Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It)

920051585110_0_BGEvery year almost 100% of public school students begin an instrument through their school’s music program (if a program exists).  One or two years later, more than 50% of students quit; unable to enjoy all that music education has to offer for the rest of their K-12 schooling, if not beyond.

During my time as an educator and administrator, parents and students have shared with me several reasons why the child quit their musical instrument, including:

  • The student is not musically talented (or at least thought they weren’t).
  • The student is too busy with other activities.
  • The student hates practicing (or the parents grow weary of begging the child to practice).
  • The student doesn’t like their teacher.

…and there’s more…

But the real reasons that students quit is often beyond their own understanding.  It is up to teachers and parents to create “magical moments” during the year for students to want to continue on their instrument, especially during the early years of study, in order for the child to be successful and stay with their craft.

Here are reasons students quit, and ways to combat them:

  1. Parents don’t treat music as important as other subjects.  The sad truth is that many non-music teachers and administrators do not find music equally as important as math or English language-arts — but parents must.  Besides, you wouldn’t let your child quit math, would you?  Many kids would jump at that opportunity!  Music is a core subject…period.  The more parents treat it as such, the less students will quit.
  2. Students don’t know how to get better.  Without the proper tools and practice habits to get better at anything, students will become frustrated and want to quit.  It is the role of music educators and parents to give students ownership over their learning.  Teachers must teach students why, how, where, and when to practice, and parents must obtain minimal knowledge about how students learn music in order to properly support them at home.
  3. Parents and students think they aren’t musically talented.  Sure, there are some kids who pick up an instrument and sound decent immediately, but they will hit a wall later and have to work hard to overcome it.  Most everyone else won’t sound that great at first.  Playing a musical instrument is a craft that, if practiced correctly, is something that all children can find success in.  As long as students know how to practice and that it needs to be done regularly, they will get better.  Many parents who speak to me and claim that they aren’t “musically talented” simply had bad teachers and little home support with music practice.
  4. Students discontinue playing over the summer.  Statistics show that students who do not read over the summer find themselves extremely behind once school starts — the same goes for playing an instrument!  A year of musical instruction can quickly go down the tubes over the summer vacation if students do not find small ways to play once in a while.  Picking up an instrument for the first time after a long layoff can be so frustrating that a student will not want to continue into the next school year.
  5. The instrument is in disrepair.  A worn down cork, poor working reed, or small dent can wreak havoc on a child’s playing ability.  Sometimes the malfunction is so subtle that the student thinks they are doing something wrong, and frustration mounts.  Students, parents and teachers need to be aware of the basics of instrument maintenance and be on top of repairs when needed.
  6. Teachers don’t create enough performing opportunities during the year.  The best way to motivate students musically is through performance.  Weeks or even months on end of practicing without performing for an audience gets old very quick, and students will definitely quit.  Teachers should schedule performances every six weeks or so in order for students to stay engaged and practicing.  Parents can help by creating small performance opportunities at home — a Friday night dinner concert or a planned performance for visiting family members are great ideas.
  7. There is not enough “fun”music to practice.  It’s very important for parents to be aware of music that interests their child, because it exists in sheet music form for download or purchase.  It’s important that all students play music that is aligned to their interests in addition to other pieces that are worked on in school.
  8. Other activities are pulling at the child.  Between art lessons, sports, karate, and other activities, parents grow weary of having “one more thing” to be on top of schedule-wise.  Parents need to understand that the enduring social and psychological benefits of music are as enormous as those of sports — in the same and different ways.  Also, if music is a class in school, then school obligations should be priorities.  Budget time accordingly and children will have 10 minutes a day to practice an instrument, for sure.

Much like any worthwhile venture, practicing a musical instrument has its ups and downs.  Kids need to be reminded to practice, of course — but they should not be constantly pushed, and they should not be completely left alone, either.  It’s a balancing act where sometimes the parents will need to give their child a break for a few days and other times will need to bribe them to practice — every child is different. Either way, all children are capable of thriving with a musical education, and students will indeed thank their parents now and later for not letting them quit.


  1. Lisa Needham says:

    Some people just don’t have the funding

    • I am not talking about going out and getting private lessons. If schools have appropriate funding, students in need will always have a chance to play an instrument at little to no cost. If the teaching is good and there is a little support at home (motivational, not monetary), any student can enjoy a successful K-12 experience on an instrument, regardless of socioeconomic background. I know, because I taught at a school with a high % of free and reduced lunch students. No child was left out.

      • Kayla says:

        instruments are expensive to either buy or rent, and not all schools have enough instruments to loan out to students who cannot afford their own. Not to mention the accumulated cost of sheet music after a few years for those who wish to study on their own. Socioeconomic background can be a big barrier to some. I also noticed that those with private lessons tended to enjoy the instrument more (I taught private sax and clarinet lessons for 4 years to put myself through university) and were more successful in class.

        • Expensive are expensive. It is a problem if there is not enough budget or support in the community to get funds to get instruments. There are some things that can be done, however, if the goal is to have children participate in music of some kind and not necessarily band or orchestra. 1) Vocal/choral music. 2) Percussion. Percussion of various sorts is not too expensive, and could be made of entirely makeshift materials (watch STOMP on youtube.com for inspiration). For some real awe-inspiring inspiration on how very poor people who are determined to enjoy music make it happen, check out the Youtube.com video on the Landfilharmonic (or Recycled) Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJrSUHK9Luw
          Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

          • I just picked up a violin for less than 60 bucks. If people would quit thinking they have to study on a Strad, then the cost doesn’t have to be a serious factor. On a side note: no one even suggested I should take music lessons when I was growing up, talk about a loss. All of my friends who were taking classes in a musical instruments, of one kind or another. They all told me I was tone deaf. At the time I figured they were taking classes, they would know. I spent most my life thinking instruments just were not for me, although I always felt a need to pick something up. Then it dawned on me, many years later, that maybe I wasn’t tone deaf. Maybe my ‘friends’ didn’t know what the heck they were talking about. So recently, I was tested for tone deafness and guess what, I’m not. So at 58, I’m now the proud owner of a cheap violin that doesn’t sound so bad and that I’m learning to play. Wish I started at 5, but hey, nothing like the present.

          • really tell me why.

        • Dylan says:

          I am a 6 grader that plays saxophone I hate it ! I alwayss hope my mom doesn’t make me practice I’ve Been playing since 4th grade during the first year I started to not like playing it any more but both my parents favorite thing is music and they won’t let me quit I hate music now and my mom won’t listen when I tell her she just says “to bad we are a musical family and will play it forever what should I do

          • Ashley says:

            What if you tried experimenting with other instruments (or into choir)? I hated playing the piano, but absolutely loved the violin. You’re parents would probably be thrilled if you said

          • I think Ashley is right. Just because you hate a saxophone doesn’t mean you will hate everything. The real question I have is was the saxophone your choice to start with or was it picked for you, I ask because in some schools the band directors force kids to play an instrument based on either what they think the kid will be good at or what the band director thinks he needs in his band to balance it out… Both of those theories are totally wrong, a kid that isn’t allowed to pick what they play will never want to practice and a band made up of the perfect mix of instruments played by people that didn’t want to play them in the first place will never sound as good as a band that isn’t the perfect mix of instruments but has people playing things they like to play… Because you will never really practice what you are forced to play.

          • What instruments do you like the sound of and what kind of music. Do you hate music or just the sax?Find a way to save up on the side and buy for yourself or borrow the instrument you really like. If you want to sing go for it. This is ultimately long term your own decision and it is best to just go for what you want and do it early on. I was not a big fan of the clarinet when I started but it was the only thing my parents could afford and I grew to love it. Still hate performing solo but am in 3 orchestras now and loving every minute.

          • Mrs. P. says:

            Many parents are concerned about the investment they made in the instrument. Saxophones are expensive and if you originally begged to play it and they spent lots of money, they may think of it as your responsibility to learn the instrument. So, negotiate. Try another instrument (as others have said above) find an instrument you like. Your saxophone (if a decent brand) can be sold. Try not to resist music just because your parents are making you – I don’t hear adults say “I wish my parents had let me quit my instrument.” I often hear “I wish I hadn’t quit when I was young.”

          • Brad Bietry says:

            What exactly do you hate about it? I’d encourage you to go out and get a book of your favorite music that you will recognize and be familiar with. Like the Star Wars Theme, or Prates of the Caribbean. Also consider telling yourself instead of practicing the saxophone, think to yourself “I’m going to play my saxophone even if its mostly playing your favorites. Also remember the longer you stick with it, the more fun it is. It’s so much fun to make music with other people!

          • Patrick Collins says:

            When I was your age, my parents decided I was going to play trumpet. I tried and tried, and grew to hate trumpet and band. Luckily, my teacher saw the warning signs, and encouraged me to try another instrument. A switch to Baritone was the key, and I began to enjoy band again. I also had to deal with my parents pushing me (or hounding me, from my perspective), which made things worse. Your parents are trying to be helpful, but they don’t know how – that’s probably how they were dealt with when they were young, and just forgot how you feel. Talk to your band director first (be honest about your feelings and effort – trust me), and ask for his help talking to your parents about finding the right voice for you. It might be another band instrument, or even a switch into choir, guitar, or orchestra. You might even find dance or visual art to be your thing. But whatever it is, don’t let the arts leave your life.

      • My reason is my child has joined at school and enjoys it. A few months ago she got a letter home from school saying that they could have lessons outside of school. Well my daughter jumped at the idea. It was on a Saturday at 6am. On Saturday I woke her up now she doesn’t like anything anymore. She is broken hearted now while I’m telling her she’ll have to go tommorow.

        • Isabelle, please rally some parents to talk to your administrators about pulling lessons out of the school day to see if there might be better alternatives to 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. That is crazy, and will hurt the overall music program. We had this happen to our elementary ensemble practices but parents fought back and got the decision reversed.

        • Rusty Shacklepan says:

          I played alto sax in Sixth grade. It was kind of fun, but I had absolutely no motivation to keep it up. It’s cliched but you have to recognize what your kid is most passionate about. What fire burns their spirit brightest. Then fuel that fire as much as you possibly can. Only then will they be a star.

          On a personal note, I believe public school is day prison for children. Today, they come complete with prison guards, cop stalkers, and metal detectors. Years ago when there was none of that, I tried to escape kindergarten. I got out the doors and down the hill. I was like Sam Fisher ex-filtrating the kill-box. I ghosted from all the cars and people I saw. Just as I was about to hit the treeline, a large truck turned the corner of the road. I hid from it in a ditch, instead of the rocks. Big mistake. The driver(who was also the school janitor) spotted me and took me back.

          I wanted to stay home and learn Calculus from my family’s synth maid, instead. She was so pretty.

      • Jesse White says:

        Its because directors just want players to play their part and do well in competitions; the player is not important, just the prestige of the band. So they will make you play an instrument you don’t want to play because they need x amount of saxophones, and they won’t tell you the theory behind the music you learn. Being a machine is not fun. It is the toxic attitude of small minded teachers that shun improvisation and probably aren’t good enough themselves to play professionally that takes all the joy and discovery out of learning an instrument. I was in the school band for 3-4 years and never new theory or what mode i was playing; i learned that in guitar class! I didn’t even know chord theory or seventh chords…learning to read music and understand flats and sharps on a staff was all i learned. They put me on sax, i wanted to play drums!? Now i am a professional guitar player, no thanks to them.

        • Your director may also have not known and/or cared about theory. I had the distinct displeasure of having to teach myself theory, as I started recognizing patterns in tuning scales and key signatures. I remember being amazed that neither of my high school band directors knew what voice leading was (besides the leading tone- no Solfege). When I studied in college as a theorist/ composer, I was one of about 2% of the music program due to the difficulty of theory. Most of the future educators barely scraped by on the minimum theory they could get away with because they enjoyed playing and performing more, which is what they then pass on to their students. The school program I inherited used to have the elementary students sing monthly at the community center, but the high school students couldn’t count out a rhythm.

          It’s a shame theory isn’t regularly taught as part of a music program. Incorporating it has been simple- during tuning/ warm up routines, pointing out modes, Piccardy thirds, listening for different cadences… it’s something the students should listen for anyway, in order to understand the music they’re playing.

          • Bob Jacobson says:

            This reminds me of a conversation I had a few days ago about English classes. Some of the English teachers want to teach literature nearly all the time because they don’t understand grammar, etc. themselves. Apparently this happens in music classes as well.

      • Sadly disagree we just don’t have the money for lessons without lessons he will not get much further than playing a few tunes on his violin. Once he stops his lessons next term he will no doubt fall behind the rest of already very talented violinists. I doubt when and if I can afford the lesson again he will want to continue. Just wish I could earn more money but need to buy a home and that has to come first.

    • This is a great article! I have been teaching music privately for 12 years and most of my students have remained with me for several years. I have noticed a direct relationship between how the lesson structure relates to the students learning style. Some of my students are very visual and need to see everything written out, while others work best with playing along to recordings.

