violin and piano teachers would gently remind them (and us parents) to practice the lesson that was given. But sometimes, it is just inevitable that they're not able to practice - sometimes the reason is valid, sometimes it's not. But in any case, the teachers always make sure that we, the parents, are always involve in their learning.

Having said all that, I know both teachers have dropped students. I've also seen the same students that were dropped come back in a few months, or even after a year. So I guess it depends on the circumstance involved.

In my children's case, I also know both violin and piano teachers have a waiting list of potential students just waiting for an opening, even though there are other teachers in the area. I'm not sure if that "cushion" of having potential students in waiting is a contributing factor for their teachers to drop students when they underperform though.

Edited: October 21, 2019, 10:29 AM · My teachers growing up told me that if I did not practice they would not teach me - with my mother's knowledge and approval of his teaching philosophy. So, I'm not really of much personal help because I was terrified of never practicing enough for lessons (even though I never practiced "well")- when in high school, this amount was at a minimum 7hrs per week (1hr per day) - and I had A LOT of extracurriculars.

I would ask this student if there is something that is keeping them from practicing, when they say "I don't know" - maybe you could offer some possibilities such as: is this too hard for you, do you still enjoy this, is something else more interesting to you right now, or, are you having challenges elsewhere in your life that make things like this too hard to do right now? (Speak in their language, if this is a young kid, obviously these questions would need to be reworded and approached differently.)

After having a discussion to the extent possible with the kid, and either getting somewhere or not, then I'd want to speak with the parents about how the student needs more support at home (if the answers from the student indicate that this would be the appropriate course of action) and take it from there. If speaking with the parents is not possible, then you may be the only support (adult) that the kid gets from a reliable adult; you can choose to be in the position to be that support for the student and offer guidance to the extent possible. (I used to teach kids who, let's just say, did not have the best start in life and struggled as a result.)

If the reason is the tick-off-the-box-for-college one, then I am fully on board with George's strategy!

And, honestly, remembering what I was like as a kid, I probably would not care if my parents' money was wasted if I was being forced to do something I did not want to do. I'd just do the bare minimum to get by, and let my parents deal with the accountability issue (because, um, I was being forced to do something that I did not want to do anymore). If the parents are trying to live out their failed (or never tried) musician dreams on the kid, then putting the onus on the kid to not waste the parents' money is not helpful for the kid.

October 21, 2019, 10:27 AM · I'd ask/suggest a few things:

1) What is the student's age? This will determine the level of parental involvement they should be receiving. I wouldn't expect a typical kid who is less than 10 years old to practice routinely without being at least nudged in that direction by a parent. At that age, they lack the maturity to really appreciate why practicing is important and all they can see is that they are surrounded by their non-musical peers who don't have to put in that same time commitment (i.e. they get to have fun while the student has to practice). If the child is a bit older, this is less of an excuse, as the child has to become somewhat accountable for their studies.

2) Have you probed deeper? I can understand a child saying "I don't know," but sometimes you have to ask them more specific questions (often in yes/no form) to get them to actually admit why they didn't practice. If they have the audacity to admit that they just didn't feel like it, then you know you're wasting your time with this student. It might be useful to cross-reference the child's excuse for not practicing with the parent. Oftentimes, kids will give excuses about being busy or having a ton of work and the parent can tell you with authority if the child spends a lot of time playing video games, hanging out with friends, etc. Still, I'd bet some good money that with the "I don't know" answer, there isn't a good reason for the child's lack of preparedness.

3) If you feel that nothing else is working, maybe put the student (and parent) on notice. For any good teacher, a lot goes into every student - time and energy is spent thinking about what is best for them outside of lesson hours. If that student isn't willing to meet you halfway, they aren't worth your time, regardless of the fact that they are paying you. Some teachers keep students like this because they still want the money, but I appreciate that you are putting productivity and professionalism above personal gain. Putting them on notice means that you indicate to both parent and child that you're seeing a lack of dedication and/or motivation. Give them the opportunity to turn this around but mention that if they fail to do so, you'll have to drop them to make time for students who are serious about learning.

