Did Your Parents Make You Take Piano Lessons? If So, Have They Made You Happier?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my urge to sign up my children for lessons — piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, etc. I feel extremely lucky that I can choose to provide lessons for my daughters — that I can afford to do it. Absolutely! But is it a good idea?

I’d like to hear adults’ reflections on their own experiences with lessons. If you have a minute, I’d appreciate it if you’d answer three quick questions. For these purposes, don’t consider any lessons that you, as a child, asked to take; here, I’m interested in parent-initiated lessons. Also, don’t consider religious school. Sunday school, Hebrew school, CCD, etc. are in a different category from soccer practice.

These surveys are supposed to pop up on your screen, but you may have to click the links. Not sure why…Thanks very much!

* I had a great time doing an interview on StaceyTV. You can read it or listen to it here.

* In a book group? If you’d like a copy of the reading-group discussion guide for The Happiness Project, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. (Sorry to write in that odd way; trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “reading group guide” in the subject line. I’ll send it right off.

  • LivewithFlair

    Gretchen! Totally do it! I have my 5 and 8 year old taking lessons, and we do it very organically. They don’t have to practice at a set time, but we just encourage hanging out around the piano and being together as a family. She enjoys the piano and plays in the evenings because it’s part of our family culture. We do music games and let the older one show us how she’s reading music. We don’t make her perform or do recitals, and she doesn’t “sit on the bench” and do scales. The best part is she has a foundation for guitar and violin (her instruments of choice for next year). My advice: Find a teacher who is young and knows new models for piano pedagogy. By the way, I added one more thing to my happiness “good-mood-in-the-morning recipe” http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2010/06/waking-up-happy.html

  • Sarah

    Yes, by all means have your girls take music lessons! It is so much easier to learn as a child, with time and support on-hand, as opposed to having to seek out the time to do so as an adult. Don’t push them to be “the BEST” if they aren’t enthusiastic, but do have them learn the fundamentals before allowing them to quit, if they choose, when they are older. Almost like swimming lessons, you’re giving them a basic skill set that will be there if they want to use it. We plan on having our boys take piano when they are older (they are still toddlers). I won’t make them “perform” in recitals if they don’t want to, but they will have to give it a fair try.

  • Lynn C

    My parents neither made me take lessons, nor allowed me to take any lessons that I requested.

    As it is, I feel I missed a great deal of opportunities to learn and grow. I was refused the options of taking music/dance/and sports. This was not because my parents couldn’t afford those lessons. My mother was forced to take dance and music when she was a child and decided she wouldn’t do that to me, so even tho I requested to do those things, I wasn’t allowed.

    In fact, I further recall her saying something about sports that’s stuck with me my entire life (to the detriment of my happiness and I’m just now starting to get over)… I wanted to play little league softball with one of my friends, which was free, and she refused to allow it under these grounds, “Well, you’ll just be bad at it, sweetie, and no one on your team will like you because you’ll make them lose the games.”

    With my daughter (she’s six) we have a deal; she can try anything she’d like, and must attend at least 8 lessons/games to make sure she does or does not like it. If she doesn’t like it after 8 sessions, we’ll move on and try something else. So far, we’ve done an awesome soccer season and are getting ready to take pottery classes over the summer.

  • Interesting topic! My parents forced me to take piano lessons when I was younger. They figure it would be a good way to instill discipline and make me more well-rounded. After I *begged* to stop taking lessons after two years, they finally relented. In many ways, I wish I had kept up with it. It would be nice to know how to play a musical instrument. But, then again, I don’t know how useful it is to compel children to complete an activity. It kind of sucks the joy out of it.

    P.S. I reviewed your book today for my blog if you are interested in checking it out!

  • I regret that my parents weren’t more emphatic about my music lessons–after what must have been a lot of whining on my part, they let me quit. As opposed to basketball, which I loathed but couldn’t quit, even though it offers me nothing in my adult life except the memory of being the worst player on the team for three years. Now I wish I could play an instrument. I have no similar wishes about playing basketball!

  • minneswiss

    My parents signed me and my sister up for all sorts of lessons (sports, music, art, French) when we were young, and quickly weeded out the activities in which we showed less interest (mainly sports). Music was a non-negotiable category, but we were encouraged to pick which instrument we wanted to pursue through a “Musical Trolley” type class. I ended up taking violin lessons for nearly 14 years, and though I rarely play today, I’ve incorporated my musical background into other areas of my life (I’m on the board of the young professionals group of the local orchestra and recently joined a handbell choir). I also believe it’s helped me pick up languages (and accents!) faster than I would have otherwise.

    Of course, practicing was occasionally a struggle and required heavy parental involvement (Suzuki method encouraged it). But then, I’ve always liked performing and hated practicing in all areas of my life …. wish I could say that has changed over time!

    I’m also grateful for having had exposure to so many things when I was little because it gave me a rudimentary understanding of hobbies that make it more fun to participate in activities as an adult. E.g. I’m not a great ice skater, but I can enjoy it with a group and not feel intimidated by lack of skill set.

  • A timely post. My wife and I were just discussing our older daughter’s piano lessons this morning (she had her recital yesterday). Daughter, going into high school, tried out for the cheerleading squad and got on as an alternate. But the practices were going to take a lot of time (M-Th) and we’d have to forgo our August vacation we had to plan last January so she could practice 5 days a week for the month before school started). In addition, the cheerleading coach seemed as serious about cheerleading as Sue Sylvester in Glee. I had said that daughter’s studies and piano would take precedence (because both would serve her well in the long run). Luckily, my daughter enjoys piano and her lessons. But she will be disappointed about cheerleading. As our daughters get older the pressure to do “everything” they want increases exponentially. But there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything. Definitely start them young, when the pressure is less and they can just enjoy it.

  • Anna

    Unfortunately after a number of years learning the piano, at age 13 I refused to take further lessons. My mother was extremely upset and actually burst into tears. Do I regret it now 30 years later? Of course I do. But looking back I think the mistake she made was emphasising the negative aspect of not learning the piano – “you’ll regret it, you should be grateful for the opportunity, other people aren’t so lucky” etc. She made it all about her and it was stifling. Encouraging all the wonderful aspects of learning about music would have been so much better.

  • My family took me to private piano lessons midway through my 4th year. I had always been musically inclined from the time I could talk and my mother says I asked for lessons.

    In the subsequent years I was never forced to practice. My parents made it clear that if they were going to keep paying then I needed to keep playing.

    I am now 32 years old. I’ve played my whole life, became a piano teacher in college, and have played in many bands over the years. The one thing that I have carted from my home in Chicago to New York, California and now to Texas has been my grand piano. I bought it after landing my first big job in the “real world”.