    • There’s another reason: lack of encouragement. I come from a family of musicians. In grade school, i began studying drums – played in the school band, marched in a couple of parades. After 2 years, decided to quit – no particular reason other than I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. It wasn’t that i was untalented. i just didn’t want to do it anymore. My parents never said a word. Never asked me why, never suggested I was making a mistake nor asked to discuss it with me. They just accepted my decision. I was only 10 or 11 years old. I regret very much that decision

      • This is the last year my daughter will be in band. Not because she doesn’t want to be in band, not because it would cost me about $1,000 out of my own pocket… No she will be out of band because the band program is taking itself too seriously. Next year she will be in high school where all her grades will start to matter when it comes time to apply to college… And what would she be having to do next year? Well for about a month before school start she would have to be at the school 8 hours a day 5 days a week practicing… when school starts she would have to be at the school 30 minutes early to practice (meaning we would have to drive her to school ourselves 5 days a week) and then 2 days each week they have to be taken back to school for a 3 and half hour practice… Sorry but that’s too much time taken out of her day, doesn’t give her time to practice at home or do homework.

        All the school where I live wants to do is try and win marching band trophies which mean absolutely nothing to the kids. No colleges scout out band contests they way they scout football games for football players… These trophies mean nothing to anyone but the director that is trying to build his resume so they can move onto a bigger school

        It wont be off my daughter, I’ll continue taking her to private lessons if she wants them… but I wont let her ruin her grades by having all her time wasted for the sake of a band director trying to get a better job.

        • Disillusionef says:

          I hear you! You’re right. At some high schools, the music program is more about feeding the directors’ egos, with awards and the status that goes with that. It gets really tricky when the directors expect four rehearsals a week outside of school hours, in addition to class time, in addition to compulsory attendance at three activities a week two weeks in a row, and those two weeks happen at midterms. Then they pull students out of academic classes like Physics for performances during the day at open house events for new students, band competitions, etc. Would a Physics teacher ever be allowed to pull students out of Music, English or Biology? No, not on your life. It would be one thing if parents knew what was expected at the outset, but no. A lot of these commitments are seemingly random, last-minute events, with students and parents chided if they don’t drop everything. God forbid if a family member dies and the child misses a band event! The student will be told to choose between band and life. Band is an option, and no other option teacher would be allowed to get away with band directors’ behavior. No other teacher period, actually. Dysfunction bordering on abuse, and in some cases outright abuse, is the order of the day. Not all students will be taking a BFA, but if only future BFA students are wanted, why don’t they say this at the beginning of high school? Principals need to open their eyes and ears to the reality of what band directors are doing in their schools. Music at high school is a program for elite students whose parents can commit to driving them to school before the buses start running. Music students who are heavily involved in the program but are not superb academic students often end up taking a year of upgrading to improve marks before they qualify for post-secondary education. Students whose parents cannot afford this luxury of time and money should ask if this is what they want.

          There is a dark side to high school music programs. It stops being pleasant or even tolerable for many, with the stakes so high.

          • Bob Jacobson says:

            I recall a comment made by my 8th grade history teacher when so many students were pulled from her class for practice before a musical presentation (I was heavily involved in the band and orchestra programs): “What is this–the Burnet Junior High School of the Performing Arts?”

          • I can’t speak for all programs but please keep in mind that many administrators want a performance of some type at the drop of a hat for every little thing that happens in their building for THEIR ego. Oh, we got a new plant in the courtyard garden, let’s have the orchestra play!!! You can get that together by the 3rd day of school right?! Lol.

          • Sorrynotsorry says:

            Are you kidding me? That has to be the most sorry excuse I have ever read for taking you student out of band. Especially at the high school level. The kids don’t like marching band and winning? All kids like being the best. I’m sorry you took your student out of that music program. You’re doing a disservice to your student when you baby them too much like that.

            Let me put it this way. Teach a student how to train and practice hard at something like music and the rewards are limitless both in the music program and when they reach college. Sure, you see trophies, awards, practicing 8 hours a day for just a couple of weeks (oh my gosh, that’s the hardest thing to do when you have NOTHING going on before school even starts up) and then that sorry excuse of I have to drop them off 30 minutes early? No. That is just pathetic.

            Majority of students will hate the work, but LOVE the outcome. It teaches them how to work hard for hours on end. Imagine if they fly by high school thinking they’re the best because high school was so easy. Get into college and they get even busier. And then the real world where you work EIGHT hours a day FIVE days a week. Sometimes more if you’re dedicated. Take things seriously? They SHOULD be taking things seriously starting at that age. You should be raising a young ADULT. Not a YOUNG adult.

            This is coming from someone who just spent 9 years of his life devoted to being the best musician I can be. The best student I can be. The best leader I can be. I’ve been through those programs. Both at the secondary level and the collegiate level. Nothing worth doing is ever easy on your schedule or your life. It’s about teaching dedication and learning how to manage your time. Quit babying your kid and teach them how to be an adult because sooner or later, they’re gonna think life is easy like have so much time on your hands to do things.

        • This is exactly our experience. And the band director plays favorites, hands out awards to some kids over and over, praising them in front of the audience at concerts, etc. It made my son feel bad. Worse, my son was the student of year in tenth grade. Then the director got an attitude against him, simply because we didn’t show up for the awards ceremony. We were too burned out that night to attend, so that is on us as parents. The guy actually kicked my son off the stage during a concert. His sin? He missed one after school practice for jazz band, due to having to take a make up test in some other duet to illness. My son had to walk off the stage in front the entire school, while the other drummer (the instructor’s favorite) played my son’s part. Afterwards, the director heaped praise on this kid, saying he was like Buddy Rich, etc. My son wanted to quit in his junior year, but we convinced him to stick it out. He didn’t sign up for senior year, and the last thing the director did was give him a 16 / 100 on his scales final, just enough to drop him a letter grade. I think he’s angry my son is quitting: and he never said goodbye, good luck, thanks for the years of hard work, etc. Zilch. Worse yet–and others please chime in hear and tell me if this is normal–the director sometimes “sits in” with the band during the concerts! I now think my son made the right decision. Too bad this director is all about his own ego. It’s about the kids, not the director!!

        • Nessie says:

          Does your state have open enrollment? I would ffind a different school system. I agree that much of the competions are over done but participation in music is weighted in most college’s application process.

    • This is very true for me because I play oboe. I began band in 6th grade and my band director said they needed an oboe. He also warned me it was really expensive and difficult, of course it was. Even as a beginner, the reeds from the local music store cost $15 a pop. They are absolutely terrible. And even then, I’m going through at least 2-3 reeds every month. Intonation is horrible, doesn’t respond nor have a good tone. But, my band director was persistent and always made sure my instrument was in good shape. For 7th grade year, he had gotten permission from the school to provide funding for a new oboe, an intermediate level Yamaha oboe that was a dream to play on.

      Throughout 7th and 8th grade year, I researched more into reeds. I found out that why I didn’t sound anything like the professionals was because the store bought reeds are factory made and don’t work. I needed a hand made reed. So I bought my first handmade reed online for $25 and it was worlds better, my tone instantly improved. Now I buy reeds from various makers around the country, ranging from $20-$50. They are usually all great but don’t always work either, I have to adjust them to my liking.

      I have spent at least $2000 on reeds, reed making equipment and various oboe accessories in the past 5 years. Definitely not a small financial commitment. I have also been very luckily to beep provided wonderful instruments to play with by my school. My school has a Fox 300 for me which a professional level oboe that costs about $6000. I also now play an english horn given to me by the school, an professional Fox 500 that costs $8000. Couldn’t be any more happier with the instruments they have provided me, but I still face the financial burden of buying reeds.

      Even if I were to make the reeds myself like professionals do, the process takes years and years. The equipment required costs thousands of dollars. Just the gouging machine it self costs at least $1000. Even universities have “Reed rooms” for double reed players where students can use the university’s equipment to make reeds.

      I also took up flute for marching band. It costed me $300 for a brand new Gemeinhardt. The fingerings transferred from oboe very easily. Embouchure took a few weeks to get used to. After that it was a breeze to play. After 3 months of taking up flute with no teacher, I could say it was easier than oboe. Even after a season of marching band, being dropped, banged against walls, it was still in good playing position.

    • Isn’t that what fund raisers are for?!?!?!?! I’m in band and we are broke but band has shaped me to be mature and responsible

    • Oldest excuse in the book… music is free dear Lisa. Learning is free dear Lisa. Wanting to learn is what comes with a price. 😉

    • Daniel says:

      I am a kid who quit piano after 6 years of it. It was because I wanted to do modern music. My dad is bitchin bout it for 2-3 years now and I feel guilty and shameful. I have fallen into mild depression, self- esteem lowerment, and fatty-ass syndrome. So, if you are a kid that wants to do music, RESEARCH about the music you want, of the way you’re hands or mouth work. Here’s a link: http://www.blogthings.com/whatmusicalinstrumentshouldyouplayquiz/

    • James says:

      All those reasons pale in comparison with what I believe to be the real problem. Popular music doesn’t feature instruments anymore. Why would a kid be interested in playing drums if the “music” she listens to only uses a drum machine track?

  2. All good reasons. One more (often neglected) reason is that music training in schools is 1) entirely notation based. This means that the child receives no training or encouragement to create their own music with the instrument. All “music” (i.e. sheet music) comes from distant experts. The natural creativity of the child is neglected. When you study art, you paint pictures. When you make music (at any age) you should be comfortable creating your own music along with playing the music of others. 2) School music is based on playing in bands. So without a band (and director and room and sheet music and regular rehearsals), there isn’t much reason to play. If the child was familiar with creating their own music as well, they could continue making music even if there were no band (as in summer, holidays, etc.).
    Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

    • Steve P. says:

      However it should be noted in the initial stages at least, picking up an instrument and producing a sound is more complicated than picking up a pencil and producing something on paper. The mechanics limit creativity until the fundamentals are under control.

      • I am so glad you brought up this point. Here are some things to consider:
        •Babies learn to speak without notation. They listen, then babble in imitation. In relatively short time, they learn to express themselves in speech without accent. After a few years of experimenting with sound, they start dealing with the symbols that represent sound. Speech is a complex use of pitch and rhythm. Music is the same, though simpler; music preceded speech in history, teaching the human ear to decode these variations in pitch and rhythm to make it ready for speech.
        •Notation puts symbol before sound. Music becomes a largely visual experience that distracts the beginner from the aural and kinesthetic feedback he needs to learn control of the instrument.
        •There are two ways to make music: playing what someone else tells you and playing what you yourself would like to express. They are not mutually exclusive; balance is good. Music education focusses nearly exclusively on the former. Beginners should start without notation and with the opportunity to choose some of their own notes. Improvisation is simply choosing your own notes. You make your choices by solving musical puzzles or games. Games are fun. Fun is motivating. A player can make choices from the first day. From before the first day, actually, because first lessons would do well to start with singing and rhythm games to prepare for making music on the instrument. Instrumental training is largely about gaining control of how to create and then change pitches. You can make up an interesting “song” right away just using rhythms (drummers do it every day – creation without pitch). Call and response is also useful. Babies express their feelings and needs from their first moment. Beginners can and should do the same. Kids are naturally creative. Educational systems suppress much of that. It doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to give up anything we have in band programs, etc. But the entire system would be healthier and have vastly less attrition by letting all musicians have a voice in their music, just as they have a speaking voice and a personality. Learning Chinese is easy if you start early. Learning to think and “speak in music” is the same.
        Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

        • Jeffrey, I couldn’t possibly agree with you more. I grew up in a musical family traditionally trained on piano and flute, started college on a music scholarship, and had no idea how to create my own music. The Simply Music piano method I now teach espouses the same philosophy as you – our natural language-learning mode is to speak it first, then add the symbols which now have a context.

          To believe that one must have theoretical training in order to be creative is an oxymoron, in my opinion. Now I do agree that often one’s creativity can be more beautifully expressed after having learned some theory. But to insist on training before creating one’s own music is many times to kill the creativity. I see it all the time. Especially with students who started out with a more traditional (reading-first) approach. They have internalized the notion that they must “obey the page” and are often extremely uncomfortable – even scared – to try anything without explicit instructions.

          I feel very strongly about this, because the way our world is heading with the insane pace of technological advances, the kind of people the world needs is one who can think outside the box, adapt quickly/improvise in ever-changing situations, work in harmony with others on a global scale, and not be afraid to try new things. I believe music training, including starting out with a foundation of creativity and freedom, is key. Learning notation is equally important, just at a later stage when it makes sense, when light bulbs go on because the symbols can immediately be related to previously learned material.

          I am not only speaking hypothetically – the method I have taught for 12 years has produced the most well-rounded, confident pianists/musicians I’ve ever known – who can improvise, compose, read confidently, accompany anything, play jazz solo and ensemble, play blues improv, and transcribe music. The proof’s in the puddin’ as they say.

          • Harriet Griffiths says:

            Yes, but we also need to continue to teach children the classical traditions, as simply jazz, improvisation, blues etc is not enough. A balanced approach please!

          • In my earlier comments I noted that I was not interested in getting rid of anything. I am, as you are, in favor of balance. The problem now is that there is no balance – it is almost entirely Literate (note reading tradition) and almost no aural/creative tradition. I would love to see anything even remotely approaching balance. I know that is extremely unlikely now or ever, but it might (and should) happen that students have some chance within the system to make some music that comes from them, not just from distant experts. That would be a “consummation devoutly to be wish’d”. The two sides are complementary. I would love to see the Note-Only approach loosened up enough to permit the Aural/Creative side some space. In those places that it has happened, the results have been highly positive. Change is a scary thing. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that being able to do both (note reading and aural/creative playing) were always a part of Western music tradition – until the last two hundred years. Ink-only music is an anomaly and gives the musician an incomplete music education. It’s easy to teach and to grade, but it is incomplete. More balance would be wonderful.
            Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…New CD: Soundings (horn improvisation)My Profile

        • Allyson says:


          Developing the co-ordination to play the violin or the cello is quite a bit more involved than singing.

