Help with piano practice issues - FamilyEducation
Help with piano practice issues
12/06/2009 at 23:53 PM

My son is a bright and capable 4th grader who likes to put as little effort as possible into things. He's tried lots of sports and other activities and stays interested until it starts to get difficult, then he's ready to quit. He's been taking piano for a little over a year now and wanted to quit after a few months but I wouldn't allow it. He is doing well and I don't want him to think it's okay to quit something just because he thinks it's "hard." I insist that he practice every day and I sit next to him so that I can help him with his lessons (I'm not a great piano player but I can read music and can tell if he's playing something correctly or not). The problem is that he gets so angry with me when I correct him that he will often storm off in a horrible mood or else delay and goof off so much that what could be done in 15 minutes usually takes 30-45 minutes and ends up with us both exhausted and stressed. He understands how to read music and can play beautifully when he wants to, but most of the time he just wants to get through the lesson as quickly as possible and will practice things incorrectly just to get done. I know that practicing daily and practicing correctly are very important, and I don't expect perfection - I would just be thrilled if he would give his best effort for 15 minutes without fighting. Occasionally I try to let him play without correcting him at all, which only works when he corrects his own mistakes (which he sometimes does), but most of the time it seems to me that he is not trying to do his best. This applies to other things as well, but since he is supposed to practice the piano daily, this is almost a daily problem. Any suggestions?

My daughter tried violin for a school year (9 months) and hated it. Now she is three years older, and has found her instrument. She loves playing the trumpet. It may be that your boy has developed so much distaste for music that he will never find his instrument, but it's pretty clear that he does not love piano. I'd surrender on this battle.

Agreed. My ex insisted my son continue to play the French horn long after my son made it clear it was an instrument he greatly disliked. He gave up on music and has stated as an adult that he would have stuck to an instrument he liked. My daughter was much like your son with the piano, which is still sitting in our living room. We allowed her to switch to the clarinet the following school year, which she played for 7 years. She still needed reminders to practice and at times tried to cut her practice time short, but stuck with it, playing in the orchestra and marching band. Give your son the opportunity to find the instrument he enjoys, which may even turn out to be his singing voice.

I appreciate your comments but the issue isn't really about the piano. True, that's what we struggle with on a daily basis, but the real problem is that he wants everything to be easy, and when he finds out it isn't, he wants to quit. We let him quit violin and taekwondo after some horrendous struggles, but I am NOT about to "surrender" on this, because I don't want him to think that when something gets tough, you can just quit. What I want him to learn (much MORE than how to play the piano) is that anything worth doing is going to take effort, and you have to acquire a certain amount of self-discipline if you want to accomplish anything. I realize he's only 10 yrs old and has a limited capacity for self-discipline, but I'm only asking for about 15 (good) minutes a day. By the way, My husband was ready to give it up months ago, but I stuck with it and our son did a beautiful job at his first recital - he does love performing for people :) So, don't even talk to me if you think I should give it up - I'm looking for ways to inspire him, make it fun, calm him down, whatever will help - just DON'T tell me to let him quit!

Your son has a strong will. He's learned the basics of piano playing. He showed you that he can perform. You want him to keep going, he wants to quit. The way to inspire him, make it fun, and calm him down is for you to be less invested in his success and more invested in his well being. In my opinion. That'll be $900 for 6 therapy sessions. Your welcome. PS How it worked in my family. I listed how it worked, and it just looked like I was bragging, so I edited it out. I have six kids, 4 over the age of 18. Two of them stuck with an instrument from 4th grade on, the other two didn't start to get traction til high school. All four of them are doing well. The 18 year old, well, his grades stink (they're better this year), but he has played the cello since 4th grade and he's had a paper route since 5th grade. The 12 year old quit violin, but it looks like she will stick with trumpet and she may be one of the lucky few who knows what she wants to be when she grows up. It's not a musician.