    If I could describe the thing that gives me the greatest stress relief and simple pleasure it would be playing. I often think that if my parents forced me to play I wouldn’t have stuck with it. I believe you either love it or it’s not for you, much like my short-lived interest in playing sports. It will become evident quickly what that child has an interest in and it’s important for parents not to try to force their children into hobbies. Most important I thank them so much for giving me the gift of all those years of lessons and support and…happiness. :0)

    Great subject!

  • My parents had me take piano lessons very early. At first, they had to push me to practice the basics (scales, arpeggios) and musical theory was a nightmare for everyone. But I’m glad they did, because now that I acquired the fundamentals, I really enjoy playing the piano, and miss it so much (I haven’t had much spare time lately…).
    I think it’s good to have your children begin at a young age, they learn quickier than adults and that trains their listening well (eg foreign languages). There are lots of studies about the benefits of music in brain development. And they can work on their shyness, if they are to perform in recitals.

    My advice : do not force them for a domain or an instrument, let them try and choose themselves.
    The choice of the teacher is very important too (Teachers can be excellent musicians but really poor… well… teachers. I know there are students who drop out of music because of their teacher).
    You can also take them to concerts, operas, musicals…. to build their musical culture. And if they are bored with their piece of music (often classical), you can suggest them to play their favourite film music score/song !

  • Cathy

    My parents forced me to take piano lessons. I rarely practiced but now I know how to read music well enough to sing at Sunday services. Both of my children requested to learn an instrument in elementary school and I am glad that they too have that knowledge. If they had not asked for it I do not think I would have forced the issue. However, their school requires them to take music of some sort (band, chorus or music appreciation) starting in the 4th grade so the issue was mostly taken out of my hands.

    As for other activities, our rule is that anything they sign up for, they must complete the season. If it doesn’ t have a season, then they can quit whenever the next payment is due. I think this teaches them to finish what they start and prevents them from disappointing their team mates.

  • EscapeVelocity

    My parents both had to take lessons (my mother, piano, my father, violin) and decided not to do that to us. I was briefly signed up for modern dance and flute, but was allowed to drop them when I didn’t show any real interest.

  • Green14

    Gretchen I think sometimes you have to make those decisions for your children. I have 4 grown children and each of them has told me that they wished they’d taken piano lessons as a child. They are all like “Mom! Why didn’t you make us???”. Not one of them ever asked.

    It’s funny because I remember saying the same thing to MY mother. Our youngest children are 7 & 9 and I have just made arrangements for my 9yr old to start piano lessons in the Fall. She has asked about it but I was planning on starting her even if she hadn’t.

    • gretchenrubin

      I think it’s easy as an adult to wish that someone had made you acquire a
      skill as a child. You imagine yourself now, being able to play piano, and
      you think, “That would be so great!” You don’t know what it would really be
      like to play piano, just the fantasy of being able to do it.

      So it’s a very easy wish to have.

      However, if you’d had to put in the time and effort to acquire that skill
      when you young, and lost the time that you in fact got to spend in other
      pursuits –THEN would you have wished that your parents had made you do it?
      I wonder!

      After all, there’s no reason that an adult can’t learn to play the piano. I
      have three friends who are now taking music lessons, starting as beginners.
      And I have a friend who taught himself guitar as a kid, because he really
      wanted to know how to play — and he still plays CONSTANTLY as an adult.

  • Amy

    I was about 7 when I became interested in playing the piano. My mother asked if I wanted to take piano lessons. There were times when I wanted to quit, because I was either getting fed up with practising every week or I just didn’t like the songs I was playing. (I had a very nice teacher though.) My mother always said that I would have to follow through until Christmas or the summer holidays and if I still didn’t like my lessons then I could quit them. After a month or so I would have totally forgotten about this. In the end, I never quit my piano lessons, only until I went to college.I’m very glad now my mother wouldn’t let me quit whenever I wanted to and that she taught me to follow through for a while before calling it quits.

    (I did quit some other activities that I just didn’t like/hated: korfbal [a kind of basketball], ballet lessons and ice skating.)

    • gretchenrubin

      I did an interview with Dan Pink the other night, and he emphasized the
      importance of “autonomy” in helping to build intrinsic motivation. Allowing
      children to pick the songs they learn seems an easy way to do this.

      Not allowing a child to quit on fleeting impulse — that seems good. Your
      mother had a smart way of allowing you the freedom to decide to stop, if
      that’s what you really wanted, but keeping you from making an impulsive

  • Erin

    When I was two years old, I began taking Suzuki method violin lessons. I was so young I don’t remember much from the first couple of years. I was not one to practice the instrument without my mother’s constant nagging, and for the most part I took the opportunity for granted. I had two lessons each week all the way through the end of high school, in addition to recitals and other performances. When I entered college, I stopped playing because I never found any joy in it. In my mind, I was playing to serve the interests of others. However, I started to play again, slowly at first, about three years ago. I realized that I had had years of instruction on an instrument that is very difficult to learn. When I began to play again, I was able to find the sense of expression and pride that I had lacked before. I must say that the violin lessons were the most special and important gift I have ever been given. Not only did the lessons lead me to a degree in vocal performance (which was birthed from my ability to play violin) and to now pursue a career in music therapy, the lessons also taught me confidence, self-discipline, determination, and instilled in me a very strong work ethic. I believe wholly in the power of music and will never be separated from it. I am the adult I am today because of what lessons my violin instruction taught me.

  • Elf

    My mother made me take piano lessons when I was little, but I hated the teacher (who was perhaps a good person in other ways, just not with teaching or with children) and I quit after three years. However, both my sisters continued and I envy them their playing skills. I’ve recently started taking cello lessons, which I adore, but it is more difficult squeezing in practice & lessons and now that I am married and work too much, am trying to train training for a marathon, and still maintain some semblance of a social life. My advice is to find a good teacher and let the girls give it a whirl. You always regret more the things you didn’t try than the ones you did.

  • Continuing a long tradition on my mother’s side of the family, I was required to take at least 2 years of piano lessons. Unfortunately, I started taking them just before the onset of a rebellious period (when I was 11 years old, in 6th grade), and by the time I was in 8th grade, I was questioning and/or rejecting many of the traditions in my family – including religion – and refused to continue piano lessons after the 2 year requirement was met.

    I’m glad – now – that I took those piano lessons, because I believe it has given me a deeper appreciation of music, both as a listener and as a musician. FWIW, I recently re-read parts of Yochai Benkler’s “Wealth of Networks”, in which he talks about the individual and social value of agency and active [co-]creation (vs. passive consumption) of culture, and which more articulately reflects my views on appreciation through participation:

    “Just as learning how to read music and play an instrument can make one a better-informed listener, so too a ubiquitous practice of making cultural artifacts of all forms enables individuals in society to be better readers, listeners and viewers of professionally produced culture, as well as contributors of our own statements into the mix of collective culture.”