          • All instruments take time to learn. But there is no instrument and no level at which a student can’t make some choices of their own. Playing what the teacher tells you is not mutually exclusive from picking some of your own notes. Balanced musicianship means doing both. The system for most instruments most of them is one where the adults control all of the notes the child plays. That’s very convenient, very safe, for adults. Soon the child learns to fear making any choices. Soon the child learns only to “serious” the instrument, not to play it. And many decide that maybe they don’t really want to continue with it after all. It’s great to have access to all that great literature and pedagogy. It’s also healthy to have some time when you (the student) have some choices, and learn about music through music, through the music that you experiment with and discover, seeing what you can do with rhythm, timbre, melodies. Get together with friends and make your own music. Mostly, though, in schools if you want to do this, you better get a guitar.
            Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

        • MusicTeacher says:

          That’s what the Gordon method is all about! Musical dialog and aural skills should come before reading music. Because music is a language, just like speaking English, it is important for students to learn the language of music (“music babble” and some fundamental pitch relationships) before they are required to read it. I’m trying to find a balance of this in my elementary instrumental music classroom. We do a LOT of singing–some days, more singing than playing! It’s definitely not the norm, but it really helps students get a better understanding of what they’re doing musically, and they play that much more in tune because they are audiating the music!

        • I was thinking, imagine a class where the student brought in a piece of music, and the class colaborated with the teacher to create the arrangement while in sectional lessons. The teacher takes the music home, and creates the band arrangement according to student input.

          • My good friend Charles Young, head of the Theory and Composition dept. at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has done. It’s been some time since he told me about it so I am fuzzy on the details, but the gist of it is that he worked with students to create musical material that he then arranged for concert band and then performed – it was wonderful music and a tremendous hit for all concerned.
            Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Improv Quote of the Day: Medieval Music and NotationMy Profile

      • The contrabass clarinet I played in high school was dented all to hell, but that didn’t stop me from playing it. School couldn’t afford a new one because a “cheap” one is about $5000.

    • lynette says:

      it is necessary to have a certan amount of theoretical knowledge in order to be creative. What are your credentials that you expound such bs?

      • Children are born creative. Adults and the education system soon squeeze that out of them. Creating just means making your own choices and expressing, even just imitating. But not parroting. Educational systems are built on what is easy to assign and to grade, not always what is any good. Babies create with sounds from birth. Anyone can create with music if they can sing or tap. Improvisation is exactly like conversation. You say something – something that you want to express, using words that are familiar and comfortable to you. The other listens and responds. You listen and then respond according to what they say. And so on. We have all be led somewhat astray by definitions. Most people think improvisation equals jazz equals bebop equals 220 BPM equals never going to happen. Improvisation simply means you choose the notes. Just as in conversation where you choose the words. It’s a great thing to study musical literature and have access to all that great music. But the other half of being a complete musician is being able to think in music and create your own music. This is what has been absent from musical study since the mid-19th century. Music started as an aural art. Notation came in in the Middle Ages, but for another 1000 years musicians could do both – interpret notation as well as invent and embellish music. With the advent of huge orchestras and compositions, conservatories and method books in the 19th centuries, improvisation faded away from musical curricula until by the 20th century church organists were the only ones left who could improvise. Not only couldn’t traditionally trained musicians not improvised, but they didn’t know it had ever been any other way. I’m interested in getting everyone back to how it was for umpteen 1000s of years – being able to create your own music. If you define improv as jazz, you are going to leave out almost everyone. If you define improv as your own expression in music (which includes just rhythm – tap out a beat), everyone can be part of it. Have a look at what Music for People has been doing out east for decades. Or what Rod Paton has been doing in England with his Life Music. Or the creative components that Ardith Haley has introduced to the band programs of Nova Scotia. The last meeting of the College Music Society in October in St. Louis was all about the need to bring in improvisation/creative music to contemporary music curricula. It’s starting to happen, and alleluia for that.

        My credentials: 25 years playing only the ink in a symphony orchestra, years of improvising jazz guitar, published and recorded composer, 4 CDs of contemporary classical improvisation, 15 years as a university music professor (many improv workshops nationally and internationally), 14 years teaching Improvisation for Classical Musicians, 4 years teaching Creativity in Music (on improvisation and composition for nonmajors), 6 published books on nonjazz improvisation (go to giamusic.com do a search for “agrell”), blog on classical improv: improvinsights.com. I didn’t improvise at all on my main instrument (horn) for many decades; I finally got in on it when I started university teaching and changed the definition of what improvisation/creative music was. It was life-changing and I want everyone to enjoy the fun and benefits of making your own music. You don’t need to wait. You (anyone!) can start right now. Start simply. Start a beat. Start with one note. Listen carefully. The next note will suggest itself. Improvisation is not about virtuoso playing. It is about virtuoso listening. Remember the 2 rules of improvisation: 1) Stay safe and comfortable; choose notes that are easy and familiar and comfortable. Then later: 2) Break Rule 1 as often as possible.

        Everyone is creative and can start right now. We don’t because we are afraid of failure, of mistakes. So we make music about technique and perfection instead of expression and emotion. We study foreign languages wrong the same way – we worry about grammar when we should start with expression. Order that cup of coffee in French for a couple of hours; keep trying, you will get better and it will be familiar and comfortable. Go for quantity. Quality will take care of itself if you keep going, have models, imitate, listen, and respond. The main thing is to start. Right now.

        The mother of all improvisation books (not a method) is Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch. A beautiful life-changer.
        Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

        • Jeffrey, I appreciate all you are saying and agree with it. Consider this, though:

          I have many friends who are great musicians like yourself who were “formally trained” — note reading, etc. who now shun the approach. But would they (or could they) come to your conclusion without having that training first? They became great musicians through an approach that they do not advocate for now. Careful careful….

          And as if we did not have enough problems keeping music in the schools due to the fact that musicians have a difficult time “quantifying” what they do, it is important to balance approaches in order to keep programs alive.

          This was a VERY short answer to a much longer discussion.

          • Tony,
            Thanks for your comment. Your question has the expectation of a certain answer, i.e. that your great musicians friends would not have become what they are today unless they had gone through the traditional symbol before sound approach. For the sake of sparking thought and discussion, let’s try out this rephrasing of your argument – that your friends became great musicians in spite of their notation approach. Educational systems at nearly all levels value what is printed vastly over what is not. If it is printed, it is assumed to have value and be true. If it is aural, it is suspect. So the whole approach of educational systems is very heavily based on what is printed. On notation. On learning to read and interpret notation from the earliest possible stages. On the Literate (notated) tradition as opposed to the Aural (improvised) tradition. Schools (sometimes) pay lip service to creativity, but they don’t like it. Creativity is by its very nature messy and unpredictable. There are “mistakes.” Lots of mistakes. Notation is much more preferable to education systems – it looks so clean and neat! And predictable! You know exactly what you’re getting. You can preserve masterpieces exactly. What’s not to like?

            It’s very seductive, and easy to say “see all the great musicians out there – they all got there because they started in the traditional way with notation – all their decisions were made for them and all they had to do was follow orders.” Simple. Straightforward. Seductive.

            Let’s turn the glass the other direction. Now look at what this whole thread is really about – the staggering amount of attrition of everyone else in music study. Take a look at how many start an instrument in the 6th grade. Now count again how many are still playing one year after high school. Now tell me again about the effectiveness of the notation-only school.

            Here’s what interests me: having as many people as possible getting in on the joy of making music. I am not interested in any particular type of music and it doesn’t matter to me what level they achieve or what instrument they play. I am just interested in getting people to play. Music is a gym for the brain. There are innumerable studies that show how music improves the brain’s ability to do a wide variety of cognitive tasks. Music is social. You can play by yourself, but it’s most fun when you get together with friends (or strangers!) and make music together. We spend billions on more prisons when we could spend a thousandth part of that on making it easier for more people to make music – places to practice, music lessons, instruments, workshops, concerts, etc. In the town I used to live in Switzerland, there was an old prison on the outskirts of town. The Swiss are, in general, a narrow-minded, fiscally and socially conservative society; what do think they did with the old facility? Sell it to a corporation? Raze it? What they did was to turn it into practice rooms for rock bands. Rock bands have almost no place to practice in a society where most people live in apartments. The Swiss made it easier for them to make music by renting them practice space for a nominal fee.

            A good way to have more people play music is to make it easier to play music and play more kinds of music. Both aural and literate traditions have much to offer. A complete musician should have experience in both. Current music education is almost completely one-sided. If you don’t believe me, ask a newly-minted doctoral music student play Happy Birthday by ear in a randomly selected key and watch what happens. We don’t have to give up anything to add an aural side to music education -we still have access to all that wonderful literature. But let’s make it easier, more fun, and much more sensible to study music by delaying the introduction of notation, even a little bit. Staring at symbols of something you don’t know anything about or understand is frustrating more more difficult than it needs to be. Take on the symbols after you have experienced what making music actually is. Learning music theory is great – but learning about it becomes much more valuable when you actually can use it, as in improvisation. See the wonderful article by Harold Best on Music Curricula in the Future (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/haroldbest/curricula.html) where he has the terrific idea about learning music by doing music not just by reading about music.

            “It is important to balance approaches…” I couldn’t agree more. Right now there is no balance between Literate and Aural – it’s all Literate. Add a balance of Aural tradition and many more people will stay in music. Society benefits when people do music and art. And that is a very short idea for a much, much longer discussion….

        • Heidi Piper says:

          Jeffrey – you’re awesome! Loved reading all your comments.
          I am a primary school (K-6) music teacher in Australia and my goal for every student I teach is for them to CREATE! The Orff approach to music education has transformed my teaching methods and encouraged me to teach improvisation to children – something I never learnt to do as a child learning the flute in the school band.

        • Thank you Jeffrey, really great and interesting points about what I think is often a very misunderstood subject. I believe in instrumental music lessons imagination & creativity can & should be encouraged & developed from day 1. If a student can play a single or note or even make some sort of sound then they can make spontaneous decisions (i.e. improvise) that is vital for their musical development. A simple rhythm can be played on a single note for example. Being musically creative is not something that you wait to do until you have already “learned to play” but is a vital part of the learning process itself. A vast topic that is hard to get across in a few words.
          Thank you for the book you mentioned on improvisation, I will make sure to track it down.

        • Bravo! I couldn’t agree more. As a parent, I made choices about how my child would learn music. I had taught English in the public school system at a time when the country’s education leaders had just begun to introduce native English speakers in classrooms. They had realized the grammar approach to language learning wasn’t working. Students could use grammar better than most of us, but they couldn’t speak a word of it. Being able to produce words of your own is the real test of fluency.

          This shaped my choices for my child’s music education. First, they need to start early. Yes, music in the womb, music with strong rhythms, that baby would pause and listen to…reggae, blues, whatever baby seemed to like. Later came Kodaly, taught without any kind of notation, via moving to rhymes, copping in time, and vocal expression. Then came group keyboard lessons with the Yamaha method, listening first, tapping out rhythms before making music on the keyboard. For every 10 minutes of practice, we let him have 10 minutes exploring every crazy sound the keyboard could make. Then came a switch to an instrument of my child’s choice.

          Taking the view that music is a language means changing the way conservatories do things. This isn’t popular with elitists. In some countries, there is a belief that all children can make music, and all children can make art. These places manage to get a much higher rate of participation. Until we start to see music as language, and adopt some of the methods used in immersion language teaching (hello, Canada’s French Immersion system), we will fail to engage all students fully in music educaction. This is democratization, but I’m not convinced public school educators really want this. It’s a shame.

        • “Children are born creative. Adults and the education system soon squeeze that out of them. Creating just means making your own choices and expressing, even just imitating. But not parroting. Educational systems are built on what is easy to assign and to grade, not always what is any good.”
          YES! So, why do band instructors/teachers insist on testing the students on scales, etc. for seats in beginning band??? All it serves to do is puff up the 1st, 2nd chairs, etc. and demoralize the lower chairs. I see the need for placement in high school bands; however, not in small size primary school bands that are super small. I have a child who adores band; however, this child is also severely dyslexic. It infuriates me that he practices a lot and tries so hard, yet fails the auditions. He needs to practice a piece many times to get it. He is definitely improving; however, it is completely demoralizing to be in middle school and have 5th graders at higher chairs + to be put in the lowest band. THIS is another reason why kids quit band.

          • Indeed, teachers who seek to motivate students utilizing the wrong means may do more harm than good. And it is proven that students with dyslexia have gone on to extremely creative careers and lives. I am sorry this happened.

          • I realize my reply is several months later. But I thought you and your son might be happy to know that dyslexia does not mean you will not be quite good at music. I am dyslexic and reverse things and read music up a line. It was way worse when I was younger but over time I learned to memorize the “lines of musical thought” and look farther ahead and look for and play the patterns rather than getting hung up on individual notes on a piece of paper. My teacher got me around all this and now I play in 2 orchestras and a very very good wind symphony. Lol … I had trouble typing this … But have learned to be careful and go back and reread it before hitting post. once I knew I had dyslexia I figured out pretty much on my own how to get around it.

