What To Do When the Musical Ride Gets Rocky

by Natalie Crookston

You and your child are probably getting well established into the rhythm of lessons and the routine of practicing.  It’s always so exciting to start learning a new instrument, but here at Harmony Arts we also know that at some point during this year the musical journey for your family will get rocky.  As a student of music for 35+ years, a mother of 3 current piano musicians with 3 more following, and a current piano teacher, I have personal experience and suggestions on how to make it through the rocky times.   

Let me first start by showing you this chart:

StatusConfidenceAbilityEnergy

New
Student

High
(unrealistic confidence)
Really soon I am going to
be able to play amazing!

Low

High
Lots of excitement!

Beginner
Student

Low
I can’t do this.

Low
This is a lot harder
than I thought it
would be.

Low
This is not fun!

Intermediate
Student

Medium
I can do this.

Medium
There is still
so much I don’t know.

Medium
What I do know is fun.

Veteran
Student

Higher
(Not as unrealistically
high as initially)
I know what I am doing.

High

High
Solid 
Will keep going

At the beginning of this year, your child was a new student with abundant excitement and confidence.  However, as we move through the year the challenge of learning a new skill will set in.  It can be hard to learn something new, it’s not always fun to do things that are hard, and that’s when our children resist practicing and want to quit.  As parents trying to do what is best for our children, there are so many different ways that we handle these situations that often result in either damaging the relationship or in quitting the instrument.   So, let me add one more column to the previous chart and offer some suggestions based on my experience to help you navigate the challenging time.

StatusConfidenceAbilityEnergyHow to Help

New
Student

High
(unrealistic confidence)
Really soon I am going to be able to play amazing!

Low

High
Lots of excitement!

This is when you explore
the dreams with your child and set up the practicing plan.

Beginner Student

Low
I can’t do this.

Low
This is a lot harder than I thought it
would be.

Low
This is not
fun!
This is when your child
wants to quit. See tips below.

Intermediate
Student

Medium
I can do this.

Medium
There is still
so much I
don’t know.

Medium
What I do
know is fun.

Help your child gain
confidence from what they
have learned and their ability to learn.

Veteran
Student

Higher
(Not as unrealistically
high as initially)
I know what I am doing.

High

High
Solid 
Will keep
going

Suggest trying a new step,
setting a little bit higher goal or standard.

My biggest tip is to slow down!  Sometimes we think that we should just push through the challenge, but my experience is that it causes so much damage, hurt and heartache that the healing takes much longer.  So, right when you start to notice the challenge, slow down.  The sooner you do, the quicker the recovery.

  

Here are some ideas: 

  • Try shorter practice times, perhaps practicing for the number of minutes of the child’s age or age +2.  I even think it’s okay to have a five-minute practice—it’s better to do something than nothing and your child will still make progress in consistent 5-minute practice sessions, but consistency is key in this one. 
  • It could look like doing more of the fun things and less of the hard things. Maybe start with something on the assignment that is easy and fun, do something tricky for a few minutes and finish with another favorite part of the assignment.   
  • Work with your teacher on this one, but maybe the assignment can be altered to be just one, two, or three things until the enjoyment starts to pick up.
  • Consider adding an element of fun such as a chocolate chip for each step on the assignment that is completed.  Sometimes in class we have a jar to fill with gems or puff balls that, when filled, results in a class party.  You can do this at home with a smaller jar that fills quickly (every week or two) and small prizes that are meaningful to your child.    “Practice Fairies” is another idea we share in class.  Ask about this one if you haven’t heard about it.
  • Right after your lesson do the hardest part of the assignment one time.  You’ll find the hard things to be easier the rest of the week.  If you can’t get to it right after the lesson then do it first the next day when you practice. It might be the only thing you do the next day for practice, but it will be much easier the whole rest of the week.

An additional tip is to “do it with your child”.  This can be very intimidating if you don’t know the instrument your child is learning, however, sitting with your child sends the message, “I’m on your team.” And can give the support needed to keep going.  Also, your teacher will be able to show you how you can help and explain things in ways that you and your child understand.  Teachers love to help.  We are on your team too!

Most of all, remember that all children learn differently.  The path from point A to point B for some is very streamlined, straight, and quick.  For others, the path is a winding road that is slower and more scenic.  The pace or ability may not be the same as a sibling’s or as the next child’s in class, but we must remember what our child’s dream is and that it is not the same as any other child and that’s okay. Choose to enjoy the musical journey your child is on.  Stay calm.  Be your child’s supporting cheerleader.  Stay positive.  Celebrate the successes and abilities. And remind yourself and your child, “We’ve got this!” “We can do it!”