Why You Are Wasting Your Money On Music Lessons!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything” – Plato

But Daniel, you ARE a music teacher! More importantly, you are MY CHILD’S music teacher!!!

Trust me, this is going to get good. Click bait? nailed it!

I teach close to 60 private lessons per week

almost all of them classical violin. I manage a moderately sized music school with 6 teachers and over 175 students. I go to great lengths creatively and financially to convince others of the value of music education. Yet, there is  one area that I constantly have trouble communicating – “Is my child ‘getting it’ or am I wasting my time/money?”

Here is how the scenario plays out:

I am teaching a lesson. The student is not 100% laser focused on the task I have given them. Mother or Father says something along the lines of “If you don’t straighten up and pay attention then we are not coming back – I am not paying good money for nothing!” Ok, so that is a bit harsh. We actually have an amazing clientele who fully appreciate the work we do with their children. But let’s suppose previous students (wink) have said such things…and let’s answer the question

“Are we wasting money on music lessons?”


Many of you are losing a significant portion of your tuition. But in a totally different area than you think, and its entirely curable.

You think you are paying for someone to teach little Johnny how to play an instrument.

We are actually teaching Johnny how to practice his instrument. Huge difference. Learning to practice at home is where the magic happens. It builds discipline, a healthy relationship with commitment to growth, concrete skills that can translate into income later in life…all this doesn’t happen during the lesson – it happens at home with CONSISTENT effort over time (years). Lesson time is used to give golden nuggets of knowledge, and provide direction, inspiration and accountability. So when you are frustrated that 5 minutes were seemingly squandered out of a 30 minute lesson, understand that the real tragedy is that a majority of my students practice less than 1 hour per week… out of the 167.5 remaining non-lesson hours.

I have never had a non-productive lesson with a student that was prepared.

Isn’t that interesting? Practicing isn’t usually the most fun endeavor (especially when up against playing with friends, eating, TV, videogames…etc) and it is hard, brain-squeezing work. Yet, AFTER a budding musician has conquered a difficult passage on their own, mastered a new technique, or memorized their latest piece, they typically cannot wait to show it to me. Also, since when does desire alone determine actions? one of my favorite quotes from painter Chuck Close is “Inspiration is for Amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.” I believe that teaching children to put themselves in a position for inspiration (through specific challenges) is one of the greatest gifts we as teachers can give.

Should I quit?

Does this mean if we have a few consecutive weeks of limited practice that we should quit? It depends… Is the teacher a good role model for your child? Can the child have too many encouraging people in their life? Do we teach them to quit when things are hard? OK, maybe I am biased 🙂 I will say that if there are NEVER moments when your child has the sparkle of joy in their eye (in lessons, in practice or in performances) then you may want to consider finding something they are more passionate about. Too often however, children quit because they want something that gives them instant gratification and in their zeal to prove how much they want the “new” thing they make blanket statements such as “I hate music” “I want to quit”…. I used to do this occasionally. In fact, even at age 14 I would consistently pretend to be sick on lesson days so I wouldn’t have to be held accountable for my valuable practice week (which I often squandered). Usually I suggest a trial period, often finishing the current term, and then re-evaluate what can be changed to re-energize the student.

So what can we conclude?

If you want to make the most of your investment in music education – find ways to constantly improve at home (get 1% better each week at practicing) and nail the daily disciplines.

You will find that most students will re-engage in lessons almost immediately and you will then truly see the value in your time and money!

I hope you find this informative (or at least interesting)

Until next time!


Daniel Blair

*Title picture is hosted on http://www.synful.com/Images/*

14,537 total views, 8 views today

Comments 36

  1. Rosamond van der Linde

    Why do you need our email? Oh and never threaten a child with the biggest mistake of all time! Never say if you dont practice, ill take your lessons away! Because the kid just might say, “Goody!” Then what?

    If a lesson does not go well, as a teacher i always say it has been my fault because that is the truth. It has not happened often but parents can hardly believe i ever would say this.

    1. Post

      Very True, Its like a motivation game. Nothing like having students who put it together though

      *I didn’t notice it required email – we used to have many problems with spam 🙁

    2. Anonymous

      my cello son William who has a incredible instructor name Dr, Stepanov, he is from Armenia, he worked hard with my son, once I while I heard he said “OH, William, it’s my fault, I did not mark the fingering”! i hardly ever heard this from other teachers, maybe I was there for listen the teaching lessons. but it mean lot to a little boy to feel the respect his little heart.

