When to Let Your Child Quit a Musical Instrument

Photo: Uriel Sinai (Getty Images)

For many parents, the following scenario is painfully familiar: Child becomes interested in a particular instrument after witnessing a performance on said instrument. Child begs for one of their very own. Also begs for lessons. Promises they will practice “every day.” Three months and several hundred dollars later, every practice session is an argument and the child says they “hate” previously adored instrument. They want to quit.

I’m a music teacher, and I’ve been in this situation with my own kid. I have a master’s degree in music performance on viola, and I also play violin. My five-year-old son was very interested every time he saw me play, so it seemed natural for me to buy him a tiny violin and start teaching him.

And it was great for a while … sort of. My son was good at violin, but though he didn’t detest it, he didn’t find any joy in it either. He didn’t love me harping on him when he put up resistance about practice. He didn’t like that practice interfered with his playtime. He didn’t want me critiquing his bow hold or his left-hand finger shape. He wanted to go play Legos.

Reluctantly, I packed up the tiny violin and let my son quit.

I’ve taught probably around 40 violin and viola students over the last decade and a half, and my views on whether and when a kid should be allowed to quit have definitely shifted in that time. I used to think that if a kid signed up, they needed to follow through, and even went as far as to think that if a kid had talent, parents were justified in making their child push through their resistance.

What I’ve since learned is that kids have temperaments that are better suited for different instruments. For example, violin is extremely concentration-heavy, requires a high level of coordination, and doesn’t make what you’d call a “pretty” sound for several months, even for kids who learn quickly. Wind and brass instruments are similar. Piano requires dexterity and focus, but as long as the piano is in tune and you’re not banging on it indiscriminately, it’s difficult to make a truly unbearable sound on piano. Same for guitar. Unlike the violin, guitars have frets to show you where to put your fingers. Follow a chord chart, and boom, you’re playing music.

My son switched to guitar shortly after dumping the violin. And guess what? He’s good at it, and he loves it.

It’s time to let your kid quit when:

  • Every practice session is a battle

  • Your kid doesn’t want to go to lessons even though they like their teacher

  • They tell you they want to quit

Yep, it’s that simple. Basically, if your child obviously isn’t into it, there’s no use forcing it. No need to torture the music teacher by dragging your child into lessons with their bottom lip poking out. We teachers don’t enjoy this any more than your child does.

That said, it’s perfectly reasonable to set an end goal like “play your recital, then you can stop” or “finish the lessons we already paid for” so as to encourage follow-through. Most kids will cheer up about lessons if they know the end is in sight.

Let your kid try a different instrument

You can often rent an instrument from your local music store, or, if you locate a teacher first, they can help you find an economically priced instrument on Facebook Marketplace or similar to get you started. This way, if this instrument turns out not to be your kid’s jam, you can turn around and sell it for the same price you bought it for. I have done this with several violin students who later determined violin wasn’t their thing.

It’s also helpful to find a teacher who will allow you to pay by the lesson or by the month rather than a studio that requires a large fee up front for an entire semester. That way, if your kid isn’t sure, you can back out without wasting money. Or, maybe your kid just isn’t into music. That’s okay, too. Try a sport or art classes and see if that sticks better.

The point is, forcing a kid to do something they hate just because we want them to or because we think they’re good at it isn’t healthy for anyone and doesn’t yield positive results.

And it might just prevent your kid from finding the thing that truly is their jam.

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