Fact no.1 Learning to play the piano is something so many people dream of doing.
Fact no.2 Learning to play the piano or any musical instrument takes a lot of work and dedication. You have to stick with it for years and practice at home regularly.
Fact no 3 Fact number 2 often makes it so that fact number 1 never becomes a reality.
I have been teaching the piano since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Ok not that long but since 1984.
In the beginning…
The first few weeks are usually lots of fun. In my studio, in addition to learning to play from method books, we do hands-on activities, we get to know one another. Hopes are high. Life is good. It seems like all systems go.
Then about six months to a year in (depending upon the age of the student) one of two things happens; The student either “takes off”, or their interest starts to “fall off”.
Sometimes students who have been doing well and playing for years start to lose interest. This is not unusual. Most of the time with a little flexibility and the right combination of inspiration and motivation things can get back on track.
Why do students fall off at the beginning of their piano journey?
The answer is pretty simple. Beginning piano stuff is relatively easy. Learning to find notes and keys, and play simple pieces doesn’t take too much effort. Even though every good teacher I know assigns at-home practice from the very beginning, a lot of kids can master this stage without much effort or practice.
The piano unlike other extracurricular activities involves independent practice at home between lessons. I can not stress enough that you can not learn to play the piano without regular at-home practice.
Inevitably, this “honeymoon” stage of learning to play the piano doesn’t last. Weeks go by, pages in piano books get turned and the ante gets upped. In other words, it gets more challenging.
I believe that there are two main reasons students lose interest.
The first reason,
The first one is rare, but it is the most difficult to overcome. That is that they never had an interest in the first place. Playing the piano isn’t for everyone. If a student starts saying they don’t like the piano I ask them if they could play amazingly well instantly without practicing would they like it?
I wrote a post a while back called “When Students Want to Quit Playing the Piano” I explore this question in more depth. But, suffice it to say if the answer is yes they would love to play well I know we can usually solve whatever problems they are facing.
If the answer is no, then it really depends upon parents being willing and able to enforce practicing and lesson attendance. I have had students whose parents consider learning the piano a non-negotiable part of their child’s education just like reading and math. Parents that ensure that their child/children attend lessons regularly, see to it that they practice, attend recitals, and check with me about their progress. These students do very well, almost all of them grow to enjoy playing and are thankful that they are able to.
The second reason,
The second reason students start to lose interest even though they want to learn to play is that if they haven’t been keeping up with practicing at home. When the music they are learning gets more difficult they can’t do it and they want to quit.
Let me explain.
This is critical!
I only see most of my students once a week for 30 minutes.
We open to the page in the book we are working on and I ask them to read i.e. play the music. We go over notes, rhythm, fingering, etc. Thankfully, most of my students do what I ask of them they go to the piano later that day, and the next day and they practice what has been assigned. Yay!!
Why do I ask them to practice again on the day of the lesson and the very next day?
Because…if they do that it sets them up for a great practice week, they know how and what to practice and they then have no trouble practicing the rest of the week.
Because…they have moved the information I have just taught them from short-term to long-term memory.
If they have a lesson on Thursday afternoon close the piano book and don’t pick it up again until Sunday much, if not all, of what we had worked on at the lesson will be forgotten.
At this point practicing becomes frustrating. Learning music relies heavily on reading music notation and if students can’t read the music fairly fluently, practicing the piano becomes like trying to read a novel in a language that you don’t know very well. You have to stop, look up words, try to figure things out and you just can’t get into it. Boring, tedious, annoying. You get the idea.
So what can we do to ensure beginning students (adults or children) end up in the take-off group? And what if they seem to already be in the fall-off group?
If your child is just beginning his or her piano lessons. Do your best to help them get set up for success with a good practicing routine. It doesn’t take much time in the beginning and it will pay off big-time.
Very young children need supervision during practice time. Elementary school children usually need to be reminded to practice. Older kids need support and encouragement.
Have your child attend lessons weekly. This is especially important in the first year. Don’t take extended breaks from the piano. Of course, families need vacations and occasional breaks but I can honestly say that none of my successful students took off summers every year or took frequent breaks for weeks at a time.
Why do students who have been doing well lose interest?
If your child has been taking lessons for a while and is feeling frustrated and entering into the “fall off” category. Speak to your teacher, take a step back and reevaluate your child’s interest and your commitment to helping them succeed.
Time for something new
It may be time for a new piece, a new style of music, a new instrument, or even a new teacher.
Learning to play the piano takes a long time. Sometimes music that is new and fresh is what is need to keep people motivated. I have my students learn to play some popular music and learn to improvise. I have found that this really helps with motivation.
Be sure to have your instrument checked out by a qualified piano technician. An instrument that is out of tune, or is in bad condition is a barrier to practice.
Consider an additional keyboard
Consider purchasing an additional keyboard with headphones. I have had great success with students playing keyboards. Being able to plug in headphones has made it so that many of my older students practice more. The “private” practice means they can hash things out without feeling self-conscious. Being able to change sounds and use some of the technology is also fun and encourages practice.
Realize it’s part of the journey
I have to admit that some days I don’t feel like playing the piano. Piano learning is full of peaks and valleys. A good teacher can help you navigate these and help your child reach the dream of being able to enjoy the piano for a lifetime.
If you really want to continue you can. You can pick up the ball at any point and run. I didn’t even begin piano lessons until I was in the sixth grade which in the piano world is a super late start. But I did it. And your child can too!
Speak to your child’s teacher, make a plan for going forward. Don’t lose heart. Some of my most amazingly talented students struggle in one area or another.
Learning to play the piano is not easy, if it were, we would have a lot more pianists in the world. It’s hard work for both students and their parents. But hard work is good! and playing the piano is awesome.
At least I think that it is 🙂
Are you looking for a great piano teacher?
I can teach you or your child online or help you find a great teacher in your area.