  2. Toyca Williams

    Your comments are spot on. I was just asking myself those same questions. Thank you for providing a thoughtful reminder that lessons are only a small percentage of time needed to master a craft.

    1. Post

      You are welcome. Learning simple daily disciplines was much more valuable to me than playing violin. Although I perform frequently and enjoy it immensely!

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  3. Louise

    Children are becoming ever more distracted and unable to focus, both private & state school children. As a teacher you must understand the worth of your imparting knowledge. One lesson, ten lessons, a year of lessons: if you don’t impart your live of music to this pupil they will never learn, so focus in on how you can grip their attention: you won’t get better pupils! Just work hard on believing in the ones you have now.

    1. Post

      Well said,

      Too often I am faced with managing expectations between myself, the student and the parents. When those are aligned then you have time to explore each students particular needs rather than “teaching songs” as quickly as possible.

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  4. Theresa

    Spot on!!! My daughter started violin lessons at age 5. We had our ups & downs, yet we stuck it out. At age 16 she was teaching and understood how a teacher could tell when the student didn’t practice 😁. But the personal satisfaction of nailing a piece and later making money by playing her violin was rewarding for all of us!! So glad we paid for those YEARS of lessons- a QUALITY INVESTMENT!!

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  5. Gayle Dancer

    I teach the violin as well. I find the most effective way to be, when the student is ready, teach them the one measure at a time method. It is longer, yet, it seems to work! I tell them about responsibility and committment at the first lesson! That way they know what is expected of them immediately!

    1. Post

      1 lesson at a time is great. I have found that is doesn’t take as long as everyone expects because you aren’t constantly having to remember/relearn it. once you have it – it is there pretty much for good.

  6. Daniel Pszeniczny

    Great read. I took up playing flute as an adult age 45. My secret was to spend as little time as possible–or next to none–feeling discouraged with learning to practice. So I shortened my practice time, at first in the beginning, when I was really really bad sounding, to as little as 3 minutes. I have never felt defeated by my “learning to practice”. Now I can spend two hours or more practicing because nearly all my practice has been fun yet still challenging enough to grow. I learned via the internet for two years but now supplement that with twice a month in-person teacher who does exactly as your article states–providing accountability, some motivation, teaching me to practice better, expert advice in answering question etc. Money spent on an experienced teacher is money well spent indeed!

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  7. Sandra Sellani

    This is a great article. I am an adult cello student and I am as motivated as it gets to practice, but I also know that if I don’t have appropriate discipline while I practice, I’m wasting my time.

    What has helped me immensely to practice the right way at home is taping my music lesson so I remember every nuance of my lesson, because there’s a lot more happening in your lesson than what your teacher writes down in your notebook. I can also hear myself play, hear my teacher play and have every detail of the lesson presented to me every time I practice. It has made all the difference in the world. A lesson is structured in the same way a practice session should be structured – scales, solo pieces, etudes, repetitive sections, ideas for improvement, etc.

    When I was young, my piano teacher told me, “If you miss one day of practice, you’ll know it. If you miss two days, I’ll know it. If you miss three days, everyone will know it.”

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  8. Irene

    Beautifully put, thank you!
    I will share this with my students & their parents, and look forward to some excellent discussions. Gracias!

  9. Anonymous

    Sappreciated. me inspiring words here. as students focusing skills become less and money becomes tighter at home it becomes harder keeping students involved over the years. any suggestions on keeping kids involved in music are always appreciated.

  10. Nick Ambrosino - Author Coffee With Ray and Lessons With Matt

    Great article. Nicely written. Love the “I have never had a non-productive lesson with a student who was prepared.” and the distinction that lesson time is really time to provide the student with practicing strategies to best utilized that time away from their teacher.

    I won’t post on your blog without permission, but I have a breakdown of a child’s week, minute by minute, including every possible activity to prove that there is no way a child’s plea of “I didn’t have time to practice” can hold up. If you would like to share a copy with your readers, I’d be happy to send you the link.

  11. Samuel J. Lawson

    I was just thinking about this – how the reason I learned guitar was that I played every day, sometimes for hours. I had the good fortune of getting bit by the bug before I could drive, otherwise it might have been a different story. Teaching technique is the easy part, helping the student to find the will to practise is the hard part. As a teacher, nothing is more dreadful than a lesson with a student who hasn’t touched their instrument since the last lesson. There were exceptions though. I had one student, a teenage kid, who I know didn’t practise much, but something told me that this time was when he got to breathe a little. He had some pretty overbearing parents. Teaching young people music is mentorship, and being a mentor involves more than just teaching music. Some of those lessons involved more counselling than instrumental instruction. I didn’t come down too hard on this one for not practising. This particular kid needed that weekly session just to have a moment to talk to an adult that could allow him some space to just be himself.

