A common phenomenon among young music students occurs when they enter their teenage years – they suddenly lose interest in their music lessons and instruments. Surprisingly, however, is that it’s during these years that their overall interest in music increases significantly. Why the paradox?

Little Mix
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

One major reason is that the music they are learning is not the music they are interested in anymore. Jack began playing the clarinet with a lot of enthusiasm at the age of seven. But the enthusiasm seemed to wane as he grew older.

A decade later he is fed up with lessons and has decided to quit. “I was getting all this music like ‘second symphony’ and ‘third piece of vibrato’ and I was like, this is so boring, I have no interest in this,” the fifth-year student says. “They sounded nice but I would prefer to play some old bluesy music.” Via Irish Times

Others feel that their music practice is taking them away from other activities that have sparked their interest. As teenagers, they have a lot more things to do and places to be, so having to spend hours practicing their instruments quickly becomes frustrating.

An hour down the road in Kildare, 16-year-old Joshua Peacock is tired of playing cello. He says it keeps him away from his friends and rugby. “My friends are able to have that little bit more time and go out places. I might be intending to go out but my parents will say, ‘You have to practise the cello’.” Via Irish Times

Sorcha Pollak shares that as a teenager, she, like Jack and Joshua, was also on the verge of abandoning her music lessons. Fortunately, she found a way to keep music relevant through her teenage years.

I was sick of practice, hated scales and knew I would never make a professional musician. However, more than a decade later, and despite the demands of a full-time job, I continue to play violin.
What was it that changed my mind? For me, it was the discovery that I could meet other like-minded young people by playing in an orchestra, a quartet and later playing gigs in college. Via Irish Times

Composer and producer Bill Whelan had a similar experience when he abandoned his violin at the age of 14 and began experimenting and engaging with others who had more guitar experience than he did.

This, he argues, is how teenagers can introduce music education into their lives: at their own pace, in their own time and developing their own personal tastes.
“Music is a language that’s non-verbal; it tells them things about themselves that language doesn’t. No amount of theory can make this real. What can make it real is letting teenagers go off and play it.” Via Irish Times

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

According to Rosaleen Molloy, director of Ireland’s national music education programme, teenagers need to be made aware of the social advantages associated with playing a musical instrument.

“The pursuit of music-making is a social activity. Music is there to be made with people making it together,” she says. “If we don’t provide that social experience of music-making and togetherness as part of the spectrum of what music education is, then we’re missing out a really important part of it.” Via Irish Times

Success Stories

Limerick Voices is an initiative that is dedicated to making music more accessible to teenagers. Using a multicolored, graffiti-covered double-decker bus, the team travels around Limerick, offering workshops for teenagers in different aspects of music including singing, songwriting, performing and recording.

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Boris Hunka, the co-ordinator of Limerick Voices, has learnt that the key to working with teenagers is to encourage them to develop their personal musical styles. Instead of hiring music teachers for the project, he worked with musicians that specialized in holding music gigs.

“The kids see them on a different level from how they would see a schoolteacher. Our main focus in the teams is to allow them to focus on their self-expression, helping them find a voice and giving them the tools to use it.” Via Irish Times

Bill Whelan insists that the key to convincing teenagers not to give up their music lessons is to create that vital link between their music tuition and they music they are interested in.

“Playing music together can open up young hearts and minds, help them access their dreams, unleash their young imaginations and connect them to each other in a way that few other disciplines can,” says Whelan…
“In this turbulent, incoherent and often isolating landscape, music offers the opportunity to engage with each other in meaningful and expressive ways.” Via Irish Times

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