October 21, 2019, 11:11 AM · Thanks for the responses guys, I really appreciate it!

I know some of you seem anxious that I didn't give more details, I withheld a lot for privacy sake, it being the internet and all.

October 21, 2019, 12:04 PM · I went through a period, from around 11 to 13, when I had very little interest in practicing, and for a whole school year (at boarding school, where there were lots of distractions and very few practice rooms) basically didn't practice at all. One of those years was also spent in a medically-enforced minimal ability to pick up the violin, severely restricting my practice time to just a few minutes a day, plus lessons and orchestra rehearsals. (I spent all three of those years as either a youth orchestra concertmaster or principal 2nd.)

I hated the repertoire I was working on, there was a lot of dull technique to learn, and for about a three-period period I arrived underprepared, culminating in the school year where I hadn't practiced even once all week. Interestingly, by doing 90 minute lessons, I was still making good progress, because it turns out that 90 meticulously used minutes with a skilled teacher, spent on just one or two Kreutzer etudes, means that you can learn a technique by dint of someone correcting every small deviation until you leave the lesson with it largely solidified.

That period ended with my teacher reluctantly allowing me to start the Mendelssohn, which was that peak pinnacle piece that I'd always wanted to play. (I had the technique for it. He just had a philosophy of not wanting students to start on the big concertos until their technique and interpretive skills were at the level of learning them with ease.) Between that and actually starting to listen to classical music on my own (my parents got me a Walkman and some tapes, rather than being restricted to a radio in the family room), it radically changed my attitude towards wanting to learn stuff.

I'm grateful for my teacher's patience. At the same time, I imagine that he might have tried to figure out what would motivate me to practice more, since I enjoyed playing the instrument but hated my practice time. It might have also helped to teach me how to practice. When a different teacher, several years later, explained the notion of practice as deliberate troubleshooting as opposed to tons of blind repetition hoping to get it right, and how to figure out why I made mistakes, it was transformational.

So I might imagine approaching this differently, and ask:

1. Do you like playing the violin? (If no: If your parents allowed you to stop playing, would you?)
2. Do you like the music that you're playing? (If no: What about non-classical violin music?)
3. Do you like practicing on your own? (Some kids really just want to go and play with a group.)
4a. If you like practicing, why don't you practice? Do you not have time, are you too tired, or would you just prefer to be doing something else? (Most kids are horribly overscheduled.)
4b. If you don't like practicing, why not? Do you feel like practice is boring? Do you feel like your practicing isn't helping you improve?

Edited: October 21, 2019, 1:08 PM · Context: I teach almost exclusively beginner/intermediate children, average age 8, and their parents. I've never dismissed anyone directly (confrontation! ahhh!) because if they are otherwise behaving reasonably (show up, put forth effort in my presence, are courteous, pay tuition as due), I assume they want to be there and work with it, even spending lesson time practicing last week's assignments if that's what's needed. Whoever no longer wants to be there, it doesn't take long for them to initiate leaving.

It used to be that I "could not afford" to be choosy about which students to accept. A length-of-relationship mentality gradually developed, and I came to view my teaching as committing to the child/family so I don't want to be the first to back out. There have also been low practicers who turned it around and those whose practicing slipped. With siblings, some are at different learning and practicing levels, and I could not fathom keeping one but not the other(s).

One extreme length-of-relationship case, when the family was going through a lot, I was accommodating them on a very exceptional basis. At first I tried similar as Mary Ellen, asking for a video assignment to be recorded before scheduling, but eventually didn't even enforce that. They at least seemed to want to show up and participate (just not do anything extra apparently) and it was more important to me to help support them through the upheaval. However, there has been no change in their level of initiative/responsibility, and I think at some point I'll have to stop trying.