  12. Louise

    Dear Daniel,

    Thank you for this article. I love the idea that children need to learn how to PRACTICE.
    I believe there is another key point in your giving lessons to children, which is not related to the instrument. It is about musicianship and creativity. Little Johnny needs to feel that he loves and understands music a little bit more everyday, don’t you think? My little “Johnny” is practicing on the http://www.meludia.com website and I feel that he is more and more motivated.

    Thank you again for this article and can’t wait for your next articel.

  13. Jenni C

    Funny you should say that. I received this from a friend on FB, and my husband and I were just having this discussion. I am happy to have some info validating my feelings! Helps me to stay strong. I think I will show him this. I don’t want him to quit everything but video games!

  14. judith lombard

    Mrs Liz. The the most adored an incredible teacher and person my son stayed with her from 4 years old to senior in high school. Shy boy incredible pianist. Daughter too. Great experience and friendships were experienced. All love

  15. Ginette Caza

    Wonderful article! We had 3 kids on 2 instruments each. 1 1/2 hours of practice per child, all done before school. They loved the music, not so much the practicing. But it was music with practice or no music lessons. Not negociable. Today, 2 of 3 are still playing their instrument a lot and one refuses that we sell his cello (who knows?) they are in med school, computer science and composing. I am *certain* that the discipline they acquired with practicing makes them successful today. 100%. They agree.

  16. Irene

    My 12 years old son only learns piano for one year and he has started to compose. He learns new songs by himself and listens songs from different musicians from YouTube. Music brings joy and comfort to him that he can practice piano and accordion for hours by himself. I have never expected he has so much passion in music while started so late. His music teacher is so excited to teach him and give him Mozart Fantasia D minor to practice. Without passion and interest, the practice will be torturous.

  17. Yvonne

    Thank you for the encouraging words for the parents of these musicians. I have been sitting with my son for almost 9 yrs and 6 years with my daughter. There were many days when I wanted to quit. I was done with screaming matches, tears of resistance, and repeating myself. I still sit with them if we want to have good lessons. Now they are old enough to fight me less and want to please their teacher. I don’t think they will be concert pianists, but this journey will serve them well for the rest of their lives and I will continue to sit with them as long as they continue to practice.

  18. Irene Mitchell

    Bravo, Daniel. Thank you for sharing!
    Why do I practice?
    To make it easy. When it is easy, it becomes fun.
    Do I stop when we finally get something right?
    No. I stop when I have practiced the right thing enough times that I can’t get it wrong.

  19. MamaMia

    I truly appreciate the reflection this article warrants…
    And while I agree; I would say there is also another possibility for a child timing out of practice…for another reason . My child has always LOVED playing violin. And it got to the point where it was painful even in lessons to watch. I now believe the violin teacher was bullying my child. The teacher’s need for perfection amidst the chaos in her(the teacher’s) life, set unrealistic and unobtainable goals for my child. Not because my child wasn’t capable, but because the joy and love was slowly over time, killed.
    I regret NOT realizing it sooner. I kept saying, I’m not a violin teacher. I’m not great at music. There must be something we are doing wrong. And I now see in hindsight that the teacher’s methods had squashed all the love and beauty from music for my child. My child was dreading and hating the lessons. AND my child actually played less and less even in the lessons. Who can do 45 minutes of tonalization… and like it? Not my child. My child gave up because nothing she did was pleasing to this teacher. There were so many things her teacher WOULDN’T “LET” my child do – Suzuki book is only for the parent, not the child, etc. Maybe my child will NOT be a concert violinist, that is but one goal. Having a positive experience with music, can cultivate a life long appreciation. By changing teachers, in less than a month, my child is LOVING music and violin again. Practicing without encouragement. AND is technically better than she ever has been… There were so many things her teacher WOULDN’T “LET” my child do – Suzuki book is only for the parent, not the child, etc.
    I am so thankful that this new teacher is helping my child’s LOVE and JOY of music and violin shine. So while yes, practice is the key to progress. I also think sometimes stepping back and thinking about how or why progress is lost may be helpful too.

  20. Momoffour

    As a piano teacher, I would like to say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!! This article is EXACTLY what I try to tell my students’ parents. In fact, I’m going to forward this link to all of them. I’m teaching your student how to PRACTICE the piano. Beautiful!!

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