What kind of responses or plan does a teacher need when a student says: "I'm only taking piano lessons because my parents are making me take them."

Many factors enter into the possible responses to the above statement: the student's age, how long the student has studied, and the teacher's relationship with the student and his parents. In the left column below are my suggestions for discussing this issue; these talking points are stated in the teacher's voice and are listed in a general order. In the right column are some of the feelings the student may have in response to the teacher's comments.

Student's Possible Feelings

The student feels heard by the teacher.

Teacher's Comments
1. I'm very sorry you feel that you are being forced to do something you don't want to do.

The student is being asked to be involved in the issue he has; the student feels valued.

2. Would you like to tell me some of the reasons why you don't wish to take piano lessons?

The student feels the teacher cares about his reasons and can also be trusted.

3. May I have your permission to write down your reasons for not wanting to take piano lessons? I assure you these answers are only between you and me; I will not share them with your parents.

The student feels grateful that someone is listening unconditionally.

4. No matter how many reasons the student gives, the teacher only listens. As she listens, she writes down each reason and does not comment, judge, or interrupt. The teacher may need to gently cajole the student to continue giving reasons until the student can think of no more.

The student feels involved in a discussion about his feelings.

5. Now that you have given me all your reasons for not wanting to take piano lessons, let's discuss each one." The teacher asks the student to elaborate on each reason—one at a time—and then after the student speaks, the teacher gives one or two relevant responses or just simple affirmations such as "I understand." "Okay, I will add that one to the list."

To summarize, giving the student the opportunity to express his feelings, the student has now experienced the following:

  • being heard
  • being valued
  • cared about
  • gained trust in teacher
  • experienced gratitude
  • being involved

At this point in the lesson, I would thank the student for sharing his thoughts with me. I would then ask that we both think about today's discussion during the coming week, and then we will have another discussion at the next lesson. I would also say that I am going to think about all the reasons the student gave, and that I will wish to make my comments about the student's reasons at the next lesson. Throughout this entire process, I am totally convinced that unless steps one through five occur, the student will not hear anything a teacher would say as a good reason to take piano lessons.

At the following lesson, I would start by stating my well-thought-out responses and end by asking the student if there is anything he can think of that I can do to increase his desire to study piano. I would assure the student that anything may be said and I won't be offended—because I'd really like to continue to teach him. No matter what the student says about the lessons or you, while the student is talking no comments, judgments, or discussion should occur. Then, I would try to get a dialogue going to discuss the student's suggestions for what he would like to have done differently in the lessons.

The ultimate hoped-for result would be that, with the discussions taking up a portion of two or three lessons—and don't worry about how much time it takes, the student's attitude may change. However, if success does not occur, then the discussion and situation goes to a different level and a teacher may simply have to say: "I realize you don't want to take lessons but, at your age, this is a decision your parents are making. While you and I have had some very good discussions about your feelings, this is now a matter between you and your parents."

At this point there is much more thought and elaboration needed regarding the student's personality temperament, maturity, and his relationship with his parents and with the teacher. I would follow the statement about the parents being the decision makers by stating my opinions as to why piano lessons are beneficial.

It has been my experience that the issue of trying to determine why the student does not want to take piano lessons often gets resolved, due to the student's increased feelings of self-worth. This self-worth occurs because the student was heard, valued, cared about, and involved in the discussion. More trust in the teacher was gained because the teacher took the time to listen—instead of sermonizing with numerous "shoulda–woulda-coulda" words. Additionally, this kind of open discussion and exchange often leads to the teacher giving more thought regarding how the "I want to quit"-student is taught, resulting in better teaching strategies gleaned from the reasons the student expressed for quitting. Most importantly, the student sometimes makes the decision to continue studying piano. Why might this happen? It could most definitely be because the conversation channels have been opened more than ever before. The teacher now seems more like a friend the student can talk to, and the student gets to "skirt" having to listen to the parents say he "must continue piano." The student has gained some autonomy, increasing the very important feeling of self-worth and the possibility of continuing piano lessons!

I want to give one clincher reason for continuing piano lessons that often works for students from approximately grades eight through twelve. I pull my last card from the deck and remind them that all the extracurricular activities beyond school that they do now will help them when they apply for college! Students rarely think of this and I have kept many students going through the twelfth grade with just this one reminder. Yes, perhaps I've employed a bit of devious persuasion, but, then again, perhaps I've assisted in giving one more child the joy of a life-long skill of playing the piano—resulting in a deeper and more lasting appreciation of music. The retention of one additional young pianist and the teacher's expert assistance with a difficult but common problem may cause gratitude to reside in the hearts and lives of the teacher, student, and his parents for years to come!

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