"I don't know" might not be literal but could be code for I don't want to tell you or I don't want to expend the energy to gather my thoughts into a coherent explanation. Whether you want to or how to dig further would be another story.

October 21, 2019, 1:13 PM · IMO, the child needs to like the instrument (violin) to learn how to play it. If the interest is not there, there is no amount of nudging that can make them play it. My children hear me play the violin all their life, so it developed an interest for them to learn too (at least this is my opinion). And since their violin teacher also knows that I play the violin, she makes me bring my own violin during their lesson so, a.) she can show me what technique my child is suppose to be learning, and b.) so I can play duets with them --- which she encourages me to do even at home.

My children seem to enjoy this interaction between them and Daddy when practicing/playing the violin. I have to play 2 Suzuki levels - book 2 and book 3... lol.

Edited: October 21, 2019, 4:25 PM · Whenever I run into a student such as you describe, I think back to when I was a beginner (trumpet was my first instrument) and I was a horrible student who didn't practice very much. There's a long story about how my musical life got turned around, so that I've enjoyed a long a fruitful live earning my living entirely in the musical world.

So I cast my eyes heavenward and silently say "Mr. Marcuse, thank you for believing in me. This lesson's for you!" I don't know what Mr. Marcuse saw in me, but he didn't kick me out of his studio even when I must have been one of his worst students. He's been dead for a long time but his musical support of me lives on and hardly a day goes by when I don't think of him and thank him.

We can never know when the musical spark will actually ignite and the student will blossom into an excellent musician. It may never happen, but it might, if you keep encouraging him/her. If you kick the student out, it's a guarantee that it will never happen.

October 21, 2019, 4:50 PM · Might seem like a silly question, but have you discussed with the student that in order to improve, they need to practice every week? Many kids don't actually make the connection that the only way to move forward is to practice. A surprising amount of parents don't even know this information.

Ask them if they want to get better. If their answer is yes, then you can bring up how practice will make them better. If their answer is no, then you can either break up with them, or you can find out the reason why their interest in improving has dwindled.

I have found that most of the time, constant bad practice is the result of life issues at home. Parents getting a divorce, bullying, etc... And the reality is that as their music teacher, you might be the only positive influence in their life. I've definitely had students in the past where we switched from playing to talking for the majority of their lessons. At first I was wary of this because I was afraid that the parents would get upset and ask why, and then I realized that it was quite easy to explain:

"well, your child has repeatedly not practiced for a multitude of months, so I realized I needed to get to the source of the problem. I tried to do so through you, the parent, but have realized that due to life circumstances, you do not have the time to help enforce good practice habits. Therefore, I'm exploring the psychological reasons behind why they have so much trouble practicing. Ideally, this would be done through a therapist, but all I know is that it's my job to help them improve on the violin, and currently this seems like the only route to do that."

And on that note, also know that there are some families that are just too screwed up to help. Good luck telling a tiger mom to lighten up on her child, for example. She'll just go and find another teacher (and perhaps that's best for your emotional health).


Anyways, if the child seems interested in improving, ask them how much practice they think is reasonable. I have found that by discussing and agreeing to an amount with the student, they're much more likely to follow that amount. I used to have students sign a little hand-written contract that indicated they would practice a minimum amount of minutes each week. We would discuss the number, put that in the contract, and then they would sign it. The contract would stipulate that if they didn't do that amount each week, lessons would be terminated. And I would always ask them "that seems fair, right?" And they'd always answer yes. Then, I wouldn't really bring up the contract until I suspected that they weren't practicing and I was ready to reject them as students.


So yeah, I guess just decide if you're ok with being a budget therapist, and if you are, then spend lesson time talking about issues with the kid. If you're not ok with it, then have them sign the contract and make sure that you both agree that it's fair, and then don't be afraid to follow through. Make sure the parent knows about the contract. If they're offended by it and leave, then so be it. It's best that way. If they think it's a good idea, then you have an offense-free way of rejecting the student when it comes down to it.