      • Are you not reading? I see this in a lot of the responses to this article. It gives the students feelings of doom. It’s the same as dropping a 20lb history book in their lap at the start of the semester. I remember I thought about learning how to play the flute when I was in high school. The teacher I mentioned it to basically told me it was to difficult- great job Mr. Craft…

      • Stephanie says:

        It is not BS at all. Do some research on Gordon’s Music Learning Theory. I have taught elementary band for 10 years and for the first five I taught the traditional way: Here’s a Bb, this dot on the third line, here’s the fingering for a Bb, play a Bb for four beats. Here’s your next note…
        After reading more about Gordon and attending a number of lectures and classes by a professor who knows a lot about this theory, I have incorporated a lot more improvisation and aural learning skills into my band program. The kids love it! They get to express themselves and not just play the dots on the page! My retention rate is significantly higher than in the first few years and the kids have better intonation skills, play better together rhythmically, and listen better. From the second lesson, we are improvising bass lines (“DO” and “TI) to Hot Cross Buns and other beginner tunes. The students are singing their songs before they play them and we play the entire first concert without looking at notation. Then, when we finally do open up our notation books, they see the notes that they already know how to play. Sort of like reading words that they already know how to speak. They “get it” so much faster and are not frustrated with having to think about the “dots” in addition to how to form their mouth, where to put their fingers, whether they are getting a good sound, and whether they are playing together with their peers.

        If you think it is BS, do some research before you condemn it. It’s working for me and many other teachers across the United States.

    • All great points! However, us music educators find ourselves under tremendous pressure from both the community, some classroom teachers, and administrators to validate our very existence. There needs to be a concert, and it needs to sound good. That is our public face and the measure of our worth. The students need to play something…together…that I select. Also, people learn differently. All students need to make a pleasing sound and play by rote first. Some students read notation immediately after that, some don’t. We need to practice differentiated learning procedures just like any other teacher. In order to produce independent musicians both aural and visual skills need to be introduced. It’s important to be well rounded. I was the kid who couldn’t read music…but because of that I can repeat anything I hear, improvise on the spot, etc. I wouldn’t trade that skill for anything, but it would’ve been a lot easier in school if I could read. Also, no one discouraged my aural skills so not all school programs are biased toward notation. That depends on the skill of the teacher. Please keep in mind that music teachers have bosses too that expect things done a certain way and in a certain time frame and all they know about it is the end result. Does it sound good? Did EVERYONE get to participate (whether an aural or visual learner)? Was it ready by December even though the kid opened the case for the first time in October, dropped his violin 3 times and broke the bridge twice..lol. All things must be considered when forming your opinion…

      • Everything you say is true. Teachers in general and music teachers in particular are under great pressure to spin flax into gold nearly instantly. I think they should all get Nobel prizes. I think there are still some things that are worth bearing in mind. Conventional wisdom (that which we accept with little or no thought to be true – everybody thinks it, everybody does it) assumes a few things that just might not be the case, such as:
        •Literate and aural/creative training are mutually exclusive, and operate as a zero-sum game – their aims are different and if you do one (aural), you have less time to do the other (notation only).
        •Notation only training is the only solution to the great pressures of having to produce a concert in very little time.
        •Your end result (concert performance) will be worse if you do anything but notation work.
        The unspoken conclusion of these assumptions is that aural/creative training or experiences are a useless frill for the music educator. There’s too much to do, no time to do it, and there is only one remedy for that – stick to the ink.

        Music teacher training is all literate. A few play jazz, but most teachers and thus most students have no training and no idea what’s possible. Certainly no one ever told us in music school that we couldn’t play tunes by ear or decorate a melody, but it also never came up that we should or we were given any training or encouragement in it. So why would we ever introduce something we don’t know into our curricula? Chicken and egg. Even though improvisation has been part of musical training and music history for all but about the last 150 years, it is a new idea to many now. Change is scary. Nobody likes change. As the saying goes, if you want to make people mad, try to change something. Most common practices today that are completely accepted today were considered crazy when they were first suggested (like Semmelweis and hand washing). Somehow, they catch on, and are eventually adopted. Ardith Haley and friends in Nova Scotia produced 9 modules of musical material that band directors had to cover during primary, middle, and high school years. Lots of stuff. Part of it was creative – improv games. There were a lot of folks who didn’t want to do this – they had no background in it. But there it was – they had to do introduce creative activities along with traditional band stuff. The process took time and was easier for some than others. But almost everyone has reported highly positive results. Their job has become easier, not harder, as the students learn to understand music from the inside out, and become producers, not just consumers of music. They still do all the same things as before. But their students make their job easier because they are now in a way partners, not just dead weights to be lugged along, cajoled, pushed, tricked into doing the work. I watched a workshop given by one of them – Paul Hutten – with his 8th graders. An hour of various musical games and improvisations with no ink at all. It was a stunning display of musicianship and musical skills and understanding by a room full of teenagers at that distracted age. They seemed completely engaged in the process. I had the privilege of using them as my lab band later in a Soundpainting workshop and they were terrific – very quick, very attentive. This was, of course, a workshop and not a classroom, and not everyone is Paul Hutten. But the workshop (part of the annual conference of the music educators of Nova Scotia) made clear what’s possible at least. I saw similar things at the Manitoba music educators conference last October, especially band director Cheryl Ferguson.

        The band director’s job is extraordinarily challenging. But I think that the hints that are already out there that aural/creative activities can make the job easier are worth considering, worth sneaking in occasionally around the edges to see what happens. The toughest change to make is not with the students or the directors. It’s with the mindset of parents and administrators. This is a tough challenge. But do it anyway. Start small. Surprise yourself, then the students, then everybody else with One Thing that is aural/creative. Maybe start or end a rehearsal with one thing of this flavor that no one expects, that takes, oh, 15 seconds. Watch the change in their faces when they don’t know what’s coming and you ask them to do something quick and fun where they have to decide something (anything). It can be “crazy” (“Everyone pick one note from page 1 of the overture, come in when I give the downbeat, and crescendo and cut off at my signal. Go!” Or: “Play any note when I point at you.” Or: “Make a funny noise when my arm sweeps over your head” [= Soundpainting gesture SCAN]. Or: “In the next piece, at some point I will hold a note longer than it says in the music – see if you can catch it when I do that.” Or: “When I do THIS, everyone hold your instrument up in the air until I stop. When I stop doing THIS, go back to normal.” There are an infinite number of ways you can take a couple seconds of detour from the ink.

        Get in, get out, get back the ink. Repeat when you see their attention flagging. Sprinkle it like a bit of pepper over a stew (just a little bit – but boy, does it make a difference). Make it always a bit different. Put it in rehearsals – just a smidgen – every day. One or two things that they don’t expect, that asks something of them. Don’t put it in concerts for a good while. At some point down the line, when you and the students are comfortable and familiar with the idea of integrating your own musical decisions, have a bit of fun (your students will gladly keep the secret) by doing one thing in the concert that is not ink. It could be subtle or it could be obvious (turn around and conduct the parents in a long tone. When they don’t get it, have the band demonstrate, then try it again. Watch their reaction and faces this time). Wait until you and your students are ready, and then do something (exactly what is up to you and may be related to whatever else you are working on). Then do one thing, somewhere, in every concert. Parents will enjoy it and come to expect it. You’re still delivering your all-ink concert as expected, but the little bit of musical pepper will make a delightful difference for all concerned.

        I know, it’s scary, hard to imagine. It takes courage. Dealing with changing mindsets (yours, your students, parents, etc.) is not easy. But at some point you might be curious enough to see what happens if you do something different (that’s how I got start – I was just a little bit more curious than I was terrified of the process). Start small. Very small. See what happens. You can always go back to the old way and never do it again. But you might just open up some new doors, windows, and horizons and wonder how it took so long to get there.
        Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

        • Sounds like a good plan! Don’t assume that all music teacher training is notation based. I had improv classes in college. Everyone had to bring their primary instrument and the vocalists had to sing. I am a violin player. I currently play fiddle for the best country/southern rock band on Long Island, NY. We have no notation, must learn everything by ear and play hours of music by memory including improv. (Especially when the batteries in someone’s wireless system die during their lead…lol) I am also classically trained through a reputable conservatory, so I’ve had ample experience in both areas. My music teacher friends come to gigs and say “How do you do that… remember all those songs?” My students love to see the band because it shows them a totally different way to play a string instrument. I’ve had improv workshops with blue grass musicians for my kids, and some of them were not good at this, others were great. They really do learn differently. You have to make sure both types of learners have an opportunity to explore their strengths. For some of them it leans toward aural…for some visual. Also, I find that strings are very different than band at the beginning. I think we spend less time on notation naturally because it’s such a task to get a decent tone and hold the instrument correctly. We begin in 3rd grade. Also, I secretly love when kids ask me questions like “why is there a sharp sign next to this note, but not this one?” I love having them create something aurally, and then see what it looks like, or vice versa. I guess I love basic music theory because I didn’t realize how cool it was until High School. Lol. I was the kid who couldn’t read anything, but could play by ear. I remember what it was like to not be able to read notation, this helps me to approach it differently than most I think…

    • I was excited when I went out for band in the 6th Grade. I wanted to play the alto saxophone and thought it would be great to be in the same class as my sister.
      I was WRONG! My sister is a GIFTED Musician, My SON is a GIFTED Musician and I have an Uncle who is a GIFTED Musician. All three of them can and do play any instrument they pick up. My Granddaughter is being taught to play piano and my oldest daughter plays the flute.
      My Band Director recognized that I was never going to be a saxophone player and told me outright, that I needed to pursue another elective that I would enjoy more and that would be more in line with my talents, then he escorted me to the counselor to help me change band to Choir and Drama.
      I am an actress. I love to act in any type of play. I can sing and did for quite a while to help support myself and my son.

      I cannot read music. Putting sheet music in front of my is like putting up the arabic alphabet and expecting me to decipher it.

      While I agree that it is important to practise at any craft, but it is also important to realize where your talents lie.

      Now Mr. Oncken and Mr. K (Southmore Intermediate Band Directors in 1977, 78, 79) could have handled my lack of musical ability a little more tactfully, but the end is just the same, I would never have been able to be anything but a hindrance to the band, but I was and am an awesome actress and singer.

    • This is nothing but an excuse made by people who never made the attempt to properly learn music. I am tire of hearing this lie. Learning to read music is just as important as ear training. Not only does it help you read music, it helps you to create, and write down your music. If a kid learns to play the instrument they can easily learn to create music. They don’t need a teacher to teach them how to make their own music, they just need to do it themselves, and if they are not creative enough to make the step themselves then they are not creative enough to create their own music.

      • Jeffrey Agrell says:

        “This is nothing but an excuse made by people who never made the attempt to properly learn music.”

        This is a puzzling statement if you are referring to me. I have played all kinds of music classical, folk, jazz, etc etc on a number of instruments for the past 57 years, 46 of those as a professional musician, including 25 years in a symphony orchestra, and 17 years as a university music teacher. I teach both notation based music and improvised music (7 books on this). I think I have the experience to comment on this and the right to an opinion on it. It’s not an “excuse” and you’ll have to trust me that I have indeed studied music properly.

        I think the fallacy that inhabits your thoughts here is that these things are mutually exclusive or that they must be ranked in order of importance. There is nothing about reading music that excludes creative playing. The problem is that music education is almost entirely notation based, and that aural/creative training is almost entirely excluded. They are not mutually exclusive, but the system promotes one (because it is easy to do) and excludes or marginalizes the other. I see plenty of students entering university who are terrified of creating their own music because they have never done so and don’t know how. They have been raised on the notation-only, don’t-make-a-mistake method of music training. Students are taught, overtly or implicitly, from the beginning that what they do is not valued; valued is what experts far away have created; their part is to re-create those notes and be criticized for imperfections in the attempt. Literate music training is perfectly fine – my objection is when it is the only show in town. Creativity is messy – who knows what will happen – tricky to teach and hard to grade; systems like neatness, and Convergent Thinking (notation only) is very neat. Play a scale and I can tell you what notes you missed. Creative music (Divergent Thinking) is trickier – create your own melody, rhythms, timbre, form, etc. So it is not taught or encouraged. Too bad, because it unites all the parts of music that are split into categories that have little to do with each other: theory, history, composition, instrumental technique, aural training. Creative music brings them all together – an integrative practice. And tremendously exhilarating and empowering for those who engage in it.

        Everyone is born creative. All children are artists in Kindergarten. But the system values and promotes conformity, organization, obedience, and predictability, so the number of purple cows that get painted drops every year so that even by middle school (and certainly by the end of high school), very little creative vision remains. Most of the freshmen I see seem to have had creative lobotomies and are terrified of the idea of having to create their own music. Students with terminal degrees on their instruments are unable to compose a simple piece for their own instrument and are unlikely to be able to play Happy Birthday in by ear in a randomly selected key. There are marvelous exceptions, of course, but by and large, if you want to create your own music, you would do best to get a guitar and start a band.

        Kids don’t need band or a teacher etc. to make their own creative music – but the way music is taught, they have no idea how else to do it except follow the band director or instrumental music teacher’s orders and play music from someone else. Nothing wrong with that…. except that it is the only show in town. As I’ve said before, check the numbers of how many start on instruments in 6th grade and how many are still playing one year after high school – the attrition is spectacular. If the system made room for aural/creative music, that might be different.

