If you’re a parent hoping that your child might have that latent Mozart or Elton John gene dying to be unleashed, you’ve probably experienced the misery of trying to keep them committed to music lessons; at least long enough before their interest wanes and the music stays trapped inside forever. The truth is that over 75% of kids opt out of piano lessons within the first year.

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The truth is that over 75% of kids opt out of piano lessons within the first year[1]and by most accounts are unlikely to ever take lessons again. But experts are urging you to take a look at the research and not make a rash decision to let them quit before they acquire enough skills to enjoy the experience and reap the short- and long-term benefits.

Not only will music boost their brain power and IQ[2] but it can translate into overall success and achievement in life[3]. Add in the significant life enhancement of being able to play an instrument, and there are compelling reasons to give it your best shot. Quitting prematurely could be something both you and your children will regret for a lifetime.

Most experts agree that music is not as mysterious as it may feel to non-musically trained parents. Famous educators like Dr. Shinichi Suzuki created a worldwide movement on the premise that learning music at a high level doesn’t require any more “talent” than is needed to learn your native tongue[4].

According to the top educators in the world, success doesn’t depend on “talent” but rather in the way you learn and what you learn. Building musicianship in a socially interactive environment in the formative years as opposed to “rote learning” or the traditional approach of note memorization is one of the keys to achieving music for life.

Observing over 20,000 beginner students over the past 30 years, I have concluded that if one can master a verbal language, all of the cognitive skills and “talent” required to learn music at a high level are in place. Success, however, depends on understanding what is the right delivery format, (eg. choice of teacher, blend of group/ensemble and private lessons), the curriculum (what specific skills are taught and in what order), and why parental support and supervision is so important.

When these principles are understood and heeded, I’m confident saying there is a 95% likelihood that your child will develop the high-level musical skills that are needed to enjoy the amazing experience of music for the rest of their lives.

One principle I have taught over the years to help students succeed, which I have explained to thousands of people over the years in parent support workshops, is that  “KIDS DON’T QUIT PIANO LESSONS – PARENTS DO!”. Understanding this simple truth has an astounding impact on success rates.

The most important role parents play in ensuring a successful music education experience is understanding the complexity of the musical skill build, the intricacies of the process and not allowing kids to quit prematurely before they gain the skills necessary to be internally motivated.

challenges motivate
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Over the years, I have developed a road map for parents enrolled in the Merriam School of Music, which I call the Three Keys to Success.

The first Key is following Merriam’s TRAK© system so parents can better navigate the sometimes-rough-but-predictable waters of the four stages of progression. Just knowing what to expect at each stage and having some practical tips and tools to deal with the challenges associated with each stage, can make the difference between success and failure.

The second Key is to provide a professional lesson program and certification system with many performance opportunities. The third Key is integrating the latest technology and high-quality instruments into the lesson program.

For the purposes of this article I will focus on the first Key to success: learning and practicing the TRAK© system. Each of the 4 letters of T.R.A.K. refers to the four stages of musical development. TRAK© helps us understand the different phases of the learning process, and literally helps keeps us on “TRAK”.

The “T” in TRAK© refers to Stage One or what we call the “Trendy” stage. This is when the interest, enthusiasm, and curiosity are usually high. Practicing and the lessons are fun and enjoyable. The Trendy stage is also in some ways the honeymoon stage, as it unfortunately doesn’t last very long; one month to a year is common.

Tips for parents

Enjoy the Trendy stage as long as it lasts, as it typically requires the least amount of management and energy. Always remember that for the majority of children, even the most gifted, this initial excitement and interest will pass, regardless of their innate potential or quality of their teacher and program.

reality check
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The “R” in TRAK© refers to what we call the “Reality” stage. For most kids and parents, this is by far the most challenging part of the journey. This is the time when high expectations meet reality, and most kids, given the chance, will quit.

When you think about it, it quite logical; their progress has been slower than most students expected, the work is harder than almost anything else they’ve done, and to top it all off, they can’t play anything fun yet. This brain “workout” could explain why researchers at the University of Toronto have confirmed that IQ is increased after taking keyboard or vocal lessons[5].

Nearly all kids go through this reality check and wonder why they should keep learning music. And most parents, if not prepared for it, will likely make the biggest mistake of all – allowing them to quit before they experience success.

Tips for parents

Of all four stages, this stage is where the parent plays the most significant leadership role – even more than the teacher. Just like school, young students can’t possibly appreciate how immensely rewarding music will be later on in life.

It is also critical to remember that the reality phase happens with virtually every single student, regardless of ability or initial interest. Parents, who are able to visualize their child playing an instrument five to seven years down the road and enjoying music, will have dramatically higher rates of success.

never quit
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Parents who believe that even though their children are giving them push-back, it is not a reflection on their ability to learn or their long-term interest, but rather their inability (due to their age) to understand the lifelong blessing of sticking with it.

These parents tend to think of the benefits of learning music equal to, or more important than, learning math, geography, or science at school. These parents also understand that learning music not only is a significant life enhancement just on its own, but also because of how it increases IQ and enhances one’s ability to learn any subject or concept.

Parents who fear they are forcing music on their children because their children haven’t “taken” to it or are giving them push-back are resigned to failure from the outset.

Of the thousands of students who have graduated from our school including my own five children, virtually all recall this stage with profound gratitude and appreciation for the wisdom to persevere… “My parents didn’t let me quit”

The “A” in TRAK© refers to Stage Three or what we call the Accomplishment stage

This stage is typically much easier to manage. Music is becoming a source of pride, and their ability to play is becoming respected by friends and family members. Students are able to perform recognizable songs, and playing in front of others is more comfortable and rewarding. Good habits and routines are established, and music is now starting to become fun!

Tips for parents

Continue being a cheerleader, encouraging opportunities to perform, record, compose, improvise and play in bands.

To super-charge this stage, consider seeking out ensemble-based programs that are socially interactive, and connected to their individual interests, such as music theater, songwriting or their favorite rock bands.

cool shrug
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The “K” in TRAK© refers to the fourth stage or what we call “Kool” stage. This typically happens around the five to seven-year mark when all of the work, effort and money really start to pay off. This is when the concepts of the language start to synthesize in the brain and the language of music become hard-wired and internalized.

Students can play interesting pieces, compose, improvise and speak the language of music with other musicians just as we enjoy day-to-day conversations. Even if a student decides to explore other pursuits, they have acquired permanent musical skills and can enjoy it for the rest of their lives.

Understanding and applying the TRAK© system as well as the other two keys to success is a proven formula that produces exceptional results.  Visit our website www.merriammusic.com for more information on how to make lessons a productive and high-value experience.

[1] Williams, Raymond M. The Business of Education. Chicago: National Association of Music Merchants, 1983.

[2]  Schellenberg, E. Glenn.  “Music Lessons Enhance IQ.”  Psychological Science 15, no. 8 (2004). 511-514.

[3] Lipman, Joanne. “Is Music the Key to Success?.” New York Times, October 12, 2013.  Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/is-music-the-key-to-success.html.

[4] Göktürk, Dilek. “Suzuki Violin Teaching Method: Its Theory, Philosophy, And Criticism.” Time 1, no. 1 (2008). 1.

[5] Schellenberg, 511-514.

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