    Despite quitting formal piano lessons, I went on to informally teach myself guitar and formed a band in which I played lead guitar throughout my high school years (possibly the only redeeming or constructive activity in which I consistently engaged during that period). Later on, I voluntarily took saxophone lessons, for which my earlier piano training proved extremely valuable.

    I have continued this tradition in our family. Both of my children took 2 years of piano lessons … and both stopped taking them soon after the 2 year requirement was met. I hope they will find similar long term benefits from the experience.

    I’m curious about your exclusion of religion classes from your question. I agree that they are in a different category than soccer practice, but if the scope of your inquiry is broad enough to consider the arts and sports – both of which provide meaning to many people (and I hear that football is a religion in Texas) – I would think that religion would likewise be fair game.

  • Amber B

    My parents initiated me to to take piano lessons but I didn’t like piano and didn’t practice. My brother, on the other hand, excelled and practiced. I think he had the talent and interest for the piano and I didn’t. I liked karate lessons and softball, though.

    I think it’s good to push children to explore things they may enjoy and many other valuable life lessons can be learned along the way – like responsibility, committment, team building skills, perseverence, etc.

    I think some scouting programs may be good with letting kids explore different activities and interests through merit badges, etc also.

  • Guest

    I have an 8 year old son and have gradually reduced the number of activities he does after school, deciding that he needed more down time and unstructured play dates. I’ve also tried over the past couple years to let him choose his activities/lessons based on his interests, on the theory that he is most likely to stick with and excel at activities he is passionate about. So, although I would really like him to focus on tennis because that was important in my family growing up, I let him stop taking lessons because he wasn’t that interested. Same with swimming. I ask him every six months or a year if he’d like to learn a musical instrument. He keeps saying no, and I’ve honored that. If he’s not interested enough to practice daily, I don’t see the benefit. His interests are baseball and skiing, so that’s what he does.

  • Green14

    I actually DID start piano lessons on my 40th birthday. I got tired of saying “I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that” etc. If you wish for too many years and don’t MAKE it happen eventually you’ll run out of time. 🙁 I have to keep reminding myself of that.


    • Brenda

      I am forty two and have been taking piano lessons for 3 years now. I love it. My parents were busy when I was little so I didn’t have the opportunity (even though we had a piano in our house).

      My eleven year old son and I go to lessons together (back to back.) I do not make him practice but I try to lead by example and if I notice that he is not practicing I remind him that the lessons are his choice and practicing is part of the package. I think since he knows that he is not forced, he enjoys it even more.

      Good luck, have fun, and create joy!

      • Brenda and Chris, I just turned 40 and started piano lessons as a gift to myself — I, too, got tired of saying, “I wish…” My 12-yr. old daughter is teaching me. I started a blog about it called Pasture and Storm (http://pastureandstorm.wordpress.com/). I would love to hear about your experiences, too! If you’d ever care to be interviewed or write a guest post, drop by the blog and let me know!

  • Veronica

    I was enthusiastic in the beginning (music lessons) but I didn’t enjoy it and then didn’t practice as I should have. My parents let me drop it and I wished they’d didn’t. I knew even then at 8 years old that I’d thrown away something valuable. Nearly 40 years later I still feel the same regret. I wish I had stuck with it for at least a year or until I could have accomplished some small goal; and walked away with something other than regret.

  • Christine H.

    The survey structure interesting in that you could only pick one kind of activity; as a child, I was enrolled in Chinese school, skating and piano lessons. I didn’t get any input for these extra-curricular activities. The latter two were opportunities never offered to my older sister and brother (due to financial constraints, I suspect).

    I ended up loving skating, and despising piano (or rather, a lot of the music I was forced to play in piano lessons, and in enforced, supervised practice sessions), and Chinese school. My parents broke down and let me drop Chinese school in favour of further skating lessons, and eventually piano went too, but they always balked at the money necessary for the figure skating lessons.

    In retrospect, I regret not continuing with the piano and Chinese lessons, and wished that I could have pushed further with the figure skating.

  • MC

    These surveys don’t capture the issue. Was I forced to take piano? Yes. Did I hate it? Mostly. Did I choose to take horseback riding? Yes. Did I love it? Mostly.

    The point that I see from lessons is to expose your children to as many opportunities as possible and then see which experiences they love and which ones they hate.

  • Elizabeth

    My parents had me take piano lessons. I enjoyed the lessons but didn’t like the practicing. (Classic, right?) Looking back I think it was because the amount of practicing they wanted me to do sounded like a lot. 45 minutes a day, on top of my homework and everything else. I think it would have been better if they had told me to do just 15 minutes a day and I had actually done it, instead of being nagged to do 45 minutes a day and ending up practicing only for 45 minutes on the day before the lesson and not much during the rest of the week. Also, I quit sometime in high school, and I’m glad I did, because I had switched teachers and the lessons had become too much about preparing for competitions and performances, which I did not enjoy, and not enough about having fun with the music.

  • Colleen

    My parents never signed me up for any lessons — when I was older I played soccer and softball and did some volunteer activities.

    Fwiw, I wish they had signed me up for lessons to see what I was interested in. My sister does this with her boys, and when (if) they decide they no longer want to participate they stop. I think I spent a lot of time in bad activities that could have been filled by more productive things, as I had a habit of figuring out how to fill my own time, and I wasn’t always god about it.

  • Sarah Margaret

    My mother had a “well-rounded” policy for my sister and I, which we fulfilled in different ways. We were required to do musical lessons, starting with piano, but allowed to switch to another instrument at the natural start of the season. Also required was an organized physical activity – I danced and she swam. Finally we attended regular religious instruction – we feel strongly now that our cultural literacy is much greater than other twenty-thirty-somethings. We had other sorts of lessons, off and on. These were mostly efforts to combat boredom, since very little tv met her standards, though my parents certainly believed in the value of boredom for children, since boredom allows space for imaginative play.

    Now that I am 34, I realize what these things did for me – they provided me a structure to hang all sorts of other experiences on, and things to go back to for the rest of my life. I find I am happiest with an activity that I can closely relate to these, even though (for example) I was a very reluctant piano student. Furthermore, the overall lesson that I am a happier person when all the “food groups” are satisfied is a lifelong one.

  • Eris

    Mostly I asked to take various lessons. One was ballet. I had visions of tutus and toe shoes and grace; the reality was I was gawky and awkward and it was boring endless plies. Mom wouldn’t let me quit because she said “it was good for my posture.” Eventually I broke my arm falling out of a tree and I got to quit.

  • Beth

    I’ve thanked my parents many times for my piano lessons. Truly, they were one of the best gifts that they could have given to me, in spite of the facts that I hated to practice, and I no longer play well.

