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Should You Take a Break From Music Lessons?

Leighann Hodgkins

July 27, 2017

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Your son or daughter was SO excited when they started music lessons, but recently you’ve noticed that they seem a little stressed out about it. They’re struggling, not enjoying it as much, or they’re not as engaged.

As a parent, you already know that taking lessons is important and, deep down, you want them to keep at it. But you also want them to have fun.

How do you know whether to encourage them to keep going or to take a break? 

Is it the dip?

In his bestselling book The Dip, author Seth Godin explains when it's wise to quit something and when it's best to struggle through a challenge in order to achieve true success. He describes three scenarios:

  1. the cliff
  2. the cul-de-sac, and
  3. the dip 

In a cliff situation, you’re headed for inevitable failure and ought to change gears to avoid wasting time and energy. In the cul-de-sac example, things may look appealing, but you aren't really progressing and are essentially stuck in a dead end. The dip, on the other hand, is the long road between being a novice and achieving mastery. If you’re in a dip, you need to power through the challenges in order to become the best at what you do.

Where is your child on their journey?

As a parent, you’re trying to understand (and help them to understand) if your child is in a cliff, a cul-de-sacs, or a dip. The good news is that, more often than not, it’s just a dip. Your job is to help them to recognize it as dip, a bump in the road, and to embrace it as a path to growth and improvement.

You can help them to remember times when they experienced a different challenge, maybe at school or in a sport, but they stuck with it and, in the end, they were proud of themselves and what they accomplished. On the other hand, if they do seem really overwhelmed, then it could be a sign of a cliff or a cul-de-sacs.  When that’s the case, it might be best to take a break rather than forcing them to continue.

Red flags that you may need a break 

So how can you tell the difference? Here are a few red flags that might indicate it's time to ease back on your child's lessons, at least temporarily:

  1. Is getting them to practice stressful for both of you? Does your child resist or fight you every time?
  2. Does your child ever initiate playing on their own? It may be rare among children and teens, but if they willingly practice without being asked even occasionally, it's a good sign.
  3. Once they begin playing, do they watch the clock the entire time or do they get caught up in practicing and play for longer than the minimum amount of time?
  4. Do they enjoy playing a favorite piece that they've mastered? Do they take pride in their progress?
  5. Do they feel stuck at a certain point no matter how much they practice?
  6. Is there another activity where your child shows enthusiasm, such as sports or art?

Before deciding, speak with your teacher

Even if your child exhibits some signs of a cliff or cul-de-sacs, that still doesn't mean that they have to give up entirely. The very best thing to do is to speak with your teacher. Share your concerns and ask for ideas and help. If you are lucky enough to have an outstanding teacher, you'll be relieved to find out that your teacher has already been sensing this and is one step ahead of you, armed with suggestions backed by years of experience.  

Options to try before taking a break

  1. Changing up their approach to give them a renewed sense of satisfaction when they play. For example, some students benefit from practicing first thing in the morning when they have more energy, while others may do better in the afternoons or evenings.
  2. Maybe the lesson is crammed into a busy day. Try changing the day of the lesson or cut back on the number of practices scheduled to offer some relief and free up time to relax, pursue other interests, or just hang out.
  3. Encourage them to find new and fun ways to make music, such as joining a band, whether it is through school or with friends in an informal setting, or even experimenting with new instruments other than their primary one.

If you’ve discovered that it may best to take a break, that’s totally OK! It never has to be permanent. But, if it’s just the dip, reminding your child that music can fun and challenging at the same time may be what it takes to help them to keep going to develop a sense of accomplishment, pride, and tap into what they’re truly capable of!

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