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Why Do Kids Quit Music? 8 Instrumental Teaching Tips.

As an instrumental teacher, there is inevitably a time were one or more of your students want to quit. It can be frustrating, upsetting and can even have financial implications.

It can be hard not to take it personally and can also take you out of your comfort zone if you are trying to negotiate with children and encouraging them to continue learning. It is often due to reasons that are beyond music or even beyond their control.

Kid quit lessons

In this blog post, I am going to look into how (or if) things have changed in the last thirty years, since I started learning and what you can do when faced with this situation. I will also give 8 tips on what you can do, to try and avoid the situation altogether.

My Story

I started learning the euphonium at ten years old. Someone came into my classroom, asked for people who would like to learn a brass instrument and my hand went up. To this day, I have no idea what motivated me, but I am glad it did.

I went into a room with nine other pupils from my class. We were asked which instrument we wanted to learn. I thought the big ones looked good, so I selected the trombone. The teacher made me reach out my arm and he said it was too short, so I was given the euphonium. I actually now have perfect trombone playing arms but I am glad that I got to play the euphonium. ❤

Mark Glover Euphonium

Me and nine others from my class started learning our instruments, having FREE individual lessons. When I look back, everything was against us. The teacher smelt like coffee and cigarettes. He wore sandals and no socks, showing his horrible toes. He was always impatient and angry. We had our lesson in a small cleaning cupboard. I had to carry my instrument up and down a steep hill to and from school. No one in my family played an instrument or read musical notation. I was forced into a school band and bizarrely was given violin parts, which I couldn't read.

The fact that I even managed longer than one year is amazing when I look back. I loved football like mad, I wanted to be a professional footballer and every waking moment at this age and through my early teenage years, all I thought about was football.

Wolves Fan

I was actually a really good footballer. I was captain of the school team and my local team, I played in midfield and would like to think I was a bit of a cross between Roy Keane and Stuart Pearce. That is the face of a killer, and if you had the ball, I was coming for you! No idea how I managed to play my euphonium with those teeth though!

During my first year of playing the euphonium, all of the other pupils who started at the same time as me gradually quit one by one. I remember the teacher being really cross. Despite my feelings towards my first teacher, I was never afraid of him, but then again, with a face like I had, there was no reason to be afraid of anyone! 🤣

So, in a year, only one out of ten beginner brass players remained. ME! 🥳

My parents didn't force me to do anything, there was just something about my attitude to things, which is the same today. If I start something, I will give it my all and never quit. I must have learnt this from my parents but as an instrumental teacher, I always try and speak to students about perseverance, resilience, patience and all this stuff before they start.

Let's compare that to my experience nowadays and by the way, I genuinely consider myself to be a million miles a better teacher than the bloke who taught me to start and I hope that I set youngsters on a musical journey in a far more positive way that I experienced.

I recently did a project in a school where the students were given the opportunity to learn a brass instrument for free and perform with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in a concert. About 20 students started, completed the concert with the band and loved the experience. Following on from this, those students were offered free lessons to continue in smaller groups. About 10 opted to continue.

This really bugged me, because I hoped they would all want to carry on. They all had the potential but sadly half of them decided to give up.

I know the exact reason for this. The lessons were due to take place during the lunchtime. So these students were not willing to give up 20 minutes of their lunchtime, once a week.

Tip 1

So, here is my first big piece of advice to help stop students quitting. Avoid using break or lunchtime for their lessons. If I had to have my lesson during break time, which let's face it, was the world cup final on the playground every break time to me, I surely would have quit. Encourage schools to allow students to miss lesson time for their private music lesson because most of the students you will encounter, will value the time far more than when it is during their free time. Always tell students to catch up on any work missed and their teacher will be happy.

Tip 2

Try not to take students quitting personally. Students sometimes tell you they want to quit in the most blunt, even ruder manner. They are probably just nervous about telling you. My friends are more important, or the instrument is too heavy, or I am not allowed to practice at home or music is not getting me anywhere. These are all excuses I have heard and you have to just except it probably isn't anything to do with you at all.

Tip 3

When a student quits. Just let them quit, wish them all the best and move forwards. It is very easy to get into an argument with students and even their parents but think of it from your own point of view. Once you have made a decision on something, it is better to stick to it than keep swapping and changing your mind. The worst thing that could happen is, a student continues because you have persuaded them to do it against their will. Just let it go.

Does Technology Cause Kids to Quit?

It is easy nowadays to blame technology for kids quitting but on the flipside, it could also be the sole reason why some children keep going. Maybe they like listening to music or like watching videos on YouTube for how to play their instrument. They might use apps to help them with notation or theory. They could even do some video recordings of themselves playing to send to friends and family. I certainly never had anything like that as a child.