  • Please, please, for all that is good and holy, have your children take extracurricular lessons. My family didn’t/couldn’t do that for my sisters and I, and I constantly lament that lack. I WANT to play the piano, I WANT to draw and paint…and I never got the technical training during my childhood, and as an adult, I am totally at sea and intimidated. Pleasepleaseplease, let your children have this opportunity.

    But maybe let them have a say in which lessons they take?

    • fellow nonmusician nonartist

      It’s not too late to take piano lessons or attend a few drawing and painting classes…isn’t this the happiness project?! Stop lamenting and do it!!

  • CreateBeautyDaily

    My parents made me take piano lessons when I was in elementary school and I didn’t like it. I hated practicing in our tiny house where everyone could hear me (I’m a MAJOR introvert), and I hated that my parents were spending money (from our very tight budget) on something that I didn’t enjoy. I had a lot of guilt. I also had anxiety about the recitals that all of the students were forced to participate in. I took lessons for two or three years and have never played the piano since then. I won’t go as far as to say that it was a total waste of time, I do know how to read music, and it was probably good for me to be forced to face my fears and perform at the recitals.

    On the other hand, I played basketball my freshman year of high school. I went out for the team because I was tall and everyone said I’d be good at it, and I needed something to do between cross country in the fall and track in the spring. I HATED IT. HATED. Two weeks into the season I knew I wanted to quit but my parents wouldn’t let me. I spent so many hours and so much energy and I hated it every minute. And the games were even worse; I spent one game with tears streaming down my face the entire game. I know that my parents were trying to teach me to not be a quitter, but as a Type A I’m not a quitter by nature. By refusing to let me quit when I so desperately wanted to, they were telling me that what I wanted and felt didn’t matter. “What would the neighbors think if we let you (fill in the blank)?” was heard often in my house and I couldn’t understand why whatever the neighbors (who my parents weren’t even friends with) would think was more important than how I felt. Allowing me to quit would have been a gift to me, and a message that I was important and could judge what was best for me and my happiness.

  • eva

    What my parents did worked very well. First, they signed me up involuntarily for a number of activities–ballet, tap, violin, rollerskating, drums, etc, over the years. Some of these things I didn’t take to. And when that happened, they said, “okay, well, we’ll just finish the semester since it’s paid for, and then you can stop.” Without fuss or guilt, I was allowed to quit any activity after finishing the pre-determined period.

    But some I actually did like, and continued with for awhile. And in the case of violin, it became a career–until I decided at age 17 (after 10 years of playing) that I didn’t want to play anymore, even though I was successful and talented. That was okay with them too, they didn’t ever make me feel bad about it.

    Now, I’m almost 30 and I am playing again. So, I think their method worked–I wouldn’t have tried anything voluntarily because I’m shy, but since they ultimately let me make my own decisions I’ve never had any hard feelings towards them about it.

  • verlee

    I was forced to do ballett, which I really didn’t like. Also, I was signed up for some childrens athletics (or something like that I think), which I hardly remeber but didn’t like either.
    Both of that, were rather a waste of time.
    However, that was when I was quite young (less than 6-7).

    Later, my parents never forced or even so much as encouraged me to join any lessons whatsoever – which I really do regret very much.
    I might have found some activities which I liked, found friends outside of school (didn’t have any there in my teenage years) or at least gathered expierences along the way.

    Unfortunately as an adult there is not always much time to try out new stuff :/

  • I took piano lessons from the age of 5 through graduation from college. My commitment varied in intensity throughout those years — and sometimes, I did have to be nagged to practice, especially during junior high. But I almost always was also the school chorus accompanist, so practicing was built into my life.

    As an adult, playing the piano has been a source of enjoyment and comfort. It’s very nurturing to sit on the bench and lose myself in a piece of music that I’ve played for two decades or more.

    I also like to play the piano for my parents. It’s relaxing and brings back fond memories of childhood… playing for my dad after dinner while he snoozed in his easy chair.

    I can definitely remember times when I didn’t want to go to lessons, but I mostly appreciated my parents taking me then — and now I’m wildly grateful for the lessons and learning how to keep that commitment.

  • Sarah

    My parents had us take piano lessons for a few years, but weren’t actively involved with them. They let me quit when I wanted to, and I regret that they weren’t more encouraging/forceful about it. When my daughter was young, she started cello (she got to pick the instrument but not whether or not she took lessons). She studied through college, and although I would have let her quit by the time she was a teenager, by that time she didn’t want to. I was in charge of her practice when she was young (the Suzuki method builds that in) and as a result we had to learn how to make it work. I think that the music she learned was great, but even more, she learned the discipline of sticking to something even when it was not easy, and this has served her well in so many other areas of life. I think she would say that she is happy that I made her stick with it. I don’t think I have ever heard an adult who was unhappy that he or she was made to take music lessons, but I have heard plenty who are sorry their parents let them quit.

  • Mara

    I wasn’t *made* to take any kind of lesson, but they were offered to me. I took piano lessons for ten years (from third grade until I graduated high school) and am very much happier for it. (Obviously, if they weren’t making me happy, I probably would have quit sooner.) In fact, I’ve been thinking about taking up lessons again, if I can find a good teacher…

  • jenny_o

    My belief is that children should be given the opportunity to try different activities of their choosing, be encouraged to stick with it long enough for both parent and child to have a good idea of whether they are truly enjoying it (perhaps 8 lessons, as another commenter suggested), and be permitted to stop after that time, if they wish. I also believe that kids are very different in their ability to take on numerous activities at once. For some, one activity per week is enough. Others thrive on being busy all the time.

    My feeling is that we should let children grow and develop primarily as their natural interests and abilities lead them, with encouragement to learn the skills and tools that will serve them well in life – that is, NOT to impose specific lessons like music lessons or basketball or painting, but to help them learn skills like persistence, teamwork, empathy, self-improvement, problem-solving, and so on.

  • anonymous

    Just a suggestion, I’m sure some of us were “forced” to do many diff types of activities. For example, I was forced to learn ice skating, play piano and voice lessons… maybe an answer that includes more than one activity?

  • My parents made me take piano lessons, and I’m commenting because I wasn’t totally swayed by any of the “how do you feel about it now” options. I think my true answer might have been “indifferent.” (I chose the middle “I’m glad, it taught me some lessons” option.) I did them cause I was supposed to. I can’t play anything on the piano now other than one song I learned that has been forever etched into my brain. As I’m writing this, I guess I am glad that I can read sheet music, if only just enough. But I don’t look back on those lessons with any real gratefulness. I know I’m lucky that I grew up in a home with enough luxuries to afford me piano lessons, but it just never really took. As soon as I was allowed to stop, I did. The lessons I continued with were the ones I chose myself–dance and basketball. To this day, those are the things–dance especially–that still make me happiest.

