When I tell people I play the violin, I almost always get one of two responses. The first, proclaimed with joy is,“Violin is my favorite instrument!” The second, muttered with a hint of remorse is, “I played violin in fourth grade.” When I ask if they still play, they give me a hapless shake of the head. If violin is everyone’s instrument of choice, why doesn’t everyone play it? Why don’t they keep it up after they started in 4th grade?
If you play violin or have a child that does, you probably already know the answer. Violin is a difficult instrument to learn. Period. Like mastering any complex skill, it requires an immense amount of dedication and self-discipline. That’s one of the reasons we all want our children to take music lessons, right?
Most children are excited to learn violin but after a couple months, once that honeymoon phase has worn off, they all begin to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze. This is one of the most critical times for a young player. They will pitch fits, whine, refuse to practice, beg to quit lessons, and drive parents insane. It’s at this point when students are on the brink of understanding all that wonderful self-discipline, that parents give up the struggle and let their children quit lessons, thereby erasing whatever self-discipline they were about to learn.
I call this moment, “The Hump.” (You’re supposed to whisper it with great fear and trembling.) Don’t think you or your children are immune. It hits everyone, young and old. I was there as a young piano student and my mother let me quit. Now, being a violin teacher, I would give anything to be a better pianist. Remember, you never hear adults say “I’m so glad my mother let me quit music lessons.”
If you’re an adult experiencing the Hump, this is the point when you have to push through. But if you’re a parent, you’re going to need some different tactics. (I call them tactics because this is WAR!)
First, talk to your teacher. Sometimes it’s not obvious to them that your child is going through the Hump. I change my own tactics during this time to help students stay engaged. Your teacher probably has their own ideas to help you.
There’s definitely something to be said about rewards, especially at a time when children haven’t learned to do something for it’s intrinsic value. Developing a reward system for your students is a great idea to get them over the Hump. Ice cream at the end of good lessons. A dollar for every song completed. Being excused from doing the dishes to practice (this was my mother’s tactic).
On the flip side of rewards, you have to be firm in withholding them when progress is not made, otherwise they’re worthless. Keeping your child motivated with live performances or youtube videos are other great ideas.
Watching parents over the years, I’ve learned there is one tactic that is essential to keeping your child in lessons during the Hump. It’s the “over my dead body” tactic.
Even the most innocent children will turn into little devils and try to make you bargain. They will think of reasons to skip out on lessons, forget their music books, use practice time to make the most painful, inhuman sounds on their instrument—just to drive you mad. The minute you start to bargain and say things like “Maybe we’ll take a break for a few months,” YOU’VE LOST.
You don’t bargain with them about attending school or taking showers. Why would you bargain on something you know will make them better, well-rounded adults? When parents adopt the “over my dead body” approach, something amazing happens. Students resign themselves to lessons and within a few more months and they’re surprised at how good they sound!
Remember, if you give up now, music lessons were nothing more than an expensive experiment. Students have also inadvertently learned that’s it’s okay to quit when the going gets tough. Stand your ground! Trust me, in about twenty years, your children will thank you.