A natural part of learning any instrument is experiencing what we as teachers call “slumps”- a brief period of time where a student goes through a difficult patch or has lost motivation for whatever reason. It’s during these times where it’s tempting for the student to give up on lessons altogether, so encouragement and support from parents is absolutely necessary.
One of the most difficult slumps to tackle is the first one, which usually happens when a student is starting to read on the staff and is no longer playing just steps. They are learning to recognize different intervals, incorporating more expressive notation, and may be playing more hands together. I’ve seen many students cruise through the first few months of piano lessons without having to put in a lot of effort, and then all of a sudden it’s no longer fun and exciting because they have to work harder.
So how do we conquer this first slump? A lot of it has to do with the expectations we set. As a beginner, it’s important for the teachers and parents to explain that there will be times where learning the instrument is challenging, and that it will happen during the course of their study. If there is no conversation about this, then the student doesn’t know that everyone experiences these rough patches and he/she may lose self-esteem. I usually hear, “This is too hard for me”, “I’m not doing anything right”, or “I’m not good at piano anymore” in the lesson, which signals that the student has lost confidence. If students know ahead of time that these slumps are expected to happen, they can acknowledge that what’s going on is normal and temporary.
Besides setting expectations, another way to keep moving forward is to actually take a couple of steps back. Reviewing old pieces that the student has mastered is a great way to rebuild confidence. Showing them a piece they were working on 4-5 months ago compared to what they are learning now is a great reminder of how much progress they’ve made. Often times they are only thinking of what they can’t do in their current pieces and have forgotten how far they’ve come.
The important thing is no matter what, don’t let your child quit! Learning an instrument is a great way for children to learn persistence and work ethic. Are surgeons born knowing how to perform surgery? Do pilots immediately know how to fly an airplane? No! It requires practice, patience, and experience, just like learning an instrument. Sticking with it through the slumps will not only develop a lifelong hobby, but they will have also developed the characteristics to succeed as adults.