October 21, 2019, 4:58 PM ·


Didn't Mozart tell his students not to practice between lessons because they might pick up bad habits...?


I taught a student from a young age for years. Everything began well, but in the latter years there was no practice at all between lessons. No matter what I said no one could get her to practice, and I didn't threaten with dropping her because it wasn't my studio. So parent and student were happy to continue under these conditions of no practice. Every lesson became a practice session and the same concepts were taught over and over, again and again, and she was always very attentive during the lessons. Then came the day I was required to write a reference for entry to a school offering music courses. She was accepted.....

October 21, 2019, 8:28 PM · I do not think violin teachers should play psychotherapist. They just don't have the training.
October 21, 2019, 10:52 PM · I don't recommend any violin teacher engage in psychotherapy with a student. But, to some kids, their teacher is the only one that will listen to their issues. Keep in mind, troubled kids are also usually the last ones to receive actual therapy. Saying "hey, I think your kid and your whole family needs professional help" rarely works in any positive capacity.

You don't have to have a PhD to give helpful, common-sense life advice to a struggling child (or an adult, for that matter).

In a perfect world, none of this would be necessary and everyone would be properly allocated to the professional best suited for the job, but that's just not how things works.

On that note, I actually find myself giving parenting advice quite often, and it's almost always appreciated and helpful. Of course, I'm not trying to re-work their whole family structure, but just providing some tips based on my experience with kids. From what I've seen, many parents really don't know what to do because their experience is limited to the kids they've had. And if this is their first child, they likely have no experience at all.

Edited: October 22, 2019, 4:35 AM · As a parent to an advancing student, i am able to experience at first hand what it takes to achieve serious violin playing.

Leaving talent,love and interest besides; most of it are beyond the scope of a growing child. And no; extreme rare exceptions don't count. Especially at this day and age where we are witnessing rapid changes in society and our way of lives for the past few decades.

For ex; good luck finding an 11 year old who understands, appreciates and actually commits a significant amount of time by his/her will for perfecting every detail of a single measure if necessary. This was actually suggested to my daughter by her accompanist while rehearsing for an upcoming event last month. Knowing my child, i know that it's just impossible and actually damaging. Therefore; i transformed this suggestion into something else doable instead. I remind her that the measure needs some love, so that she marks the place not to forget giving a bit of extra care. And just hope it will resolve in time.

Anyways, asking for the assistance of parents in order to maintain a healty educational environment is perfrectly fine and acceptable.In fact necessary and productive if held reasonable. But delving deep into private matters to get the most out of it or in some cases dig out why it doesn't work; is a big No! As a parent, i'd find that extremely intrusive and offensive.

With a former teacher of my daughter, some of the lessons were held at our house time to time, depending on her teacher's tight scedule and whereabouts.

On one of those occasions; my daughter, already warmed up, was playing a pc game killing time and having fun while waiting for her teacher. When she came, she spoke in a negative manner about her playing video games. I just politely deflected the matter saying something about how we all need our lazy time etc...

After a while on another occasion; she just dared to question why my daughter was studying maths instead of practicing more. I must add she didn't even had any grounds questioning her commitment. Beacuse in her own words, my daughter was supposedly by far the best student of hers in terms of hardwork and progress.

And you see; that was when she became her former teacher.

October 22, 2019, 8:30 AM · Erik, I agree with you. A lot of kids do need "someone to talk to" because their family lives are bad. To be a good violin teacher you need to have a certain level of trust anyway, right?
Edited: October 22, 2019, 8:46 AM · I don't want to come across as cynical or insensitive - although that's probably exactly what will happen - but I come from the tough love side of the coin. If they don't practice then they should move on, and that's that. Life is too short. It's not rocket science. It's not family therapy. It's violin lessons, and that's it. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "You can or you can't, and you do or you don't." If they don't like it, if they don't want to put in the time, if it just doesn't click with them, give them the dignity to move on and find something else without shame or guilt. Perhaps they'll come back to it in the future. Perhaps they will never touch a violin again. So what? It's their choice. Violin isn't the only instrument in the band.
Edited: October 22, 2019, 2:01 PM · I wish my piano teacher had dropped me.

