I can’t tell you how often this happens to me. I’ve just met someone who finds out what I do for a living, and then comes, “I used to play the _________. I wish I’d stuck with it!!”
There are lots of reasons some people quit playing an instrument. And lots of reasons other people keep playing.
When your child wants to quit, it can be tough to figure out whether they really want to quit, or whether there is some aspect of it they aren’t enjoying that could be changed or fixed.
And when this situation comes up, our own experience as kids may factor in pretty strongly – did you study music and enjoy it, or hate it, or quit, or keep going….. It’s very hard not to bring our own autobiography into the discussion when we are confronted with a challenge like this one.
Getting to the bottom of what is making your child say s/he wants to quit can make all the difference. A bit of detective work can help you sort it out together.
The more specific you can get about which part or parts of the experience are enjoyable and which ones aren’t, the better your chances of coming up with a decision that works - both now, and in the future.
Some common reasons kids want to quit
Changing school levels – from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school – can bring on thoughts of quitting. Kids feel like playing is part of their younger identity. They’re worried about what their peers will think of them.
Here are some things you can do...
Find out what programs there are in their next school – let them see that kids are involved in playing at all levels. You might even be able to find a community or youth ensemble for them to join where they’ll meet kids from other schools as well as the one they’ll be attending. Remind them it’s part of who they are – a cool and unique part!
If your child takes private lessons, there may be a different set of things to consider. Observe your child as lesson day and time approach. Sometimes the chemistry between teacher and student just isn’t working. It doesn’t mean the teacher isn’t good or the student isn’t good. It means the mix isn’t good. Different teachers have different expectations. See if it’s possible to get an “exploratory” lesson with another teacher or teachers. Determine which teacher’s expectations are a good fit for your child’s level of commitment.
Struggling over practice? Practice is almost always a bone of contention for every young musician – even if they really like playing. It’s just a matter of helping them understand that it’s like homework – it’s something we do.
But when a child quits because they don’t like practicing, it's usually a parental decision. It’s not fun to have to pester them, and we have enough going on, so it’s a point of friction. Be clear about your responsibility to the situation and hold up your end. Your kid will get better at taking on the responsibility over time. It’s an invaluable investment in their maturity and ability to follow through.
Maybe they do like to practice, but they don’t work on what they’re supposed to work on – just on stuff they like. Talk to them about doing their assigned work first, they playing the fun stuff for “dessert”.
Sometimes, keeping the instrument available helps – take unpacking and setting up out of the equation. Then they can get right into their practice with a minimum of effort. Just be sure it is safe and out of the way of pets and siblings so there aren’t any accidents.
Be patient with your musician and remember that music education is part of their overall human education…. A wonderful and challenging part. They may not know how to navigate their feelings about where it fits in their life. Just listen and ask and explore with them. You’ll be glad you did and so will they.
Have you had any experience with your child wanting to quit playing? Did you quit when you were a kid? We'd love to hear how that went.