Once, I was so upset at home, with no idea how to practice or what any of the music meant that my dad took me to see some long lost relative, just because he thought she used to play the piano and could help me.

Phones and games are distracting though, we all know this. Intelligent parents and intelligent children will know when to stop and teach their kids accordingly. We should all try and be a bit more intelligent and recognise the damage excessive phone use has on us as a human race.

Tip 4

Encourage kids to balance the use of technology and teach them how to utilise it to help them. Teach them how our bodies and minds get addicted to things easily and show them how this can be brilliant when you are addicted to something good or beneficial. I am 100% addicted to practice and feel strange if I do not practice for one day. Give them a task to record themselves and send it to you (use email for this, and only with a parent ccd). That excuse to be able to use their phone will motivate them to practice.

Careful When Taking Over From Other Teachers

Something that really frustrates me, is when I take over a student who has, to put it bluntly, been taught poorly by their previous teacher. For brass players, a complete lack of tonguing ability, sniffing to breath and various other things are my pet hates. Incredibly easy to avoid but tricky to fix. This often happens when the previous teacher is either not a specialist, a child has learnt in a whole class setting or the teacher just doesn't demonstrate correct technique themselves.

A popular blog of mine is one I wrote about teaching beginner brass. It is very in-depth.

Imagine you are a grade 3 trumpet player, just done your grade 3 exam, feeling pretty good about yourself. Then I come along and tell you all the things you are doing wrong and the need to go back to basics. This child is going to quit.

Tip 5

Make changes to a child's technique very carefully. Avoid bad mouthing the previous teacher and just steer them in the right direction. Demonstrate the correct way of playing and show students why it is important for them to adopt the same approach.

In relation to this tip, I often find students can be very negative. I hear conductors and teachers telling their students that certain things are hard. As I teacher I try very hard not to say this because it just makes the student believe that something is impossible. Nothing is impossible as a musician and anything achieved by anyone in the past can be achieved by you, should you want it bad enough.

The Lack of Practice Stalemate

When a child doesn't practice, they don't improve. If they don't improve then they end up playing or attempting the same music over and over. When a student loses interest, then it is over.

Tip 6

Teach students the importance of practice. Get them to perform to family and friends at home. Encourage them to join a musical ensemble or band. Show them your own exam certificates or those of other students. Ask their class teacher to promise them a huge number of house points if they pass an exam. Find opportunities for them to perform early on, so they enjoy it. Give them new things to try in every lesson. Ask them what music they want to learn how to play. This list just requires common sense but is essential to keep and feed the interest of a student.

Having parents on your side, actively encouraging youngsters at home is vital to success. I have some students who have skipped exams, scored full marks in exams or who have won competitions. These have always been students whose parents are behind them.

Tip 7

Try where possible to get the email address for your students parents or carers. Keep them updated with progress. You can also use a practice diary for this and it is a good way of keeping in touch with home. Ask parents what they want their child to achieve and let them know about all the opportunities available such as area bands, school orchestra, competitions, adult community ensembles (for the right aged students) and exams. Check out the Youth Music page at Arts Council England. Help parents recognise how music will help their child in many areas and encourage them to help their child balance music with things like GCSE exams.

Brass Thailand

When Should You Buy an Instrument?

As a child I was very lucky. My school had a scheme where you could by an instrument at a educational discount and pay it back in instalments. So, in my early teenage years, I had a professional level instrument. This made me practice. This made me take it more seriously. I understood how expensive it was and how hard my parents had to work to afford it.

Tip 8

Encourage your students (well, their parents or carers) to buy their own instruments. It doesn't have to be an expensive one, but guide them on the options. As a teacher you can approach brands directly and ask for an educational discount. Instruments are far more expensive than they should be nowadays and a lot of companies will be keen to help.

It is brilliant when music services offer free rental of instruments. It is essential in some areas because otherwise there would be no way anyone would be making music. Having a free one however, doesn't cause the student to look after it or care for it in the way they might if it belonged to them.

Summing Up

I don't think anything has changed in thirty years. As teachers we have to stop labelling kids today as being weak or lazy. When I was younger there were just as many of those types around.

I am sure there are many more tips, so if you are a teacher and have some tips related to this post, feel free to leave them in the comments below, I would love to hear other strategies and use them with my own teaching.

If you are looking for a brass teacher, just get in touch at and if you enjoyed this post, please sign up with your email to get notified when new blog posts go live.

Thanks for reading! ❤🎵

Mark Glover


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