I lived in a city where parents consider ABRSM Grade 8 as some sort of finish line when it came to learning an instrument when I was a teenager.

When I was 14-15, I was at about Grade 4 on piano and not particularly enthusiastic about practice. The teacher taught the usual etudes/Bach/romantic pieces/classical sonatas and I simply could not find motivation to touch the piano during the week. It was such a waste of my teacher's time, my time and my parents' money. Because I hadn't reached Grade 8 yet, so the lessons continued because my parents didn't want me to "quit half way".

So it was a great relief when we moved to Australia and I took the opportunity to stop the lessons once and for all.

The funny thing is - despite many of my friends/neighbor's kids "finished" learning the piano by passing Grade 8, I am the only one out of my peer group who still plays 20 odd years later and playing the piano is my way to de-stress.

What made me continue playing? My sister has a big collection of piano music books. I flipped through one of those huge books with assorted solo pieces and sight-read randomly in the boredom of between library runs in the pre-internet days and came across Rachmaninoff's Op3 No2 - I was like "mmm.. this is interesting" - and the next book in the pile was selected works of Franz Liszt and the first piece was Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 in it. I played through it (at super slow speed with no consideration of articulation etc) and was hooked by Liszt's pianistic writing at the end of that session.

So piano enriches my life; but the last 1.5 years of lessons was an utter waste of everyone's resources and it'd probably be better had my teacher dropped me. I would probably be a better musician and with better techniques had I continue with lessons till Grade 8. However, I'm also pretty sure the lessons and the expectation to practice probably would kill the fun and joy that potentially kept me from exploring and finding things I like that keeps me continue playing. Sometimes, learning just a little skill and gaining some awareness is more beneficial and enriching to certain individuals than pushing forward and getting them to be serious and commit about practice.

October 22, 2019, 11:49 AM · I think to some extent, parents are trying to protect their investments. If a child has had 5 years of violin lessons then you've probably spent somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 on lessons, equipment, music, travel, etc. And that doesn't count your investments in time, energy, and love.

One of the main reason parents try to push through the low points is because the "standard model" of music lessons, in the minds of most parents (and perhaps in reality as well) is one in which the low points are temporary and will be followed by an extended period of renewed interest, commitment, and progress.

October 22, 2019, 12:06 PM · Before you decide to drop the student, have you spoken with the parents? An email to mom or dad saying "I've noticed that Jane hasn't been practicing. I'd like to have a quick conversation with you about how. I can support her in her goals. Please call me at XXX."

Maybe the parents/kid is fine with a minimalist approach to violin. Maybe you're giving them too much, not explaining how to practice, or gave them too big a technical leap. Maybe the kid wants to play Bruno Mars covers. Or maybe there is something going on at home or school. Even innocuous things like a bathroom remodel can really throw some kids off their game.

Talk with the parents and the student about goals. Find out what's keeping them from practicing. And be patient. Maybe as suggested above, your lessons should be practice sessions for a while.

Edited: October 22, 2019, 12:07 PM · When I was teaching I "fired" students.If they were children, I discussed it with their parents first, might even have suggested a different instrument. If they were adults I discussed it with them.
The reverse happened too. I was "fired" by students (or their parents).

Some went on to other instruments and became quite successful.

The one firing I sort of resented was the young cello student who never came back, but never communicated with me in any way about it. I t may have been more than 2 years later that I found a 3/4 size cello bow in the loveseat cushions in my teaching room that I realized a few years after that must have been his. Unfortunately I had already donated it to a youth orchestra before I realized that.