Ha ha! Thanks for the therapy. You obviously have a lot more experience than me, with six kids. And you accurately described my son as being strong-willed. I am very much invested in his well being and believe me, I am torn between trying to keep him happy and trying to teach him the value of self discipline. Fortunately or unfortunately, he has had VERY little homework this year (his teacher told me at the beginning of the school year that she doesn't believe it's of much value, and that he probably wouldn't have much). But when he DOES have homework, it's very much like his practice sessions - he complains that it's "too hard" and he fusses and gets so worked up and angry that he can't think straight. He wants us to help him but basically just wants us to give him the answers, not help him figure out how to do the work on his own. I said he was bright and capable, but did I forget to say that he was a bit lazy? Anyway, we were blessed with a loving, wonderful but challenging only son who has tested me constantly from day one and would like nothing better than to make a career of lying on the sofa watching TV. I know I could wait for "natural consequences" to kick in and see what happens if/when reality hits, but I think my responsibility as a parent is to do what I can to help him learn at least a moderate amount of self-control & self-discipline while he's young. I don't expect any easy answers, but I'm always looking and always asking the questions. And I certainly don't expect him to grow up to be a musician.

At his age, the way to teach him that persistence pays is solely by example. I would suggest that if you (and/or your husband) are holding down a job, or enrolled in an exercise or other community class, or practicing your own instrument, or maintaining order and cleanliness in your home, or serving your community as a volunteer, then you are providing an example of persistence and discipline. (I have a friend who made the mistake of doing the housework while her children were at school--since they didn't see her doing the work they didn't know she did it. Yes, they do believe housework does itself.) Try my way for six weeks. Really. Limit time with electronic media. Maybe make him earn it by cleaning his room or doing chores or doing homework. My boy was so involved with Nintendo, I even let him earn media time by playing with real live people! You can get locks with hasps that goes through the holes in the prongs of the plugs. Minute for minute--one minute of work (or socializing) gets one minute of media. And attitude counts. A grumpy minute of work gets nada, zip, zilch. Tell the piano teacher that you are taking a break and you aren't sure you'll be back. As far as the homework struggles go, it could be that he has missed a basic skill somewhere along the way. See what frustrates him, perhaps he needs some specific instruction.

Thanks again, but (again) I'm not ready to "give in" on the piano lessons yet. In fact, he really likes his teacher! Of course, by the end of the week his lesson is usually prepared well enough that he gets lots of praise from her. He did NOT get along well with his first piano teacher though (in fact, she suggested more than once that we find a different teacher). He does play with friends quite a bit, and we do limit the TV time to 1/2 hr on school nights, and Nintendo has never been much of a problem - he plays it occasionally, not obsessively. We (the parents) both hold down full-time jobs and I think we both set good examples of self-discipline. I have to admit there are cleaning people who come in twice a month to vacuum & dust, but in between times he sees us maintaining a fairly clean and orderly household. He is expected to make his bed daily and do a few other simple chores. I have kept in touch regularly with every one of his teachers since pre-school and he is NOT lacking in any basic skills. His reading level is exceptionally high, I think because we have read together nearly every night since he was a baby, and we still have reading time together many evenings. He does struggle with math, but I don't think it's because of a lack of skills - I think it's because he doesn't want to put forth the mental effort. When he is able to focus on his work, he does fine. At one point I actually thought he might have ADHD, so we consulted a doctor and decided to try having him on Adderall during his 3rd grade year, but it really didn't make a difference. This year his teacher says he is doing well and getting his work done in class (without any ADHD meds). I have him practice piano in the morning before school, which actually works much better than when he had to do it in the evening after a long day. We planned it that way in order to leave the evenings free for homework, before we realized that he would hardly have any this year! I feel like I'm rambling a bit now, but one of the (many) reasons I want him to continue with music lessons is because it can help him with his math skills - I've always understood that music and math are related and developing one usually helps the other. Bob probably gets his stubbornness from me, because I'm sticking to my guns on this one. I have to do what I think is best for him, and my gut tells me that in spite of the struggles, this is something that he needs to do.

Alrighty then, Hey, report back in six weeks, let us know how it's going.

This can be continue to be a battle of wills or you can try the excellent advice from acitez. This is a "choose your battles wisely" situation.

Thanks to both of you for your advice. I'll admit I could be wrong, but for now I still feel that I'm doing the right thing. I'll try to remember to report back in a few weeks :)

Bobsmom, my wife and I just read your post from 2009 and thought that it could simply be us writing the exact same words regarding our daughter. Our daughter is 8 years old and she is a smart but strong-willed girl who, like your son, quits anything (including reading or math) as soon as it gets challenging. We were wondering what you decided to do and how it resulted. Any help would be much appreciated.