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The music parenting tightrope

Walking the music parenting tightrope isn’t easy for music moms and dads. Figuring out how to be helpful without turning into an overbearing nag can be tricky, especially during a youngster’s early adolescent years. Those often-turbulent years can upend many aspects of a child’s life, including music. Kids who had previously enjoyed making music may find themselves with a bad case of the doldrums, leading to a practice slowdown and threats of quitting.

For parents who sense that their threatening-to-quit youngsters really love music, the challenge becomes how to tactfully help disgruntled kids reconnect with music. A variety of strategies can work. One approach that is particularly effective involves hitting the pause button. Both parents and kids take a step back and ease up on expectations for a while. Then together they and the youngsters’ music teachers can figure out what is really going on and how to plot a new course. Below are four accounts of this strategy in action.

Instrument switch. When her older daughter announced during middle school that she didn’t want to play violin anymore, especially not classical violin pieces, this mother bought sheet music for fiddle tunes that she knew her daughter liked and encouraged her daughter to sight read them whenever she threatened to quit. The girl’s violin teacher was onboard with this repertoire change, too. However, soon mother and teacher recognized the crux of the problem: sibling issues. “It’s not uncommon for an older sibling to be overtaken by a younger one and that’s what happened to my older daughter,” says this mother. The older girl felt “so frustrated” because a younger sister, also a violinist, had “caught up and surpassed” her. The teacher suggested that in order to sidestep the sibling competition, the older girl, who was quite a good musician, could switch to viola. She gave it a try, fell in love with viola, and did so well on it during high school that she won a scholarship at a conservatory, where she is now majoring in viola performance.

Being part of a youth ensemble is a terrific way to help adolescents stay as excited about music as these members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Photo courtesy of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez; photograph by Stephanie Berger.
Being part of a youth ensemble is a terrific way to help adolescents stay as excited about music as these members of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Photo courtesy of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Artistic Director/Founder Francisco J. Núñez; photograph by Stephanie Berger.

Genre switch. The first piano teacher that Betsy McCarthy’s son had during elementary school encouraged him to improvise and write music. “It was very freeing and fit him exactly,” she says. When this teacher quit teaching, her son moved on to classically-oriented piano teachers. They didn’t suit him as well. Although he liked the teacher he had during middle school, his mother notes, “They butted heads a lot because he was born to improvise. We realized jazz fit him better than classical. We asked around and found a jazz teacher who is classically trained.” The result: He became a terrific jazz pianist, excelled in his high school jazz band, and continued classical piano too. For his college years, he has been in a jazz program at a major conservatory, where he studies with a classical piano teacher as well as with top-level jazz mentors.

Practice moratorium. Marion Taylor’s daughter, who played flute and was also into sports, announced during seventh grade that maybe she should quit flute lessons because she wasn’t practicing. Her mom recalls, “I told her, ‘We don’t mind continuing to pay for lessons. Let’s just keep music as part of your life.’ The teacher kept plugging away, and Becky rode past that hump.” She continued to play in her school ensembles, where the social aspect of making music with other kids helped rekindle her interest in flute, especially when she won spots in all-county and all-state honor bands. She did so well in flute during high school that she earned a full music scholarship at a conservatory, followed by admission to a master’s degree program in flute performance.

Lesson on demand. A young cellist with mild learning disabilities had enjoyed playing cello during elementary and middle school. He benefitted from a private cello teacher who adapted her teaching to his needs. His mother found creative ways to help him with focus when he practiced at home. His success in music was a morale booster. His mother notes, “Here’s a kid who’s not supposed to be able to focus, but he gets on stage and plays beautifully a five-minute cello piece he has memorized.” However, adjusting to high school was stressful. “He almost quit cello his freshman year,” she says. “To take the pressure off, his cello teacher had him switch from weekly lessons to ‘lessons on demand.’ My son would contact the teacher whenever he felt he was ready for a lesson.” He kept playing in the orchestra at his music school and after a year and a half, “he returned to weekly lessons with renewed enthusiasm.” He also discovered a new interest—teaching music. He had fun volunteering as a music tutor for younger kids at an after-school music program. “He’s very patient and has always been good with kids,” his mother adds. “He is now applying to college as a music education major.”

Featured Image: Sheet Music, Piano. Public domain via Pixabay.

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Recent Comments

  1. Bobbie Howard

    I love these tips! Of course the unifying factor of all these is that the parent is proactive!
    But there is another alternative, just do what my mother did and just say “no”. HA!

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