  3. Mack Nordstrom says:

    I think we all know that the leading causes of the mass exodus are cliques and peer pressure.

  4. This definitely resonates with me; considering that I had 2 varsity sports and too many APs for my own sanity, I’m surprised I didn’t quit band (or frankly, piano sooner than I did). I’m also thankful that I kept them up. However, I will say that in my experience, recitals were one of the biggest reasons I quit piano. I hated–and still hate–playing solo in front of an audience. (Band concerts, on the other hand, are entirely another matter.) People may say that it gets easier with time, or that kids should just deal with it, or whatever….but from my and several of my friends’ experiences, for certain personalities, it’s just dreadful no matter what.

    • This article and JT’s comment made me realize how lucky I was having started piano lessons in 5th grade and continued my music education through high school college to obtain a music degree. Yes, I had to play solo piano works in my formative years but one of my best friends and I also played one piano and two piano duets from 7th grade through high school. That helped keep my interest. There is also music out there for unlikely pairings. A co-worker played clarinet and I play flute and I found a duet book that we could play together.

    • This article and JT’s comment made me realize how lucky I was having started piano lessons in 5th grade and continued my music education through high school and college to obtain a music degree. Yes, I had to play solo piano works in my formative years but one of my best friends and I also played one piano and two piano duets from 7th grade through high school. That helped keep my interest. There is also music out there for unlikely pairings. A co-worker played clarinet and I play flute and I found a duet book that we could play together.

    • Completely understood, JT. Being that piano is a solo instrument and is not taught in school most of the time, this happens quite a bit. But as you mention, you loved ensemble performances, which is what I was referring to for the most part. Glad you stayed in the band!

  5. Steve Mahsburn says:

    I agree with Jeffrey Agrell in that notation is a major problem.

    1. Children speak for 3-4 years before we even begin to teach them to read. Imagine how speech would be delayed if we taught children to read at the same time they were learning to talk.

    2. It should be no surprise that practicing 3rd trumpet parts of only four pieces it not enough music to sustain interest, yet the majority of band kids get no more sheet music than this.

    • Great teaching circumvents all these problems. Yes, improvisation should be part of lessons (sometimes), but students will want to continue music making when they know how to create a beautiful sound. Nothing saddens me more than seeing a student have an epiphany that they want to study music for a career (performance, ed, therapy, etc) and are completely behind technically on their instruments. Balance is key.

    • Aerin says:

      Actually, I don’t think there’s any basis for the notion that early exposure to reading slows the development of talking. My youngest brother started learning to read not long after he started talking (before he was 2), and it didn’t slow his talking down a bit. I spontaneously taught myself to read before I was 5, by following along with the words when my mother read picture books to me. I started reading music when I was 6, and I don’t think it hindered my musical development in the least. To me, it felt natural and empowering. Different children learn best in different ways.

  6. Steve Mashburn says:

    Mack Nordstrom who says: “. . . the leading causes of the mass exodus are cliques and peer pressure.” That is true but a skillful teacher can use cliques and peer pressure to their advantage.

    I always built programs that had between 2/3’s and 3/4’s of the school population in band. At that point, band becomes more popular than sports or cheer-leading.

    Your first job as a director is to recruit. Sometimes this takes some thinking. For example, in many places the largest drop is between 1st and 2nd year. At one system, we were starting beginners in 5th grade, everyone thought this was great — but we had a 50 percent drop-out rate. By knocking out 5th grade band we kept 40% more kids in the program which translated to a third HS concert band class in 5 years and an assistant high school director.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Steve. The idea of peer pressure and cliques can be turned on its head immediately when the culture is transformed by a great teacher. Virtually every middle school student where I taught was in the music program. IT’s “cool” to be good at something and part of a great cause, regardless of age.

  7. To the first point about music not treated as important … absolutely. OR, if music does fill the home, it is only what is in favor rather than solid, good music. And I am not speaking of classical versus modern, but interesting ‘soul filled’ music. My now music teacher son was exposed to all sorts of music when he was young. We took him to classical concerts ( professional and amateur ), and shared our enthusiasm for good music. When he turned teenage, there were no fights about music – HE taught US about new, wonderful music – because he had a good foundation. All this just to day – Start early and often !

  8. Interesting article. IMO, just about every point in here leads back to a teacher who is inspired and inspiring about music. Everything else will fall into place. As a professional musician for over 40 years and a teacher who has taught beginners and college musicians, I was flabergasted when my kids went through a very highly-rated, top-notch school system, and were faced with ‘bad’ music teachers. My daughter literally watched every student in her beginning music lesson classes drop out, one-by-one, most of them crying their way out the door. When she was the last student left, I had to let her quit the saxophone. My son played drums through school and had a few good teachers, but also a few who made music difficult for the kids. If music is not fun, kids are not going to stick with it. It doesn’t have to be dumbed-down musically to be fun, although that is a route many take. It’s a product of our music schools – there are no playing gigs left so everyone becomes a teacher. Many learn to teach, but others only learn to play at our colleges. Teaching is an art, not a science and if one ‘falls back’ on teaching, that’s not a good place to start.

    • Good point. I stuck with band all through school, but our director was not someone who inspired and motivated. Instead, she led through fear, intimidation, and yelling. It wasn’t unusual to find a fellow student crying in the instrument closet. She was a very talented musician, but she had no connection with young students, and we lost a lot of band members as a result.

  9. One of the biggest reasons music programs are dissolved or are downsized it the fact that music often is isolated from main stream academics. Music can and does connect the dots. Decades of work have gone into StringQuest,com, which is destined to save music in the schools and beyond. Check it out and you will see over a thousand pages of motivation filled cross-over curriculum. Enjoy!

  10. Sabina Jagoda says:

    I am a mother of two daughters and since the girls were 3 years old, they knew the word “choreography” and would turn on music by themselves, rehearse, and at the age of 3 and 6, they took every opportunity to perform, just for anybody who cared to be the audience. The energetic clapping only kept them going further. My career was dance so maybe it happened naturally. At the age of 4, the girls started piano, then my 1st daughter in cello, and my second in violin. I started playing the piano at the age of 4 and to this day, I feel blessed my parents pushed — albeit at times with such force I did all sorts of things to avoid practice and even goto my weekly lessons. I actually ran away from home to make a point!
    I agree with everyone here that finding a good, hopefully great, teachers is the key to having students continue. Both my daughters quit their strings after about 2years. They lasted even this long only because I did many, many things to keep them going including bribing. It’s next to pulling teeth when I have to make them practice or goto lessons. I went to the music teachers teaching at school and found either they were just barely able to focus on 22 kids all at the same time and I saw eyes roll from both students and teachers. We all know what I’m going to say next. NOT ENOUGH FUNDING!! so that there are plenty of assistants, where grumps of 5:1 ratio, and even then, it’s hard to keep the students interested. I don’t have any idea how music teachers are hired but I doubt the school goes through any extensive interviews. Reading their resumes with a scratch a scratch to their heads, is what gets the music teachers in. Remember the movie, “School House of Rock?” If only …. And the teacher was not hired through the normal protocol but from one troubled happenings after another, or fate, brought Jack Black to teach and do so well. I know it’s only a movie but if our teachers had that kind of dedication, I could see major changes in students for both students and teachers.
    Just one last note. (I apologize for going on) but give teachers a break! They started playing and continued to so because music, or for that matter, any medium in art, each individual teachers were once babes and obviously the art said something to their souls. This is and has been their life on a daily basis, or at least majority of time. Not everyone can be a Joshua Bell or a Sabina Meyer and if it were, where would we find available teachers? Okay! Truly last to say: Parents are EXTREMELY important. Both my girls are also in school choir and their teacher teaches 4 times a week throughout the year and the school considers this class as important as language class and other pertinent electives. They have about 6 concerts a year and merge school orchestra and with the high school closely related to this middle school, have concerts with their choir, their orchestra and musicals. You can imagine how thrilled the middle schoolers are when they can be with “oooh” and “Ahhhs” of being in the same situation and place as with high schoolers.
    Everything takes effort when one wants to do well which then naturally makes them continue, whether it’s musical instrument, to even being a foodie!, cooking, acing anything ….

  11. I played alto sax from 5th grade until the beginning of my senior year in high school. I was in jazz band, swing band, concert band and marching band. I spent 2 to 3 hours each day practicing and got very good. I quit early my senior year because no matter how hard I tried and how many hours over the years I practiced. I never was able to make first chair.

  12. Let me first start off by saying that I appreciate music. I don’t love it, but I appreciate it. That being said, this list is a joke to me. Not a single one of the things on the list applies to why I quit playing music. #1 – my parents treated music very important. Important enough to make me practice piano 30 minutes a day (not every day) growing up (which I hated every moment of it). They also went so far as to make me play 3 years in the middle school band when I would have been happy to play none. They thought it was important, I didn’t! #2 – I knew how to get better, I just didn’t care to, because I didn’t want to play at all! #3 – I knew I was talented enough to play, and my parents and teachers constantly said I could be even better if I just practiced ( I was already one of the top chairs without ever practicing). My director even asked/begged me to continue to play into high school, when I finally had the choice to quit. #4 – If anything, summer breaks from music made me enjoy not playing, plus I never cared about practicing anyway, so I never lost any skills that I never cared to learn. #5 – My instrument may have been ugly, but it worked just fine. My parents were actually smart enough to not buy me a new one when even they knew I didn’t want to be playing. A new instrument would not have began to placate me. I would rather have taken the money for a new pair of cleats, bat or glove. #6 – performing would have made me hate it even more. Living through 2 concerts a year and a variety of parades was torture enough on my self esteem. #7 – fun music to practice? You mean a blank page? #8 – You are right, other activities were pulling me away from band, and I was happy they did. If my parents pulled me away from baseball practice to make me practice my instrument I would have run away from home!
    The point of my reply is this. Band can be awesome for some kids and hell for others. Let them play if they want, but don’t make them start when they don’t even want to play (that will help you improve your percentage rate of those staying in band through grade 12 once they start).
    I was better in school when I was in the middle of a sports season because that is what gave my life meaning. I hated school more when I was in band. I will never thank my parents for making me be in the band, but I won’t hold back my child from wanting to be in the band if they choose to. It is also more dangerous for both sides of the issues to say that kids are smarter because of band or more athletic because of sports, when it might just be possible that as a general consensus smarter people might tend to lean towards music before sports and athletic people might lean towards sports before music. There can also be smart/musical people in sports and athletic people in band. Hearing that I would have been smarter had I kept sitting on a chair and blowing hot air into an instrument is a complete joke to me, and as a competitive person makes me honestly combative toward the idea.
    Also, if a band program/athletic team can financially sustain itself, leave them alone and let those kids enjoy the activity. If they can’t, don’t make other programs lose their funding to pay for something that people don’t want.

    • I am glad you found joy in your sports. I don’t think music is for everyone. My mom made me take piano. -I was terrible. (bad teacher and no family musicians to support my inability) I was forced to join orchestra in middle school. I didn’t ever loathe the idea, but I wasn’t thrilled about it. After some time there, I developed a greater desire to be better than just a player and then I took private lessons. It eventually became a great passion. I was no genius on my instrument, but I practiced. It also kept me in a crowd with other kids who were positive influences and it gave me self esteem. For that reason and for the reason that I treat music like a skill like math and reading for my children, I have not given them the choice either. Whether they take it to the enjoyment/passion level is not in my hands.

    • sarah says:

      yes, but the new research is showing that playing an instrument actually does make such profound changes to the brain that, as one researcher put it, changes can be seen with the naked eye. So music is special in that regard and even if kids don’t stick with it, any exposure is beneficial.

    • sarah says:

      the research did address the question “were band kids smarter to begin with?” and it found, no, the brain improves, and IQ improves regardless. Improvements in many areas: executive function, motor, visual, auditory, corpus callosum, memory, emotional regulation, socialization, tendency to stay in school, avoidance of alcohol and drugs even later in life, etc.

  13. Greg Carr says:

    I have taught every level of instrumental music for 30 years now in public schools. According to some studies kids just don’t have the coordination skills to put it all together on a stringed instrument until they’ve been playing for 4 to 7 years. If we delayed playing with notation that long they would be out of the program before they ever read a note. Successful ensemble playing is what drives school music programs. That requires reading notation in 2 to 4 parts their first year if they start in 6th grade . That’s not to say that rote teaching is not a very important part of developing finger patterns, tone, and aural skills. This did make me stop and think about perhaps having students show understanding of a 2 octave scale by by making up 4 bar melody in a higher position. There are always students who don’t seem to get past the technique and listen for tonality. Then there are students who refuse to read music or follow fingerings. We have to trick, demand, strategize every day to get a class 40 to 100 students in a heterogeneous instrumental class to acquire the skills to perform as an ensemble. The key to making them excited about playing is making sure some part of what they did that day was worth being excited about so they have the desire to replicate those results. There are many strategies but no magic pill. It’s hard work.

    • Hmm. What makes you think that making a sound on an instrument that you choose to make is a different process than making a sound on an instrument that someone else decides which note it is? What makes the two approaches mutually exclusive? The most satisfying results come from doing both literate and aural approaches. You don’t have to eliminate notation; you don’t even have to delay it that long. Notation/aural music can live side by side. Making choices and exploring music is fun, motivating, and a great teacher. Alloy that with notation studies and you have the best of both worlds. I’m not interested in getting rid of the literate side. I’m interested in a bit of balance, where the student is given the chance to make choices. Not the world where only distant experts get to choose all the notes all the time. Here’s an interesting thought: the Western art music tradition of notation only is an anomaly when considered not only through all musics around the world, but in western music itself. Ink-only playing is relatively recent. Even Clara Schumann played piano for two years before going to notation. Church organists still do it (say, when the offertory has to be a little shorter or longer).

