Like all of us, over the years I have had students quit. Quitting is inevitable, we know this, but what makes it especially hard is when the quitting happens prematurely. It absolutely kills me when a student that has so much potential and is on what I would consider at or on their way to the best part of their learning, quits. Excuses for quitting vary and many of those times are reasons that could have easily been handled (or completely avoided) if the parent had just communicated.
The last several years I have taken on a different approach to when I have a student quit what I consider prematurely. Simply put, I fight for them. I become their biggest advocate. I figure worst case scenario is they will quit anyway. But the best case, they will stick it out. And even better, the parent knows how much you really care for their child. I have saved several students by doing this one simple step. If they decide to quit anyway, then I am more willing to accept it because I know I gave it my best shot and they leave knowing they are always welcome to come back at any time.
This last year I took this one step further… I had a student who I had been teaching for a couple of years. One of those students that pick up things quickly, very musical and just a joy to teach. Her mother emailed me upset that her child would be quitting. She did not want to see her quit but didn’t know what else to do. After asking some questions to understand a little better what was going on, I came up with a solution that I felt would help. I knew the student tended to be a perfectionist and was very hard at herself. I concluded that she needed a break from the “norm” but not necessarily from music. So I proposed that we continue but without weekly book assignments. So instead of piano lessons, we would do music lessons for a while with the understanding that we could gradually start adding pieces back in as we saw fit.
Music lessons would consist of playing without any books, exploring, rote-learning, improvising, composition, off the bench games and activities. All the things I enjoy doing anyway, but usually don’t have time for in the weekly lesson.
Mom and student were excited about this idea and so was I! One of our favorite activities was Heart and Soul. One week we learned the right-hand part, the next week the left-hand part. Then we started different left-hand patterns. Her Mom emailed me and let me know that she had recorded one part on her piano at home so she can play with the other. I loved that! Before we knew it, the students that came the same hour heard what we were doing and they wanted to join in on the fun too!
After about a month or so, I decided she was ready to gradually start adding in a written piece. This one was a medley. The following week she came to lessons with the medley totally memorized AND all 7 days practiced! I couldn’t believe it! I commented to her Mom (I email parents weekly, reconciling the lesson) that I was impressed with her practice this week. Her Mom said she was very motivated. Win-win!
Shortly after that, we needed to prepare for the spring recital. We chose Elena Cobb’s, Super Duck (found in the book, Higgledy Piggledy Jazz). I knew this would be just the right fit as it not only is a fun piece to play but includes an improv section as well. She rocked it!
Our journey does not end there. She has re-registered for fall. We just finished up our Stop Motion Summer Workshop and I look forward to another year together of piano lessons. I will continue to adapt as needed, but now I know what will ignite her spark and get it going again.
There are a lot of lessons that can be learned. First, if you have a student that you want to save, don’t hold back! Advocate for them even if it is the student that wants to quit. Second, find out what the real problem is, ask questions and then find a solution for that problem. Sometimes the solution may be to let them go, but more times than not, there is another solution that will save them! Third, lessons are not one size fits all. Sometimes we have to think out of the box and figure out what is going to inspire and motivate a student. These things will vary so it can be a little trial and error but don’t let it hold you back. It’s always worth it to try!