I had violin lessons for a full 7 years and was at the end of 6th grade in public school before I had the guts to tell my parents I did not want to take lessons any more. They wanted to know how long I had felt that way and said they wished I had let them know earlier. I resumed playing violin with total dedication about a year later and have never stopped, but I never resumed lessons. I got better faster from then on.

It is really amazing what one can do when one has the will to do it!

October 22, 2019, 3:05 PM · So while you were practicing madly and improving for some months, your parents didn't come into your room and ask, "Andrew would you like to take lessons again?"
October 22, 2019, 3:42 PM · Ben David wrote: "I am a parent of kids who take violin, piano, ballet, and karate as part of their extra curricular activities."

Perhaps Michael's students have the same problem. While my childhood didn't have a lot of "extra curricular activities" I did have jobs delivering newspapers, collecting eggs for the local chicken & egg farmer, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, et cetera. Add that to homework and I did not have a lot of time to goof-off as it was known.

I see, and have as students, young musicians like Ben's. I understand the pressure to tick-all-the-boxes because of the fact that colleges are just so demanding. Yet, the parents have jobs, take their children to and from all these activities, but the parents don't have to practice all of those disciplines. That is the curious part, all of the activities that Ben mentioned carry an out-of-class practice requirement.

Back to my principle: There is no reason to take on a discipline if you don't actually want to do it. FWIW: I learned this lesson early in my life when my father signed me up for little league despite the fact that I had (and still have) zero interest in baseball. Fortunately, I quickly convinced the coaches to throw me off the team by using passive resistance.

I do not fully understand the culture because I do not have children by choice. I'm willing to help those who want to play the violin but also relate to the child who doesn't really want to be a young musician.

Edited: October 22, 2019, 8:10 PM · @George Wells, I take exception to your comment:

"Perhaps Michael's students have the same problem".

What problem? How do you know that my kids have a problem? You don't know me or my kids. Perhaps, in your experience or your case, you have a problem, but do not generalize your problem as being everybody's problem.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my children were the ones who actually asked us to take violin/piano/ballet (sans karate, which I did nudge them to do as well.) My kids started violin and ballet first, then we added the piano only after a year when we determined their fundamentals in the violin are good enough for them to handle another instrument, and that they were not overly stressed with school and these activities. Yes, trust me, we did think about this.

We do not have any intention for my kids to become musical performers -- that option is up to them when the time comes. But when they asked us if they can learn how to play these instruments, we saw the benefits in helping our children in their brain development. Studies after studies show the benefits of a child learning music (just google it).

My children have ample time to play, to work (school), and do other activities they want to do. One of the things we teach our children is to have a structure in their life - which means having a set schedule to play or "goof" off, play video games or watch TV, to study, and to enrich themselves in activities like music and reading. How do they do all this in a day? They don't. That is where scheduling and discipline comes. Without discipline, you will produce a mediocre adult, and that is not what we want our children to end up. We want them to be successful in whatever endeavor they wish to take on. And yes, the discipline will help them succeed in college as well.

What we instill in our children is to be the best they can be. Believe it or not, teaching your child to be the best they can be does not require one to be a tiger parent. Our children are successful academically, and socially. No tiger parenting required.

Edited: October 22, 2019, 11:15 PM · I agree with Ben. "Kids these days are overscheduled" is easy to say. And maybe sometimes it's true, but that's really for every family unit to decide on their own. I also object to the idea that I enrolled my children in music lessons (among other activities) so that we could "check boxes" on their applications to Harvard. The goal is to foster a philosophy that one should try to live a rich and full life that captures a broad range of experiences.

Several years ago I knew a mom whose kids were doing everything. I kind of questioned it. Lo and behold, both of those kids turned out spectacularly. Fast forward to the present, and I sit on a university committee that decides which students get various awards, and what some kids can accomplish is -- well -- unbelievable. These young people are taking these things on themselves. How did they learn that kind of discipline and motivation? From their parents, more than likely.

