Learning an instrument is wonderful.

To be able to sit down as a child or adult and play the piano, strum the guitar, or sing a song with confidence is one of life's truly unique joys.

However, once lessons are started, oftentimes the lustre and excitement of learning an instrument can fade.

I've had countless conversations with parents of students about quitting lessons, and as a person who grew up taking piano lessons at a young age (and protesting my way through the first several years), I know what it's like.

So why is practicing so hard?

Practicing the piano (or doing homework or working out or eating healthy) is a perfect object lesson to teach valuable character building skills to your children. However, in my decade plus of teaching piano, I’ve noticed two cycles that apply not only to practicing music but also nearly every aspect of life. And the best part of these two cycles are that it is in your hands to choose one over the other.

Scenario #1: The Negative Practice Cycle

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STEP ONE (The Input) – NO PRACTICE

Step one in both scenarios is the only factor that anyone can directly control.

The negative practice cycle begins it by the student not practicing. He gets distracted by homework, video games, playing outside, and oftentimes genuinely forgets to practice. Because lessons are new, they haven’t had the chance to become a regular part of routine and scheduling, so both parents and students

a) fail to practice enough times between lessons and/or

 b) fail to realize how vitally important practicing is to both success and enjoyment of learning anything.

STEP TWO (The Practical Result) – GETS WORSE

The second step is the only logical result that can come from not practicing. When the student fails to practice, he doesn’t get better. This means that week after week of lessons are spent working on the same concepts, playing the same songs (which quickly become excruciatingly boring), and lessons seem to be a futile exercise in frustration. The student makes frequent mistakes and doesn’t really understand the concepts being taught, and doesn’t really get better after weeks (or months) of lessons. This leads to the third step.

STEP THREE (The Emotional Result) – I HATE THIS!

After weeks or months of spending time and money on lessons with little improvement as a result of minimal or no practice, the student comes to the conclusion that music is no fun. He isn’t good at it, and once the decision to not enjoy something is set, it’s very difficult to reset this. Practicing becomes an obstacle from every other enjoyable thing in life, and all the student sees is the drudgery of having to spend time doing something that he doesn’t enjoy.

This quickly becomes a burden on the parents who want to avoid conflict with practicing. They ask themselves questions such as “Why can’t my child enjoy music lessons like so-and-so?” or “Maybe this just isn’t our child’s ‘thing.’”

Which naturally leads back into the first step: no practicing, which starts the cycle all over again. The student gets on this carousel of not practicing, which means he doesn’t get better, which means he doesn’t enjoy lessons, which means he doesn’t practice, etc.

It can seem like an impossible battle, and in my years of experience, there is only one thing to change that cycle: REVERSE STEP ONE.

Scenario #2: The Positive Practice Cycle

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STEP ONE (The Input) – PRACTICE!

As I mentioned before, the first step is the only one that can anyone can directly control.

Whether you’re on the negative practice cycle or already on the positive practice cycle, the first step in enjoying music and practicing is to actually practice. Take the step, encourage the student, offer a reward, do whatever it takes to get practicing a regular part of your routine. If your child is a beginner, instruct her to practice 10-15 minutes five days per week. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not very much time, but the positive impact not only on musical development but also character/mental/academic development is invaluable. As a result of this regular practice, step two will naturally be…

STEP TWO (The Practical Result) – GETS BETTER

The only way to improve at anything is to work at it. And once practicing regularly becomes a part of routine and scheduling, naturally, your child is going to improve and get better. She is going to quickly learn and understand concepts in her lessons, and she will rapidly move through the pieces she is taught. She will see a noticeable improvement in her playing ability, and she will be encouraged that the regular effort she puts forth will bear positive results.

STEP THREE (The Emotional Result) – I LOVE THIS!

As your child gets better and better and learning music, you’ll notice that she will actually start to enjoy practicing and lessons. It won’t be as hard to convince her to practice, and she’ll get joy out of learning new pieces and being challenged in new ways. As well, because she’s learning more pieces and improving in her skills, she’s able to play music that sounds better and is more impressive. She’ll want to perform in front of friends and family, and she’ll feel more confident about her abilities as a musician.

Of course, you know how this goes, this leads back into Step One. As your child enjoys music more, she will naturally practice more which starts the positive cycle back up all over again.

As with any cycle, once it’s started, it becomes very difficult to slow down or stop.

Once the negative cycle is started, it’s hard to convince any student that liking something actually begins with doing the one thing they’ve already decided they don’t like.

As well, once the positive cycle is started, it’s hard to discourage any student from growing and getting better and eventually doing amazing things with music.

It all starts, however, with practicing.

And this isn’t just for music. The difference between most people who hate math and most people who love math isn’t math itself. It’s spending time doing the homework, which results in understanding, which results in better test results, which results in enjoying math more, which results in wanting to do homework, which results in understanding, etc.

The reason music lessons are oftentimes heralded as this thing that kids sometimes don’t enjoy is simply because it’s oftentimes the first opportunity that children are given to develop the skills of practice and mastery. And because it’s optional (while math at school isn’t), if a family faces a bit of opposition when it comes to practice, it’s often easily dropped in the name of not being a good fit.


In my years of teaching and interacting with people and students of every age, I have heard time and time again the regretful voice of an adult who always says “I wish my parents had never let me quit piano.” And in all the conversations I’ve had over the years with people who studied music through their childhood, I’ve never heard anyone say that they wish their parents had let them quit.

It is our goal at Miistro to give every person to experience the joy of learning music. And that doesn’t just mean playing a Beethoven sonata or being good at a C Major scale. It’s the confidence to work at something and win. It’s the character building activity of prioritizing things that matter over things that are momentarily fun. It’s allowing everyone the opportunity to grow in their mental development, social skills, executive function, academic ability, mental health, community, and other brilliant benefits, all of which are uniquely tied to learning music.

You can do it. Your children can win at music and life. Music isn’t the enemy.

Persevere, encourage, and be encouraged in helping your children build the best life.

Thank you so much for reading!

If you have any questions or ideas for future blog posts, please send me an e-mail at zach@miistro.com or call me at 519 319 7270.

Cheers

-Zach