  • Sarah

    I would have liked the ability to select multiple answers. My parents had me in classes up one side and down the other–music, art, sports, and more.

    I never complained because I never knew any different–didn’t everybody have two hours of violin every Saturday morning? What are these “cartoons” of which you speak? I probably WAS given a choice eventually, but by then it was so ingrained, it would’ve been weird to go straight home from school.

    Some of the skills I do use. The cooking class, yes. Gymnastics, very no. But one of the side benefits was that coming from a very small school, I was being forced to socialize with an entirely new set of kids in each of these classes: there was literally no overlap whatsoever between the people I spent my normal school day with and the people in my tennis class or orchestra. Not a one.

    I also think I have better time management skills than I might have if I’d just gone to school 6-8 hours a day, five days a week, 8-9 months a year, and futzed around with the rest of my time.

  • flossattrocbrocandrecup

    I really regret not takeing up my parents’ offer to start piano lessons. I just checked with our nearly-13 year old son if he was glad he had piano lessons and he says he certainly is (phew). When pressed, he said that this was because he finds being able to play music very satisfying. However, he hated his guitar lessons and we reluctantly let him give up. I wonder if he’ll feel happy about that decision later? Who can say?

  • I was happy to start piano lessons, because my sisters had done so. A couple years later, I wanted to quit. My parents wouldn’t let me. Later, I was so glad they wouldn’t let me quit. I later went on to play other instruments and sing.
    In junior high, I took some horseback riding lessons, at my request. I never got very good, but I appreciated the opportunity.
    The other activity my mother insisted on was taking a typing class the summer before high school, as she was a hunt and peck typist. Boring, but turned out to be invaluable at work.

  • Sally

    I can’t wait to see the results of this survey! I can’t take it myself as my parents didn’t make me take any lessons. All of mine were kid initiated. As an adult I have wished that they made me take piano. As a result my boys are starting their 4th year of piano lessons. Hopefully I am not causing irreparable harm and am increasing their future happiness (I keep telling them that it will attract girls!)

  • piano (and then violin) lessons were a major source of strife/angst between my parents and me growing up. unfortunately for me, i DID have some natural talent – just enough so that my parents had dreams for my successful music career and put (tacit) pressure on me to pursue that path.

    except i hated — HATED — HAAAAATED (okay, you get my drift) to practice. my parents were torn because they didn’t want to pay for lessons that i wasn’t putting my all into, but they didn’t want me to stop, either. so this because the source of pretty much a decade-long fight (ages 7 – 17 for me).

    i’m not saying not to give your kids lessons — but if they aren’t getting joy from practicing and playing (even if they’re good!), encourage them to find something that DOES float their boat. not that i think you would have any problem doing that 🙂

  • Becky

    I studied violin from second grade until I graduated from high school. My mom’s a piano teacher, and there was no question I would learn some musical instrument – my brother and sister did, too. I enjoyed it well enough at the time; sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes reluctant. If I didn’t practice enough, my mom would threaten to stop paying for lessons – that would make me upset enough that I’d start practicing again.

    As an adult, mostly what I appreciate is, well, music appreciation, and also learning how to learn that type of skill. I took some martial arts classes for a while, and I was surprised at how very much they were like music lessons. Break a task down into little pieces, work on the pieces, work on fitting them together, run through a couple of times, see where the glitches are, try again. Push-ups and sit-ups aren’t fun but they build skills I’ll need later, like scales and arpeggios did.

    There’s such a wide range between pushing something on your kids that they hate, and expecting them to be involved in at least one performance type activity every year, whether it be an instrument, a sport, theater, etc. I think there are very few children who can’t find one activity that they enjoy enough to appreciate being held to it through the times they’re not excited about it.

  • I was adopted from the Edna Gladney Adoption Home in Fort Worth, Tx in 1954 and my adoptive parents were told that my birth mother had been a concert pianist (a complete lie–she was a secretary!). You know where this is going, right!? Years and years and years of piano lessons were inflicted on me, I showed no talent whatsoever, and recitals were brutal and agonizing for me. Finally they allowed me to stop taking lessons after several years. That’s when I started having fun with the piano. I wrote songs of my own and had my own very low-stress recitals for my brother. Even now, 56 years later, am so grateful for those lessons. I have a sense of rhythm and insight into the emotional aspects of sound, which influence so much of my life, even in very subtle ways.

    Come to find out, I’ve met lots of people who were adopted from Edna Gladney in the fifties, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE PARENTS I’ve talked to were told that either the birth mother was a concert pianist or a Carnegie Hall singer.

  • P.S. Because of my agony with piano lessons, I never encouraged my sons to take piano lessons as children. And of course now they’re both in their thirties and they are upset that they weren’t “forced” to learn piano. All their friends play piano!

  • James B

    I had two types of activities as a kid. Those my parents felt were giving me some valuable skill (like swimming lessons) and those that I thought were fun (like sports and leadership).

    For my own son, there is a small set of things we’re going to insist that he take lessons in until his teen years: swimming, piano, hockey and baseball. Swimming so he doesn’t drown. Hockey so he knows how to skate. Baseball so he knows how to throw, catch and hit a ball. Piano so he knows about music.

    My wife and I feel that our son will need basic proficiency with those skills so that he can enjoy other things when he gets older. I’d hate to have him unable to play with other men when he’s an adult because we failed to provide him an education. These are the activities that he’ll be forced to do regardless of whether he likes them or not (though obviously we work hard to make him happy doing them).

    We figure that makes for a pretty full schedule though (hockey & piano in the winter, baseball & swimming in the summer), so we believe that he’ll probably have to drop some things if he’s not into them as he gets older. So long as he’s got the basic skills, we’re not terribly interested in pushing him to heights of achievement.

    We’d also like to introduce him to climbing, dance, voice, gymnastics, martial arts (judo, aikido, boxing, karate, etc…), horse-back riding, shooting and boating at some point as well but we figure he’ll get into those on his own if he wants to because they’re activities that my wife and I do anyways.

    Plus, some of them he can learn over the summer at camp.

    The idea being that we’ll expose him to as wide a range of activities as we can afford and let him choose what he likes. The hard part is going to be what we’re going to do when he wants to do something that will conflict with the activities that my wife and I like to do.

  • We lived in such a rural area that there weren’t really lessons available to take – parent initiated or otherwise. The lessons I did want to take were either denied on the grounds of travel time, or in the one case my mother did let me take dance lessons, revoked when I didn’t practice enough.

    I managed to get some dance and music lessons in high school when we had moved to a larger town, but they were all my choice.

