Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When Gifted Students Quit

It's a disheartening event that every teacher faces at some point. A promising young pianist comes to your studio to inform you that they will no longer be studying the instrument. You discuss the situation with them in an attempt to determine if there has been a misunderstanding or some sort of frustration that can be fixed. For most of us, a lump settles in our throat as we realize that a gifted musician is on the verge of walking out the doors of our studio for the final time.

I faced this situation for the first time last week. I have had students quit before, but those never took me by surprise. They weren't making progress and it was clear they weren't enjoying the study of the instrument. Last week's announcement caught me off guard. The student (who happens to be one of my nieces) was making consistent progress as well as really beautiful sounds. She didn't practice as often as she should have, but there was a level of natural talent there that was carrying her through. As we discussed the situation, her answer was one that rips the heart of every piano teacher: "I have never enjoyed playing the piano." There is really no way to argue with that answer.

So what happens to cause a promising young pianist to quit? Very often, I notice the departure occurs as they enter their teen years. Other opportunities appear that are more enticing. Very few of their friends are involved in music lessons outside of the school band. Anything that requires commitment, times of solitude, and self-discipline are often undesirable.

How can we make lessons more enticing to these students? There's a very interesting discussion on just this topic occurring over on Color in My Piano. I've enjoyed the suggestions to just keep students in the age group playing -- allow their interests to largely shape the direction of the lessons and find aspects of the music to work on rather than feeling restricted by method books and teacher preferences.

Visit Joy's wonderful blog to read the comments made there and add your own comments here.