Now, one thing that made it easier for me and my kids is that I live in a smaller, rurally-situated college town (Blacksburg), so travel to and from the various activities was typically a 10-15 minute proposition, not an hour each way for anything. There are also things we don't spend time on, such as church, whereas we see other families investing a lot of their kids' time in those things. These are all individual choices that parents make.

I don't subscribe to the notion that kids should do menial labor when progressively more advanced work is available. I don't see why a 16-year-old should flip burgers or deliver papers when they're qualified to work as a lab tech, or why they should rake leaves when babysitting pays a lot better (but require a more sophisticated skill set, especially with special-needs children). I'm definitely glad that my dad was able to find me jobs in local industrial chemistry labs during my college summers. The wages were great (3x minimum wage) and I learned a lot more than I would have working in retail or landscaping.

October 23, 2019, 5:35 AM · The common thread here is "why?"

My first response was to ask ask the questions Lydia mentioned.

My next was to remember just how much of my piano lessons were spent discussing unrelated problems (poor woman - she had my best friend who did the same thing. Clearly being a musician made her a good listener!). For a kid who really cares about music, it's kind of inevitable that the person whose musical feedback/critique they trust is also a person they'll go to for feedback about other areas of their life - especially if they don't feel emotionally supported (or worse) at home.

Then I thought about one of my 8 yo violin students whose parents are super busy and does unsupervised practice that's often detrimental. She needs super clear instructions with tick boxes (play this line 3x in slow motion, to check your best friend finger (2) isn't fighting with her friend (3) and playing flat). Sometimes I give her just listening to her pieces practice and we do supervised practice in her lesson. She's steadily improving despite all the practice issues.

Something no one's mentioned is that lots of students hit a plateau around this time. At this point you have to work harder for less pay off. I think that's why lots of kids drop music just as they're getting somewhere. Your student may be reacting to the fact they now know the basics but still can't make it sound the way they imagine it in their head. From their point of view it may be frustrating to hear it makes no difference whether they practice because they aren't sophisticated enough learners yet to see the nuances of progress you're looking for.

I'm not sure what the solution is but I know some piano teachers who use some pieces from an earlier technical level carefully chosen to teach something new (eg hooked bowing), which might work because they can learn the piece quickly and get back that feeling of progress.

I guess it depends what sort of teacher you are. Are you strictly interested in talented conservatory-track students or are you happy to be the teacher who keeps up the joy of music so that they eventually build up enough skills to be lifelong musical dabblers? As a passionate dabbler myself, I'm the latter and I pass the rest to better teachers unless they can't possibly afford lessons elsewhere, but then you might be the teacher I pass them on to...

October 23, 2019, 5:52 AM · Be careful of pushy parents who make their lazy offspring play in the school concert without our agreement, and give us a bad name!
Edited: October 23, 2019, 2:17 PM · My daughter started piano at around 4 years old because she wanted to do so. She was (and remains) talented, loved playing, and never had to be pushed to practice. She played in concerts, recitals, and so forth, approaching all of it with a sense of pleasure. When she was 12 she walked into her lesson with a score of "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. Her teacher was incensed. "I am not going to dignify this trash. We are playing Chopin, and that's that." My daughter was angry. "I'm doing this for fun, not for that woman's ego." So she quit, and I didn't get in her way. She had nothing to prove, and that was that. Subsequently, she took up the flute, had first chair in high school, went to Interlochen Music Camp, and played into college and beyond. She did it because she loved it, and that's the point of all of this. Some kids love sports. Some love music. Some love just reading and writing. Give them a chance and see what happens, but don't fill them with guilt or shame. My son plays guitar, piano, trumpet, writes music, and has toured Europe in a rock band. He now has a radio program out in Montana. (Jonathan Kennedy on KGLT - Alternative Public Radio for Southwest Montana - shameless plug.) All of this - all of this - was and remans their choice. I gave them the opportunity and the resources, and trusted them to find their own path. Again, if they want to do it, and if they are willing to put in the time that's great. If they don't, however, they don't have to do so. One of my grandsons, by the way, just took up playing the drums.
Edited: October 23, 2019, 11:11 AM · One of my pet peeves is when people don't have any idea whatsoever how lucky they've been. Especially with regard to parenting.