    I’m grateful that my parents never forced me to take lessons – I don’t think they would have even if we’d lived somewhere such things were readily available. I think if I have children, I would like to follow a similar practice to what Lynn C suggests – i.e. allow my children to choose what they’d like to do, but insist that they stick with it for a while before deciding whether they want to continue or not.

  • JillHolly

    My sister wanted to take piano lessons so my parents signed us both up. I HATED every second of it. I was pretty young and had no idea how to tell them how awful it was. I still remember the joy I felt the day my mom asked me if I wanted to quit. Of course, now I recognize how nice it would be if I could play the piano, but that doesn’t really matter. Unless a child asked to take the lessons, I would NEVER force it on them, if for no other reason than it’s a waste of money. I took the lessons for years and remember nothing! (except the pain of it…)

  • K.

    I was forced to take flute lessons and had to sing in a choir. I absolutely hated both. I’m not a music person and have never been.

    Signing up your child? – ok.
    Forcing them to continue against their will? – not ok.

  • Holly

    I started taking piano lessons when I was five years old…I think at the time I wanted to because my mom played the piano all the time. I took lessons from her for several years, and I remember a period of time around 3rd grade when I would cry every lesson. I wanted to quit so badly because I didn’t feel like I was getting better. And even more, I thought my mom was picking on me by telling me things to change! She made me keep going, and I’m so glad I did. In high school I was able to teach piano lessons as my part-time job, which was way more flexible and well-paying than what my friends were doing. Plus, I now have a really cool skill that I can always come back to.

    In general I think it can be good to push kids to give things a try, and then if it’s been a long enough time (a few months?) let them stop if they really hate it.

  • Allyson

    A parent’s influence to participate in things like music, art, theatre, martial arts can be incredibly beneficial. Parents must listen to thier child during the process, however, in the event there are signs that their child is unhappy. My parents had me take piano lessons for several years. Looking back, I realize that I loved the piano, I just hated practicing. I think my parents realized this and were using it as a tool to teach me discipline and dedication to something that takes time. Now I’m so grateful I had that special time with myself, my teacher, and music during my childhood.

  • My parents made me take piano and swimming…but it didn’t last long. I whined about it and was able to get out of it, but I sure wish they would have helped me stick with it. Now I’m a 40 year old mom of 2 who doesn’t know how to swim and would love to play piano for my family. I think there needs to be an agreement that the child has to give it a fair chance (x-number of lessons as all parties agree).

  • My parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was really young but because I had short fingers at the time the piano teacher said I probably wasn’t going to be good at it.

    Still I’m actually most grateful when they did sign me up for sports that I wanted to try, or that encouraged me to get out of the house. For example for me, going to a day camp was awesome as a kid. No lessons, but just a lo to fun activities with other kids. It was one of the most memorable times of my life.

  • Stephanie

    When I was about 7 and my older sister 9 my parents said they thought we should have an activity for our afternoon off school (we grew up in France), but they thought about what would suit her and me individually. They had noticed she had an ear for music so suggested piano, whereas I was more visually creative and loved drawing. I’m not sure why they suggested clay modelling rather than drawing, but it suited me well. We both loved our activity and I don’t think they ever had to nag us; we both kept it up into our 20s and I think my sister would love to move the piano into her new house and start playing again (she’s 31).

    I have a sense that if we’d hated our respective activities, they would have tried to find something else. My little brother did various different things over the years (music, judo, cub scouts) but didn’t find anything he liked as much as I did clay modelling or my sister piano.

    The lessons were parent-initiated, in that my parents decided we should have these out of school activities, but the point is that they considered what they knew of our personalities, tastes and talents before they chose something to suggest to us. They didn’t have a pre-ordained, set idea about what kind of activity we should do, and they didn’t try to fit us into the same mold (same with our studies: my sister is a scientist, I teach literature, and my brother went to business school).

  • sylrayj

    I could have liked piano lessons. I wanted to explore sound, though, but there wasn’t time to do anything except the required lessons. I had to miss lunch to go, and return to school on my own when I was small and shy. The experience didn’t harm my love of music, though, and perhaps it exposed me to a new experience right when I needed, to learn that there’s so much more available.

  • I would have loved to have the kind of parents that took me to lessons…(but who knows if I’d have hated going. Haha!)
    My mother, addicted to drugs, ran off when I was 12, and my dad tossed me out when he remarried when I was 15. Mom died of a drug overdose in 2003…Dad has tried in his own way to make amends. Life has been challenging, but I made it, so far. I admire when I see parents who really care, and contemplate how their decisions have an impact on their children’s lives.

  • All three of my siblings and I took piano lessons growing up. My older sister was the first to start, because she was genuinely interested. Later I started, because I wanted to be able to play like her. And not before long, my brothers were taking lessons too. There were times when I didn’t want to go, or when I later wanted to quit, but my parents (now, thankfully) wouldn’t let me.

    I started when I was in second grade, and eventually stopped taking piano lessons when I started high school. I had taken up the cello and choir instead – as well as other activities in high school. It was okay with my parents, because I had stuck with it for so long, and was old enough to decide for myself.

    My older sister is now graduating with a major in music education and music performance (violin and piano). My younger brother will be starting college in the fall, and plans to study music and biology. My other brother and I didn’t pursue music professionally (he just graduated with a civil engineer degree, and I’ll graduate next year with Spanish and mathematics) but it has influenced our lives for the better. I sang in a choir in college, he taught himself guitar and plays regularly. We wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without the musical background our parents gave us.

    It teaches patience – it will take many years of practicing to become advanced. If they start, I’d recommend making an agreement with them as to how many months (at the least) they will continue with lessons. (I always remember my parents telling me I had to continue for 8 years, because that was how long my dad had taken lessons when he was a kid… I did it! But that’s a bit much) Then they will learn all about what it means to commit. Being able to play an instrument makes a person more well-rounded, and it’s a skill that’s easier to pick up when you’re young.

  • Stephanie

    This is an interesting one for me. My mother and (very strong-willed grandmother) were both music teachers and wonderful pianists, so there was never any question of me taking piano lessons. I can’t exactly remember, but I believe I enjoyed the lessons from the beginning. I’m not a musician, but I AM grateful that I trained to at least a sufficient level on the piano (ten years of lessons). I also had the opportunity at different points in my education to study the oboe and cello, both of which efforts were obviously made easier by the fact that I had already studied both performance and theory/counterpoint through my piano studies.