      Creating music is fun. Fun is motivating. You want to do more of it – you want to play more. Students learn to learn music by doing music rather than by reciting notes. They can do both. They can play the notes you give them, and they can meet with friends and create their own chamber music. It will be likely be different music than what they play in band or orchestra. That’s a good thing. Improvisation is learning, play, exploration, experimentation. Now music theory makes sense – now you are thinking in music. Improvisation may lead to composition (every piece ever written started as an improvisation), which will make you, the director look good. I see a lot of college freshman who come in and seem to have had creative lobotomies. They are not used to making choices and they are afraid of it. But the brave ones who take my class quickly discover some amazing things. 1) they didn’t die. It didn’t even hurt. 2) It was fun 3) It was easy 4) “Why haven’t we done this for years? Why doesn’t everyone do this?

      I have great respect for band and orchestra directors who basically have to plan the Normandy Invasion every day and keep kids interested and involved. It’s a huge and virtuoso assignment. I would like to make all their lives easier in that respect. Thus I would just say, at some point, give creative music a try. It’s scary to try something you new. Change is scary. It seems risky. But do some reading. Maybe take a Music for People workshop some time. Check out Soundpainting.com. Soundpainting is a great way to introduce improv to a group – it is a system of gestures where the conductor asks for general music things and the players make the specific choices. When your ensemble seems to be flagging after a long, concentrated rehearsal, try a bit of Soundpainting. They will instantly be alert and refreshed when you do, because they get to make some decisions. And because they don’t know what is coming next. I’ve done this with 5th and 5th graders who barely knew how to play their instruments and after 2 rehearsals they learned about 30 or so gestures and did a SP piece with me in concert (along with their regular band pieces). They loved it, and threw themselves into it completely. It was the hit of the evening (junior high and high school bands also performed that night), partly because at some point you can also turn around and give the audience a sign (Long Tone) and they love being part of it, too. Learn a bit from the manual and DVD; watch some YouTube videos. It’s fun even if you just do some occasional SP in rehearsals as a change of pace (Whole Group – Long Tone – very soft – crescendo – Cut off. Brass – Long Tone With Mouthpieces – Continue This. Scan Rest of Group With Soft Laughter. Woodwinds – Long Tone With Voices – Sprinkle – Hits. Brass – Crescendo – Exit Slowly (fade out). Saxophone 1 Improvise With Long Tones). And so on. It’s fun. It’s easy. It makes a great complement to the regular fare. The music teachers I trained in this at Acadia University last summer regularly send me glowing reports of how engaged and enthusiastic their students are with the addition of some creative music.
      Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…Creativity Quotes of the DayMy Profile

      • Quote from a fellow parent at a school concert this week, “I can’t believe some kids do this for fun.” Because it isn’t. Because they have six hours a week of early morning and after-school rehearsals. Because they can’t take jazz unless they also take concert band, even in their senior year of high school. Because jazz isn’t taught during regular class time, only outside of school hours. How many kids would show up for math if it were taught as a six-hour per week add-on to their regular school day? And yet a small number of them do show extraordinary dedication purely out of their innate love of learning this musical form. And some of them do it without a future career as a music teacher in mind. They do it in spite of the huge obstacles the school system puts in their path. But many more drop music.

  14. Sometimes they get disheartened when someone they respect talks incessantly about another student musician. The constant praise of someone who’s natural talent is obvious can squash even the most hopeful who can be very good with encouragement and practice. Always being told you’re not as good as someone else is not motivating.
    Lana recently posted…Words FailMy Profile

    • Exactly what happened to my son. And the other kid and he are friends, despite the director’s clueless pyschological bungling. The worst thing is the other kid has a different style–he really isn’t better, but it took me a year to convince my son of that.
      I am a trained musician myself, not just some dad thinking everything his offspring does must be great.

  15. I’ve been going through this and receiving some good validation for many of my thoughts and practices in teaching.
    I do look to my fellow teachers to reduce the use of the word “talent”. I have found that it is rare that a child cannot learn any instrument they choose. For some, the instrument their parents choose my not “come with their head”, a term I use, as it applied to me and my early formal music lessons. As a teacher and a performing musician, I see many musicians who have reached a very high level of performance through motivation, practice and simple desire to achieve. Talent is an elite term that really does not apply to beginners or even intermediate musicians. Advanced level musicians, looking to progress into the elite levels of performance, as recitalists, soloists, symphonists, ensemblists, and so on, may be looking for that elusive “talent”, but again, there are a great many performing musicians out there who can be considered from adequate to excellent, who have achieved by their own determination.

  16. Andrea H says:

    What happens when we at music teachers have little to no control over recruitment for our program? I teach high school band and another teacher teaches the middle and elementary bands and has all but eliminated the program – this is in an urban school district where we are teaching in several buildings during the day and we have little to no control over which building(s) we are in. The easy answer might be to look for a job somewhere else, but HOW do we take these approaches listed above when we are given no opportunity to team teach younger students or we can’t assist in the recruiting when they get to us because we have already lost them!?! By the time a student reaches me in 9th grade, it is difficult to win them back due to their less than pleasant experiences in the lower levels of musical training.
    Any suggestions for this?

    • This is more common than I would like to admit, and my recommendation is certainly not to find another job!

      It is unfortunate (and almost criminal, in my mind) when a teacher obliterates a program through bad teaching and poor respect/rapport with students. That said, you don’t need to team teach the students in order to have a positive effect. Have you tried:

      – Bringing a few students down to the elementary/middle schools to perform/demo instruments/mentor young ones?
      – Have a band/orchestra joint playathon during the day?
      – Bring your better ensembles to perform a piece at the elementary/middle ensembles?

      There are so many more things you can try. It’s a bad situation, but far from unmanageable.

  17. You forgot bullying and peer pressure.
    Shannon recently posted…Welcome to Beano5 Photographic!My Profile

    • Thanks, Shannon. Considering virtually every student starts with music in school, the bullying and peer pressure come from the students who quit for the reasons I listed. But your point is duly noted.

  18. Thank you for this article. It has inspired me to do some writing about practicing. As a private teacher and parent of two young musicians, I think about this topic a lot. I hope that this discussion helps parents and educators who are helping young musicians achieve their goals. I believe parents want to help their children. With practicing a musical instrument, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, especially for non-musician parents.
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  19. My daughters 8th grade band teacher “lost” my daughters flute and she has been sitting in band doing nothing while everyone around her practices. He wants her gone because she doesn’t practice and now she’s wondering if she should opt out of flute next semester because her teacher has given her a very clear message that she is not wanted there. I think this is outrageous and was wondering if anyone has an opinion on this?

    • Hello. As a middle school music educator and a parent who had a child who is studying music in public school, my suggestion would be to schedule a face to face meeting with your child’s teacher. There can be a good amount of miscommunications when it’s all coming through the child. Once you’ve had a meeting with your child’s teacher then hopefully you’ll have a better idea of what is going on inside the classroom. It’s important to come to the meeting with an open mind and hear what the teacher has to say. If you feel that your child is, indeed, being treated unfairly then you should ask to have a meeting with your child’s guidance counselor or other school administrator to resolve the issue.

      Hope it helps!

  20. Julie says:

    I have raised seven children who all went through music programs at various schools all over the United States. There are some places where students cannot take a high school band course unless they commit to march with the marching band in the fall. This is an unattractive option for many middle schoolers as they approach high school. They see how many hours it takes away from other interests, activities, a job, and even academics (often up to 15 plus out-of-school hours per week). Often there is no way to participate in a sport as well as band because of conflicting practice schedules. Thus students elect to not continue in music at the expense of these other things. I have seen some musically talented students try it for a year and find out they can’t handle marching, and thus have to quit band. I would say many students like band for the sake of making music, and do not wish to integrate it with strutting around with precision on a football field in humid 90 degree weather. We are fortunate now to be at a school where my child can participate in band as well as swimming and any other activities she chooses, and the school is accommodating of that. Music should not have to be an all-or-nothing activity in the schools, and marching should definitely not be a requirement to participate in band.

    • I am in complete agreement that requiring a student to be in marching band in order to be part of the greater program is ludicrous and not in the best interest of students. These are situations where we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces, for sure and, yes….the kids will quit.

  21. Garry Prior says:

    55 years ago, I wanted to play trumpet (I had seen Danny Kaye in the Five Pennies!) and for a year I had 30 minutes a week with a retired bandsman who beat out the time for a Purcell march while I made a mess of it. Then a new teacher arrived (“Boozy” Baines , ex LSO oboeist, I believe). He put all the wind and brass students into one room, put some of the Fireworks Music of Handel in front of us and said “You all know what it sounds like, now play it!”. It was liberating and tremendous fun (except for Handel, possibly). From then on, we rehearsed like this with familiar music and used one-on-one lessons to sort out notes or other issues. We played jazz, marches, and classical favourites and we loved it. I never became very proficient, but I enjoyed the experience of making music. For most of the last half century, I have been a choral singer and have sung all sorts of music, discovering new musical horizons and composers that I would not normally have otherwise reached, from opera to lieder to cantatas to modern religious and secular music. Some I was not keen on but with perseverance, I could appreciate it and even enjoy it. There is something very special and rewarding about making music together, however it is done.

  22. Nicole Kellogg says:

    I’m in highschool band, and now we’re in concert season. During marching season, I had to learn to play a new instrument as marching with a bassoon isn’t allowed. During this time, I was putting all my energy into learning cymbals, (visuals included), and making straight A’s in all my classes. This gave me little to no time to improve on my primary instrument. After placement auditions recently, I was informed that I had been dropped to third band, out of the four bands we have. I in no way consider myself a bad player at all, but now I’ve lost all motivation to even try to improve knowing that my directors don’t believe I can get better, and being stuck in a band where no one cares about improvement. I’m thinking about quitting band just because of this.

    • I am sorry to hear this happened! I suggest you sitting down with your Director and asking them to explain what is going on in order for you to take the correct action steps to get back into the ensemble you want. IT is unfortunate that your commitment to the band ultimately was a disservice to you in some ways. There is plenty of time to find balance — don’t quit because you hit a temporary roadblock.

    • Chris says:

      Maybe considering yourself as “not a bad player” is the issue. There’s always room for improvement. As a high school student who has been drumming for 10 years, I acknowledged that I wasn’t even half decent to the professionals. That’s my motivation.

  23. mironda says:

    My daughter started band in 6th grade she is now in 8th for the first two years she had a teacher that encouraged creativity and made band fun and exciting and she loved it. Now the is a new fresh out of collage women the is sucking the life and the love of band out of my child she requires weekly test done on a laptop and written journals and my child wants to learn to play more complicated songs she wants to lurn to be creative in what she loves and tries to fulfill these additional requirements but needs those times at home to work on her school work and practice and by the time she is done from 4pm when she gets home she is lucky to be done with everything by 9pm. Band was her outlet and she justbcant keep up with the additional written and computerized tests she recived a F in band 47%. Mind you she is 1 chair trumpet she also was 1 of 3 student chosen to begin marching band with the high school in the 8th grade. Now she wants to quit and I knkw if she can just hold in there when she goes to high school and she already knows and loves the teacher she will be fine but I dont know if she can make it the other half of the year.

    • I would contact the Director and talk to them about your concerns. There is no way that performing opportunities and rehearsals should be replaced by written tests — the program will die in no time. Make sure the Principal is not insisting on more written work and get some parents together to discuss it. Meanwhile, tell your daughter that she has a long life ahead of her in her high school program next year. If she truly loves playing, she won’t quit because of this small bump in the road.

  24. Audrie says:

    When ever I pick up my guitar to practice or sit down at my piano to practice I just can’t. I try but I get soooo stressed I just start crying but I don’t want to quite! I can’t keep taking lessons if I can’t practice. What should I do?