You just have to understand that parenting is only part skill. The rest is a roll of the dice. Just ask parents who had one child who made their own positive and adaptive life decisions independently from a young age, who never had to be told to do their chores or their homework; and one child who was "difficult". Same parents! Same proclivities and general philosophy. Same home environment. As close to a controlled experiment as you could hope for with two very different outcomes.

Just because you parented a certain way and it worked out well doesn't mean your way is the best way for someone else's kids. It doesn't even mean it was the only possible way for your own kids! I know kids whose parents are horrific tiger parents, and others who have entirely laissez faire parents. There are kids who are great and kids who are not so great in both categories.

My kids seem to be turning out very well. I credit my wife, dumb luck, and myself in that order.

October 23, 2019, 1:59 PM · Ben, et al.,

Apologies for the turn of phrase assuming that "over scheduling" is a problem. Your description tells me that your children are masters of time management and you and your spouse probably model that behavior. You and your children are to be praised for maintaining a busy schedule with all the curricular and extra curricular activities as well as all of the daily commitments to practicing and studying while having time for recreational activities.

Unfortunately, the young musicians I am associated with as a teacher and assistant with the local youth orchestra program, do not manage time well and neither do their parents. They always seem rushed and hurried and do not always practice their music. The parents almost always arrive late with excuses to both lessons and rehearsals. Yet, when I do talk to parents they extol the fact that their children have a full academic and extracurricular schedule with some organized activity every day/evening.

October 23, 2019, 2:36 PM · Paul,

My father was also a life-long amateur violinist. They could hear what I was doing and since we had moved from NYC to (sort of ) western Maryland there was really no one on our side of Baltimore who could have taught me at that point so I never had another violin teacher. But it didn't keep me from being CM of my high school orchestra for 3 years starting about 2 years after I resumed playing.

October 23, 2019, 5:34 PM · George,

You sound like a very dedicated teacher. Your students are lucky to have you.

Edited: October 24, 2019, 11:49 AM · "Didn't Mozart tell his students not to practice between lessons because they might pick up bad habits...?"

Perhaps he did, and guessing most likely because in those days lessons would have been a daily occurence at the pupil's residence perhaps, and not limited to one hour. There were likely no "methods", and perhaps even no exercises written. Pupils would have learned from Etudes (Studies) written by the teacher. How violin playing was taught in those days would have been very different than nowadays I would imagine.

October 24, 2019, 12:23 PM · Mozart probably told his students not to practice because all the method books were from the "Salieri Method" and everyone knows the fingerings are terrible.
October 25, 2019, 7:13 PM · From Laurie's interview with Joshua Bell:
"I don't expect [my children] to necessarily want to become musicians, if they do fine, but it's vital for me to have music in their lives, that was a must."
A must. Not a choice?
October 25, 2019, 8:20 PM · I felt the same as Joshua Bell. Having private lessons and playing in school ensembles was a requirement, not an option. I started all three children on violin at a very young age; one by one they got to fifth grade and expressed preferences for different instruments. My oldest switched to double bass, second son to oboe, and daughter to flute. All became quite proficient on their chosen instruments though only one is hopeful for a career. I don't think any of them regret having music in their lives.
October 25, 2019, 8:28 PM · Yes. We felt the same way. It was something we wanted them to have in their lives. We made them eat vegetables too.
October 26, 2019, 11:48 AM · Paul, how cruel!


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