    My parents also signed me up for ballet, at my request, but unfortunately I recall that I got discouraged in this quite quickly. I wish that my mother had pushed me to continue with those lessons. Because she was not a physical person herself, I remember distinctly her saying to me that I was “not an athlete/coordinated.” The irony is that as an adult I became an excellent runner and eventually ran at the national level (and represented my country several times) as a distance runner! I believe I got lucky in this. I took up the sport as an adult and had the confidence of an adult that permitted me to overcome the earlier label of “non-athlete” that my mother had projected onto me (I participated in absolutely NO sporting activities growing up and was very timid in groups). I regret that I did not participate in team sports as a kid. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed them, but I think they’re a great way to build confidence in a kid. I do wonder now, interestingly (to link the preceding together), whether the years of piano training are what provided me with the ability to commit in the way that I did to meeting my goals as a distance runner. I suppose that there are many ways to accomplish the same end. Good luck!!

  • Stephanie

    PS I forgot something important! 🙂 THe one type of lessons that I regret my parents never forcing me to take is lessons in a second or even a third language. I have had to learn a second language (French) for my job as an adult (and now am learning a third) and man has it been trying! It’s so much easier to learn a second one as a child, and then a third and a fourth can come along from there. I have had to exert so much effort to become fluent in my second language that I could give my mother a friendly shake for not thinking of it when I was young (and what is funny is that she herself is competent in both Latin and Greek and enjoyed studying them both…GAH! The hours of pulling my hair out could have been avoided!).

  • Laci

    I was a super active kid. Mainly dance and sports but also some art and band along the way.

    It seems important for you to expose your kids to a wide variety of activities, but just as important to not force continued commitment. Agree to a trial period of 2 weeks or 3 lessons or something short. Then, ask whether she wants to continue. This teaches responsibility for time management and making commitments.

    Almost all activities are easier to pick up when you are young, so even limited exposure to foreign languages, music, or sports could spark a lifelong passion.

  • robin

    When I was small I was made to take ballet/tap for one year and then piano for another couple of months along with 2 ice skating lessons. I was also a girl scout for a year. Then we moved and my parents could no longer afford any of it.

    I remember that I was fine with not having to take lessons and then by the 6th grade when some of those talents started to show in my peers I was really jealous because they had skills I didn’t. I had wanted to do gymnastics and was denied. It’s sad, cause as an adult, I feel like I would have had a good body for it. I also really, really wished I’d finished girl scouts.

    I think that as we become adults we all develop our own talents and skills, but I wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn’t.

    I think the truly sad thing is when parents overbook their kids, have them in so many lessons and clubs that the kid doesn’t get any down time. Some might say that’s good, but have you ever worked while going to school (I’m thinking equivalents of hours devoted to an activity here). It’s enough to make a sane person crazy.

  • Louise

    At the request/suggestion of my mother, I took: Art, Piano, Flute, Recorder, Music Theory, Drama, Gymnastics, Swimming, Ballet Netball, Athletics and Girl Guides.
    As you can imagine, I was a very busy child – something on most days after school and Saturdays – BUT I think it was a great idea and it’s something I’m very grateful for.
    Taking so many lessons gave me an opportunity to try lots of things and find out where my interest/skill lay…some, I only took for a year or two, others became a real passion. The other great thing is that now, as an adult I have at least a basic understanding of those things I tried which provides a wide skill-base for me.
    Happiness overall = raised.

    • gretchenrubin

      This reminds me of an observation by William Lyons Phelps:

      “Herein lies the real value of education. Advanced education may or may not
      make men and women more efficient; but it enriches personality, increases
      the wealth of the mind, and hence brings happiness.”

  • Anon

    In my teens (9th – 12th grades) I was forced to take Karate. While I understand what my father’s logic was, to me, to this day (at 30) I still think it is unreasonable to force anyone to do something extracurricular against their will, especially a teenager. However, I do recommend that you let your kids do activities they would like to do. I like someone else’s suggestion that their child has to take 8 lessons before they can bail. I wish I had had that opportunity with activities I actually liked (I’m still sure to this day I didn’t make the volleyball team because I was honest with the coach about *HAVING* to go to Karate 3 days a week). Being forced took away a great deal of my happiness and sadly, still does to this day.

  • My mom sent me to my aunt (a professional music teacher) for lessons. Looking back, I appreciate that I had them, but I would have appreciated even more if I’d had a better teacher. I have nothing against my aunt, but I compared myself to my step-sister, who was taking music lessons with another teacher and progressed *much* farther in piano “grades” than I did. I think a lot of that is due to teaching style.

  • Anon

    Forcing it upon your children would be unwise. If they want to, then by all means allow them, even encourage it! (although the magic rule with kids seems to be that once the parent becomes more interested than the kid, the game is over). When I was young I wanted to take piano lessons, my parents allowed me the honor. Eventually I really took to it and even found reward through a real piano — it was an extremely happy day. I got really good, and then one day my parents decided it was time they pushed for me to get better. It was never fun again, and I ended up quitting and changing to a different instrument where my parents didn’t nag because I wasn’t good yet. Once I got to a level where I was again entering and and receiving the highest honors in recitals/competitions/etc., they started nagging again and I stopped caring. While parents only want what’s best, the psychology of children will not understand it until older, and their resent for nagging will change to resent for their parents not remembering what it was like to be young. Remember: first, inspire in the other person a great desire, Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), then nurture their desire!

  • ice

    Yes! Yes! Do it! Oh, I am such a believer in this. This is going to be a long comment but I feel strongly about it. My parents made me take piano lessons from the time that I was 7 (the earliest my teacher felt that it was effective) until they felt I was accomplished and mature enough to decide for myself (in my case age 13). When given the choice, I decided to take through 12th grade. I had a knack for music, but wasn’t very good at practicing my assignments. My folks made me take lessons but rarely nagged me or pressured me about practice. Also I had tons of free time because piano and school were my only commitments, and I am a big critic of overscheduling (my 5yo hasn’t taken a lesson or class in anything yet!)

    I enjoyed playing and did often and my folks knew that. I had a great teacher (this is essential). I said that I wanted to quit quite a few times but they had both been allowed to quit piano as kids and regretted it (and have both taken lessons as adults). So they made me take until I was good enough to really see the benefits. I was pissed at the time, but they were SO right. They later told me that had I been completely miserable or untalented they would have let me quit.

    Because of the heavy music theory and technology use my teacher encouraged I was able to teach myself to play several other instruments and use synthesizers etc as a child. I think piano is especially good for such things because of the unique visual representation of music that it provides. I started playing music in my church band as a teen and learned how to play by ear and improvise on piano and guitar. I was playing with a bunch of older people and then other youngsters felt encouraged to join as well, which resulted in such great relationships with a variety of people. (This was unusual at the time, but I’m pleased to see that musicals, glee club etc have made a youth comeback!) I then really developed my singing voice. I was able to mentor people to become confident musicians and the teaching remains one of my proudest accomplishments and most fulfilling hobbies. I like listening to others that I’ve helped learn way more than I like playing myself. My teacher actively encouraged these exploits and it was my lifeline as a teen and young adult and brought me huge joy and great memories. Music is a neat thing for people to share that may not have much else in common. I never would have experienced any of this without my parents’ insistence on my lessons.