    • Audrie,
      You play both guitar and piano? Bravo – good for you! Both instruments are challenging, but they have one great advantage: they can either be played by themselves (they are complete orchestras unto themselves – melody + accompaniment are possible) and they can also play with other instruments. They are not, however, band instruments, so you won’t have access to that. It is clear that you are stressed out in your current situation so let’s see if we can reframe it so that you are happier. My feeling is that the highest value here is that you make music, somehow, some way. It doesn’t matter which instrument or what level you play or whether you take lessons or anything else. The first thing to go for is to Show Up. Pick up (well, maybe not the piano…) your instrument every day. You get 12 gold stars for that. Only one silver star for whatever you play after that, whether it’s one note or 12 hours straight. Show up.
      After that, the next most important thing is curiosity. Curiosity about music, about the instrument, about what is possible (or impossible) will give you the psychic fuel to show up and experiment. Try stuff. See what happens. See what kind of noises you can make with it. Put on some recorded music and make some kind of sound on your instrument, either a note, or even just tap it on the side. As a matter of fact, it’s not a bad idea to have a couple of other things going that will make your instrument playing and learning easier and more fun:
      1) singing. Put on recorded music that you like – any kind – and sing along. Or just hum. Not a singer? Doesn’t matter. I’m not either. Music is best when it is social, doing it with someone, and until you get to do it with friends, there is a universe of recorded stuff out there (e.g. Spotify, Pandora, CDs) that you can join in on. What the Culture tries to do to all of us is make us passive: have someone else, some faraway expert, make all the music, have all the fun, and make the rest of us into passive consumers who just listen and never do music. This is wrong and unhealthy on so many levels. Fight it. Resist all that pressure of society to be silent, be passive, and do everything you can to have your own voice in music. Everyone has a musical voice, just as you have your own distinct speaking voice. Nobody tells us this, and we are rarely given any help, training, or encouragement in developing one. If you play guitar or piano and are not in band, you have one big plus: you can develop your own music much easier (also you can develop a knowledge of chords and harmony much more and better than us single line instruments).
      Anyway: sing or hum along with as much music as possible. At some point – earlier is better – be a percussionist as well. Now: tap along with the music. Start with one of two things: by trial and error, figure out what the regular pulse of the music is – thump thump thump – and tap along. Have more fun and whack the beat with a wooden spoon on a metal pot. Built a fun drum set out of several sizes of cardboard boxes. Get a metronome and see if you can whack the drum with hand or spoon exactly in time. Then see if your hits can land exactly between the pulses. Go back to the music you like and tap the pulse for a while (perhaps on several different things – different timbres) and then also sometimes tap the rhythm of the melody. Next step: tap some fill stuff at the end of phrases. Or just go wild and take a solo. Isn’t this fun? Try this with a bunch of different styles. At some point, turn off the music and create your own beats, rhythms. Take a solo. Get a beat going, get inside it, enjoy the ride.
      You can also do the same thing with your piano or guitar. Both can act as percussion instruments – easy to tap on them.
      Singing and making rhythms are a great way for you to get ready to play any other instrument. You can do them right away, right now. You don’t need lessons (unless you want to) in them; you have access to them right now and they will get your head and hands and spirit warmed up to get going on your instrument – piano, guitar, anything.
      Before you jump into any lessons, let your curiosity loose a bit. Go to (say) the piano and apply some of the stuff you experienced with singing and rhythm without anything printed. Try this: tap any note on the piano that is in the middle of your singing range. Sing the note at the same time as you play it. Play and sing slow quarter notes. Now the fun begins. Keep the quarter notes coming, but change stuff: tap and sing louder and softer (keep the beat). How loud or soft can you go? Now throw in some quarter rests now and then. Add some accents (both sung and tapped), try regular, try irregular. If you start itching for more challenge, either speed up the quarters or switch to 8th notes. Now start messing around with the rhythms. You’re still on one note – can you play anything that you can sing exactly right along with? I am guessing that you will have no trouble. Now add another note next to the first note you have been playing. Move back and forth between the two at will, still singing. Do all the stuff: change loud/soft, accents, rests. Now: change the note values: this will make it sound more like music. Syncopate. Jazz it up! Can you fool your singing voice and play something with the fingers that the voice can manage? I bet not. More challenge: tap your right foot on the floor or a pedal with the beat while your fingers/voice unison does all kinds of crazy things. Don’t forget to add rests. Best is to make little phrases, the same way we talk. [aside: what syllables should you sing? A.: doesn’t matter. Whatever’s comfortable. Du dah dah bah du dah du dot dot bobba do dot. Or just sing “lu” on every note. Whatever works for you.

      What is all this? What it is is you learning to think in music, and speak music. Most music programs make the mistake of put the symbols of things first before we know anything about what they symbolize. Whenever possible, start with curiosity, make some sounds, see what’s possible. At some point you may say, hey, a lesson now and then might save me some time and show me more stuff.

      Doing the traditional notation-only lessons of someone else’s music makes it much more likely that 1) you won’t enjoy the process and 2) you will quit. There is nothing wrong with notated music in itself – but if you leave out making your own music and have only someone else’s notated music, now music making is about perfection and not having a voice. You will be learning to be an excellent parrot, which is not a bad thing, but it is only one possible part of music making. Start with making your own music – no worries about playing wrong notes here. Be curious about what’s possible. Play stuff that is fun and easy and play a lot. Play every day. Play with friends whenever possible – you don’t need notes for that. Get a rhythm going, play on the beat, off the beat, go wild, take solos, sing, laugh, get up and dance, start again. At some point get some lessons to get some pointers on technique and get an introduction to ink-music. Other people’s music can be wonderful and rewarding; but don’t do it at the expense of your own music. If you make your own music, you can do it with any like-minded person, any instrument any level. You don’t have to wait or search for music that someone else wrote that sort of fits you and your friends.
      Start now. Today. See music making in a new light. Music is a treasure, a wonderful thing. There are so many ways to make it. Lessons and school are all good, but they are only a part of what’s possible. Music should start with you. Music should start with curiosity and expression. In learning a foreign language, the most important thing is expression – use what you have and communicate what you are feeling or what you are interested in. We need to do the same in music. We could recite in a foreign language, but no matter how beautifully we do it, we are not complete as linguists until we can say what we want to say ourselves. Start today and discover what your voice in music is. Later you can learn to repeat what others have said. But find your own voice first. Do a lot of listening. Do a lot of playing along (rhythms, etc.). Play with others whenever possible. Do something every day. Show up. Keep going with your music – _your_ music – and you will have something you will enjoy and treasure for a lifetime.
      Jeffrey Agrell recently posted…New Improv Book ComingMy Profile

  25. Weirdo100 says:

    I used to love playing my guitar but now I feel disconnected from it. I have a lesson on a Tuesday and I cram all my practicing into 10-15 mins on a Monday evening so I can play the price well enough for my lesson.

    • Chris says:

      Maybe you’re not disconnected. Maybe you still enjoy playing guitar. Maybe it’s your will to not practice that is bringing you down.

  26. I am a parent of 3 “Suzuki kids”; 15, 12, 7. We are not musical parents although certain pieces of music bring me to tears, and when I’m at the ballet, it is actually the orchestra pit that I am watching. I grew up in a rural area and did not have the opportunity to study music. That said, perhaps I am trying to live through my own children because I myself did not have music available to me. The eldest has been playing since he was 4. He picked the cello, in fact begged for lessons for months before we found someone in our area to take a young student. Our second child started with violin, then cello, now plays classical guitar. The third is playing cello, but wants to play brass when he comes of age.

    Now for my question; as finances become tighter, extracurricular activities increase, our college savings is in a sad state, and school grades become increasingly important, juxtaposed with a teenager who refuses to practice and is increasingly frustrating to parents and private teacher, how can I figure out how much of this is just normal teenage behavior or whether he really no longer enjoys music? We’ve asked if he wanted to try a different instrument and the answer was no. I don’t ever see him playing an instrument in college, so we’re just wondering if we are wasting time and money, or if there is some value in continuing.

    • Leah, what great questions you have. Many people ask me how they can afford to keep music in their children’s life, and I usually tell them they can’t afford NOT to do it. As far as college savings, much data will support increased financial support for students who have studied music (even if they are not pursuing it as a degree). That said, if it is your 15 year old making life difficult, I would be more inclined to listen to him than your 12 and 7 year olds, who are too young to quit. If you let him quit, do not be surprised if you set a bad example to your younger ones and open a Pandora’s box that should not be opened. In short, reach out to his music teachers and ask them to help you all make music fun for him again. It’s a start.

  27. Bob Jacobson says:

    Could another factor be, at least in some cases, that the child would prefer to be playing another instrument? Here are some possibilities:
    a) The school doesn’t have the preferred instrument or enough of the preferred instrument.
    b) The family already owns a particular instrument and this is offered to the child as the only option.
    c) A parent or sibling was unsuccessful or otherwise unhappy studying a particular instrument, so the child is directed away from it.
    d) The parents prefer or dislike the sounds/music created by a particular instrument so the child is directed toward it or discouraged from considering it, respectively.

    I experienced this during my own childhood (due to combination of ‘b’ and ‘c’ above), and although I did well with my instrument I wasn’t excited about it until I was able to make my own choices in junior high school.

  28. Britni says:

    As a recent middle school student, one of the reasons many students I know stopped playing is when band was made necessary in sixth to eighth grade the students got to pick from a grand total of four instruments (clarinet, flute, trumpet, saxophone). I understand that for one music teacher to teach over a hundred students in more than four instruments would be straining, that’s still the reason many kids stopped playing. They wanted to play piano, or trombone, or guitar, or even percussion. All of which weren’t taught. The only way a student could even be considered to be allowed to play one of those instruments is if they provided their own instrument, had an outside instructor, and performed above the requirements for the other students. The worse thing probably was when we all got to high school, the school offered specialization for those instruments, meaning they could play those instruments alone without joining band or orchestra, as long as they had rudimentary training for two years from the middle school, which they didn’t because they weren’t allowed to play those instruments.

  29. Olivia says:

    I can kind of relate to this because I’ve played music on and off for the weirdest reasons. As a little kid, I always imagined myself playing the flute although I barely even knew the difference from a clarinet. Then, in third grade, as I walked to class I heard two fourth graders in front of me talking about how all of a sudden everyone wanted to play oboe (I didn’t really hear why), since that was the first year we had band. Suddenly, based off of absolutely nothing I started to want to play oboe (also my initials are OB so maybe that was a little factor). I played for two years. Fourth grade I was mediocre in the room of beginners, practiced a few times a week. Fifth grade, I decided to keep going with it, but all of a sudden I hated it. I remember I’d fake-play (just blow air and not actually make a sound) almost every class and I went from practicing once a week to almost never. Two of the other three oboes felt pretty much the same way, and we all quit, but the other, who was the best, kept going. I did chorus instead for three years. It was fun in sixth grade, somewhat in seventh, but by eighth, I realized I did not like my teacher. Or most of the other people in the class, at least the serious ones that planned in continuing in high school, were very dramatic and not really the type of people I bonded with (nothing against them though). And who said I could sing. And one day, near the end of eighth grade, I found one of my old oboe reeds. And so I made the weirdest, most spontaneous, random decision based on absolutely no real facts again: I managed to presuade the band teacher to let me be in band for freshman year, switched out of chorus, and got a private teacher. Turns out I remembered nothing: I could barely put an oboe together. Well, let’s just say I’m sort of a lazy person and learning oboe was not the only thing I was doing that year. By the end of the summer, I was just moving onto the second octave. My first day in band was absolutely terrifying. My band teacher said, “Play a concert F” and I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I remember that I used to giggle when the trumpets behind me buzzed their mouthpieces since I wasn’t used to ever hearing that. Luckily for me, there were three other oboes and the other oboe 2 played incredibly loudly, enough for both of us. I started out the year fake-playing in band but ended (sort of) being able to play the pieces. But I realized there was something about it I loved. I used to hate practicing and it’s not like I had time much somehow, now that I was older, playing oboe was one of my favorite things I did. However, summer before sophomore year got the best of me and I didn’t make time to practice enough. And my stand partner, who did precussion in marching band, after there was a shortage of precussionists, moved there, leaving me the only oboe 2. Well, I stuck in there, learned some of the third octave, still couldn’t really play techinal stuff that well. And to top it off, I was incredibly unconfident. Oboes are loud, right? Well, I played very quietly. And it didn’t sound good. Also, I was too embarrassed to practice in front of my family. So I’d either do it at midnight+ or when no one was home. My mom, not really knowing my exact skill level but wanting me to get into Wind Ensemble (which you have to audition for and I probably don’t stamd a chance) signed me up to be a CIT at a local music camp the summer before junior year. And…yeah. The CITs are supposed to be really good at their instruments. I was scared out of my mind but I ended up loving it. I made great friends, played a lot of cards, and most importantly, finally learned how to play (somewhat…) louder. Hopefully my techincal facility got better too but I can’t really tell. People say I was absolutely terrible when I started (like worse than I thought) but now I’m at like a seventh-grade, can kind of play level. Pretty good improvement for three weeks, but probably not enough. It’s sad that after playing for two years, I’m not close to caught up. And yeah, that’s present day (I just finished the camp today). I’m still way behind my grade level. And I don’t know what to do. I only have one year to audition for wind ensemble (next spring) and right now I’m not at the point I can even tell people I want to. Also I have a crappy plastic beginning Yamaha rental without the low Bb key (no one’s ever gotten in with a Yamaha rental) but I don’t want to make my parents spend thousands of dollars on a new oboe especially since I’m not that good. And I have other stuff I have to do, AP Bio homework, cross country practice. I don’t know how to get better (or even if I put in hours every day if I would) but I really want to because I actually love playing oboe. All my friends that have been in band since fourth grade are quitting so they can take another AP class, but those three years where I thought I dropped it for good saved up all my desire to play. Basically, it’s been a series of crazy decisions, and I still don’t know why I’m playing. I have to act like I don’t like it since everyone knows I’m bad (I was mortified when people found out I did a music camp) but I really do. And I need to get good fast. I feel like at my age, after playing for years, it’s hard to keep up that great desire to play music. But I definitely have that, just not (barely) any of the skills to support it. I have no idea what to do, or how much of my life I should spend on oboe, but does anyone think it’s worth it? Or that I could do it? Sorry this went on so long…

  30. I’ve always wanted to understand the reasons why so many students quit their musical instrument. My daughter is thinking about quitting the flute and I would like to prevent that if I can. It’s interesting how much the parents view of music changes the students motivation to continue or not. I’ll try and make sure she knows how much I value music and her ability to play the flute. thanks!

  31. Polina Shadman says:

    My daughter has been learning violin suzuki method since 4. Her progress has been slow but she likes to play it. Practicing is always a struggle which is the main reason for her slow progress. We have been looking for a new teacher and found one with a great reputation but high expectations. She is serious and will only teach students who also enrol in saturday music school from 9 to 12. My daughter is not keen on Saturday classes and is feeling overwhelmed. I want her to give it a try and see (even though the time and $ committment is going to be a challenge for me) … but my daughter is crying big tears and says that is not what she likes. What should I do?

    • It’s important to have a good fit between teacher and student. Teachers that only teach students who are motivated (one way or another) to put in lots of hours are going to have better and higher achieving students. There is and should be, however, a place for everyone to make music at every level. Not every student wants to put in those kind of hours. I am all for whatever keeps a student in music. If you can, visit (observe or have demo lessons) with a number of different teachers. See if your daughter responds to one or another of them. That is important (although you can’t always tell everything from one lesson). And remember, there is always fiddle playing. I’m serious. Read Julie Lyonn Lieberman’s books on string improv. Sometimes the most fun is getting to play your own music and not always someone else’s. Learn some Irish tunes. Fiddle tunes. There are more things in musical heaven and earth than some teachers let on about.

  32. Going way back to the entries about Marching Band and other activities taking up way too much time–choose Band or Life, feeding Band Directors’ egos, etc. I taught Band 19 years mostly in Manitoba, Canada and found these things not at all true there. In fact, in the ’70s when I started, a number of fellow American band directors came north from the North central states to escape such programs. If I or my kid were looking at being part of those types of programs I too would nix it.

  33. Hey, so I’m in high school now, freshman, and I play the cello. I’m not sure whether to quit or continue, but I don’t really want to do either. I am taking private lessons now, 40$ for 45 minutes. I have been playing since the fifth grade, and my schedule is getting pretty lousy. I have tried practicing every day, which at my level I should be doing, but it’s hard to be motivated, not to mention tight times. I don’t play over the summer much, which I hope I can fix. My parents are getting frustrated, saying I don’t really like Cello, and that if I did, I would have practiced more and improved. They think I’m wasting they’re money since I don’t really like it. It seems like they are just paying to make me and them unhappy. I like cello, but that’s it. I’m not a superfan, I don’t eat and breath music composer names and songs. I want to be in chamber orchestra in my high school, but I can’t really do that without the skills only a private teacher can give. I want to be advanced but I’m not sure I can meet the expectations. Not to mention I’m pretty sure I won’t play in college. I just can’t stand giving up something that I think makes me able to be ahead of the curve. It sounds selfish and vain, but it’s true. I need an outside opinion, please.

  34. Casey says:

    I played the clarinet briefly and then the violin for 5 years, and I quit the clarinet because I favored violin (and had a horrible band teacher). I ended up quitting the violin because I just got burnt out. It was like it happened overnight. One day even picking it up became a dreadful chore and I would get a headache even looking at it. I just hated it and didn’t want to do it anymore. I haven’t picked my violin up in 4 years now, but it is waiting for me in my closet for the chance that I may be ready to try it again one day. I am starting to toy with the idea of at least trying to pick it back up just as a fun hobby, but am not entirely sure if that’s what I want yet. I can’t bring myself to sell it because it holds so many great memories of when I really loved playing the violin, and all of the hard work I put into going from being the worst player in my class to the best, and I think I will want to pick it up again at some point, if not just to pick at it every once in awhile for fun.
    I don’t know exactly what burned me out, but it was around the time a close family member of mine passed away. I don’t think that has much to do with it, but the timing was exact. It was a very stressful time for me, and usually I could pour out my emotions through the violin, but I couldn’t anymore after this. Also, I was placed in second violin because I could hear harmony very well and was the only one who would actually play out loud enough to hear and make an effort, so my teacher thought I would be a good leader for that section. I hated being put in the group of the worst players in the class, as if I was just stuck at the back of the shelf, after I had already proven that I was capable of so much more. I hated it even more that the other kids in second violin who refused to play loud enough for even themselves to hear would point out every time I made a mistake and act as if I let them down, when I was actually pulling all of their weight along with mine. I had to play twice as loud to make up for them having might as well not even played at all since no one, including themselves, could even hear them. I felt unappreciated, and my dream was to be concert master by my senior year, which wasn’t going to happen at this rate (this was the beginning of my junior year). So I began to feel that I was a horrible player and didn’t even want to play anymore. I was like a burnt out light bulb and lost all of my spark and interest for it. It wasn’t until less than a month ago that I actually thought that maybe pulling it out wouldn’t be dreadful. I’m still afraid to pull it out and even try playing it. Opening the case depresses me, or did the last time I opened it about a year ago. I hate that, because it was a huge passion of mine and something I was really accomplished at. It was one of my biggest achievements in my life, actually. One of my proudest life moments is going from being the worst player in the high school orchestra freshman year after having been on hiatus for a year before that (due to being at a school that didn’t have orchestra for a year) and having a lot of catching up to do, to one of the very best players in that orchestra by the end of that school year. Hopefully I can get my passion back and enjoy it like I used to.

    • Casey,
      Your story is a sad and frustrating one, but in no way unique, unfortunately. Large systems tend to do what is easy and not always what is the best thing to do. Music education favors one path in group play: large ensembles. Players get ranked by ability, and rewarded for being excellent cogs. Band directors are under constant pressure to produce concerts even at the lowest levels. And then there’s contests and competitions. All of this can be fine for some people. What is missing is the chance to make one’s own music. To make music with others without being ranked. To make music without reciting or repeating the notes created by others, by distant experts. These are the current manifestations of the Literate (print) and Aural traditions. Ideally, musicians can learn and do both. They are not mutually exclusive. But the MusEd system is set up almost entirely on the Literate side. If you want to make your own music, your best option is to drop out and take up guitar, bass, or drums and start a band. MusEd needs to find a way to let creativity into music. Let it breathe. Let other voices be heard and flourish. Creativity is scary to Large Systems. It’s messy. Unpredictable. Tricky to teach, hard to grade. Easy to ignore and keep out. But because We (MusEd) do that, we lose so so many players, so soon. It’s a great pity. Solution? Introduce creative music to everyone at the earliest possible date, e.g. beginners on their first day of lessons. Beginning bands on their first day. It’s simple: just give players a chance to make some of their own decisions. Start with one creative game. One minute of Personal Music. Give them tools, encouragement. Let them loose to create. Have band, but add a minute – a minute! – of crazy/fun music, see-what-happens music at the beginning or end. Watch their faces. Watch what happens. Let life join the Notation Part of it.
      How? Soundpainting is one quick and easy way (www.soundpainting.com). Shameless plug alert: pick up one of my books (7, all GIA). Start with “Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians.”
      With or without them, just start. Start today. Try stuff. See what happens. See how it makes you feel. Play these games with others. Get in on a whole new musical life. Write me about it if you like.

  35. Annie Svere says:

    Over the summer, my parents forced me to go to this singing camp and to my surprise, they also taught us to play the piano and guitar! I played the guitar there for the first time and my teacher met me that afternoon and told me that I was naturally gifted and that I should start playing at my local church soon. I also thought I had done pretty good for a first timer. My dad owned an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar. By the way, my dad plays the guitar really good and he’s been playing the guitar for over 15 years now. I learned to play on the acoustic guitar with the help of youtube and other websites. I played all summer and learnt so many great songs but once my dad heard me play, he told me I wasn’t really good at playing the guitar. He heard me play “The House Of the Rising Sun” and told me I couldn’t play. I listened to him, like any naive 14 year old girl would and quit. But I heard him beg and plead with my brother to start playing the guitar and realized my dad was a bit of a sexist. But now I play the guitar as soon as he leaves the house. And I really want to get better at playing!

    • Bob Jacobson says:

      Brad, I had a music teacher in junior high school who told our clarinet class “I’m teaching you how to play music, not the clarinet. The clarinet is simply a machine.” If you basically like music, you can remind yourself that “I’m making music; this saxophone is simply the machine I’m using.” Are there any other instruments you would prefer to play instead of the saxophone?

    • Bob Jacobson says:

      Annie, if you love playing the guitar, keep playing it and don’t let your father keep you from doing it (even if you have to do it when he’s not around). Maybe he just doesn’t understand that girls and women can become excellent guitarists. There are various bands and individuals on YouTube who are women excelling at guitar and other instruments. (I, for one, like the Bangles.) Just don’t let you father force the word “can’t” into your working vocabulary. If he thinks you “can’t play”, then tell him you want to study and practice until you are much better at it. In any case, don’t lose the motivation to develop what you love.

  36. Personally, it’s cuz my parents use it as a form of punishment. If I do something wrong and disobey them, they’ll yell at me to play piano for an hour or two. It sucks.

  37. Damian says:

    Lack of confidence should be on the list. I started playing cornet in sixth grade and continued on in high school with my school’s concert band. I’m an extremely introverted person and hated practicing because I was afraid of other people hearing me. I was fine so long as I could play with the other people in my section, but if I was asked to play a passage by myself in front of the entire band, forget it. I was a complete nervous wreck. I also had a bad music director that did not do anything to help students like me. He only worked with the good students. He never asked why he never saw me in the practice rooms, gave any encouragement or worked one on one with me. It was only once I got older that I realized that I should have had more support than I did.

  38. The potatoes are attacking! says:

    I am a kid. For 6 years, I have been doing piano. Not out of my heart (after the first two years), but because I was told, and to be honest it wasn’t really my thing. My parents say that I have a talent. No I don’t, or at least not there. This is what happens when it’s either music, or guilt tripping. Parents need to stop forcing their kid to do an instrument. Would you like to be forced to do calculus every day? Sure, I play well, but I don’t want to. And it’s not the teacher (if your teacher is bad or good), but your will. My teacher is SUPER nice, and I have missed many assignments because truth be told, I do not want to do it anymore. Many hours have been lost to something I won’t use later in life, unlike studying, socializing (which I really have a hard time doing because somethings always on my mind) or homework.


  1. […] “Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It).” http://www.musicparentsguide.com/2015/02/17/students-really-quit-musical-instrument-parents-can-prev… . Among other things, the article suggests that kids quit because their parents don’t know […]

  2. […] As students and parents are starting to make course selections for next year, I would like to share with parents and students a very interesting article I found about getting students to “hang in there” with regard to their music studies. This article takes a reverse approach and discusses not why students stay in band, but why the leave music studies. We have such a great year, I would like nothing more than to keep every single band student in the program. Before a parent allows a student to leave the band at the end of the term, I would hope these items would be considered. Music Studies […]

  3. […] Why Students Really Quit Their Instrument (and how parents can prevent it) […]

  4. […] For more tips, read the full article here. […]

  5. […] The following post is inspired by an article titled “Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and how Parents Can Prevent It) by Anthony Mazzocchi. The original article can be found on the website “The Music Parents’ Guide” at the following URL: http://www.musicparentsguide.com/2015/02/17/students-really-quit-musical-instrument-parents-can-prev… […]

  6. […] According to this article, more than 50% of students quit music lessons within their first 2 years. But is it because kids don’t want to play? Or because they hate practicing? No. The study found that they don’t even know why they’re quitting. All they know is that they feel inadequate and they don’t know how to fix it. The music itself is a enough of a technical struggle. But now their teacher is making it an issue of self-worth. Unless the kid/teen/YA is completely devoted to music as their calling, they will likely throw in the towel. […]

  7. […] A teacher suggests how you can stop them. Click here. […]

  8. […] is an article at The Music Parents’ Guide detailing reasons why students tend to quit. It’s very much worth the read, and I’d […]

  9. […] Here are the ways by which interest can be kept while learning how to play any musical instrument: […]

  10. […] Why Students Really Quit their Musical Instrument […]

  11. […] recitals is just the perfect number to offer our students.  According to a number of sources, the lack of performance opportunities is one of the reasons why kids quit their instruments.  We combat that (and all the other reasons) at Off The Wall with our three annual […]

  12. […] they realize that their is no room in school for the music they listen and relate to according to musicparentsguide.com. Therefore, the question we must ask is how we can incorporate a broader musical experience for […]

  13. Do You Play A Musical Instrument

    […] she had a teacher that encouraged creativity and made band fun and exciting and […]

  14. […] 5th and 6th grade, she noticed her skill level was a little more developed than her peers and she just kept improving and widening the gap between her and her classmates. Despite her […]

  15. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  16. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  17. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  18. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  19. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  20. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  21. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

  22. […] Music Parents Guide: Why Students Really Quit Their Musical Instrument (and How Parents Can Prevent It […]

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  27. […]  Article originally posted on The Music Parents’ Guide […]

  28. Learn Violin In Days Violin Lessons Made Easy Music

    […] or the first two years she had a teacher that encouraged creativity and made ban […]

  29. […] According to this article, more than 50% of students quit music lessons within their first 2 years. But is it because kids don’t want to play? Or because they hate practicing? No. The study found that they don’t even know why they’re quitting. All they know is that they feel inadequate and they don’t know how to fix it. The music itself is a enough of a technical struggle. But now their teacher is making it an issue of self-worth. Unless the kid/teen/YA is completely devoted to music as their calling, they will likely throw in the towel. […]

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