    I am in my 30s and still play and it is the only thing that I can turn to when I’m in certain moods. I have spent so many late hours at keys pouring out my feelings (being able to improvise helps). My musical ability is a HUGE source of happiness in my life, even during these last few years that I haven’t had much time to play. Whenever I remember that I have this ability, or I take some time to play it is a mood booster. I’m not saying all this to toot my own horn, I’m just explaining how my parents’ guidance gave me a lot of neat results that I’ve loved and treasured. Thanks for this post, it’s making me want to spend less time consuming media and more playing music, where I know I’ll get a lift.

    My kids are young, but I’m already observing what their natural talents and interests seem to be (I think this is crucial) and planning to give them a choice amongst several options of activity (I think ONE concentrated pursuit is enough) and will make them take lessons with rules similar to my folks’, especially since my young son gets easily frustrated and gives up quickly. It’s such a great confidence booster for kids to have something they’re really good at and have worked hard to develop, I can’t speak highly enough of the positive effect in my life.

    p.s. Year two is when most kids I know (including me) wanted BADLY to quit piano.

    p.p.s. If it’s an instrument, have them take classical instruction (must include theory) and play pop music or in a band on the side if desired (church playing is good experience and you often need not be a member or a theist). Guitar, bass, or drums take lessons in classical guitar, upright bass, or orchestral percussion. This opens up way more doors for them than taking lessons in playing pop music from the guy at the guitar shop. Also, it’s easy and uplifting to be the best player in the school if you play an unusual instrument (bassoon, marimba, or viola, anyone?).

  • Vanessa

    My brother and i started piano lessons at age of 6. We were taking them together and both liked it. We took them for 4 years together and then my brother stopped liking them so i continued alone for 2 years.

    It was my parents that made us take them, but we liked it a lot. When i think about it now its good memories to me (some quality Times with my brother and afterward some fun piano Times at thé house!) + it introduced me to thé world of music and im glad about it. It had become one of m’y favorite things to do to play music and it all started like that!
    Im greatful that my parents coule afford piano lessons for me and that they took me there. I happened to love it. I think that kids need motivation from new things and theyre not able to Know by themselves new way to get it. Its interesting to show them how much there is to learn.

  • beth

    Hi Gretchen
    Yes, I took piano lessons from the time I was 7 until 13. I think any child has periods of time when “practicing” is an unwelcome chore, no matter how much he/she enjoys playing. I know that I myself had periods when practicing wasn’t fun, but it also depended on what music I’d been given to learn. There were pieces that I LOVED and would work at for hours, and others that I didn’t particularly like and didn’t want to practice.

    I have recently been teaching my granddaughter (8 yrs old) to play recorder, and find that she usually doesn’t like practicing on her own, alone in a room, but that if someone is sitting beside her and helping her decide to go over the difficult part a number of times until it flows, she finds it quite enjoyable. And another thing I have noticed that may not hold for all children – she likes to have an aim: she herself suggested that when she can play a certain number of pieces well, we have a family concert; nothing big, just her parents, aunts, uncle and grandparents. This is giving her a reason to want to play really well, and keeps her working.

  • Millicent

    I agree with the commenters who said the survey was too brief to capture nuance and mixed experiences.

    Reading your post I was reminded immediately of my nightmare tennis lessons! Thinking a bit longer, I remembered taking lessons in a range of sports: skiing, ice skating, horseback riding, tennis and golf. The first three I loved, though, so I don’t look back on these as “forced,” whereas tennis and golf were complete misery. Those tennis lessons went on for years, and I joke with my tennis-loving husband that I still have PTSD from that time.
    Specific sports skills aside, I do appreciate the value my family put on healthy physical activities, and that has definitely stayed with me. On the negative side, the tennis and golf lessons were also intended (as I was told repeatedly at the time) to enrich my social life, so my lack of progress felt even more like failure.

    So, lessons are a mixed bag.

  • When I was small I was made to take ballet/tap for one year and then piano for another couple of months along with 2 ice skating lessons. I was also a girl scout for a year. Then we moved and my parents could no longer afford any of it.

  • My parents did make both my sister and me take piano lessons as children, though, as I recall, we were on board with it at the time.

    The daily practicing, though . . . yikes. We hated it. My mother nagged and threatened, we resisted and hated it. Finally, Mother gave in and let us quit.

    I wish, now, that she hadn’t let me give up.

  • Margie

    I only wished that I was allowed or made to go to some kind of lessons growing up as a child. When I had my children they were involved in activities year round. Golfing,bowling, softball, hockey, wrestling, basketball, band,fishing, gymnastics, skiing,karate, baton group all have made my children well rounded adults. I never made them do any of the activities as all were chosen to do by them. I just was the taxi driver!!!

  • Hello Gretchen:
    My parents couldn’t afford the piano lessons that I wanted so badly. They bought an old upright and I taught myself using used music lesson books. But I could only teach myself so far.
    My friend next door had to practice a half-hour and do chores before she could play outside. A neighbor would listen to make sure the half-hour was done. So I would do her practice playing while she dusted so we could get outside sooner.

    I don’t know what happened to this friend, and if she ever plays piano now.
    I know that music lessons would have been very meaningful to me, but who’s to know until a child has taken a few.
    Our exchange student from a few years ago, plays at a very high level and gained a full scholarship from it. He says he didn’t always like the lessons but is grateful to his mother for making him practice. He is from a very poor background and that was his only shot at college.

  • Kathryn

    As a kid, I don’t remember being “made” to take any lessons–everything I did (sports, music, art, educational) I was enthusiastic to start. And I was allowed to let things go that I wound up not enjoying–after the session was over, for things like gymnastics where you sign up for several months at a time.

    I’ve followed the same policy with my kids. This means they bounce around a lot and have taken classes in a lot of things that haven’t clicked, have engaged in other stuff on an on-off-basis, or get started late (my dau. is just starting piano this summer, at age 12). But they’ve also almost always been participating in SOMETHING, and eventually each wound up with activities that they’re passionate about.

    They spend more hours each week in school and doing homework–which they have little choice in–than I do on my full time job (which I chose). I just can’t imagine adding forced activities on top of that.

    The flip side is the way that parents may value certain activities as “worthwhile” and denigrate others based on their own values. While my parents were 110% supportive of my interests in music as a kid (my mom is a professional musician and music teacher, after all), my interest in horses was much less supported. I paid my own way for horse camp for several summers, and weekly lessons for a couple of years, but it just wasn’t enough to become more than a low-level intermediate rider. Now that I’m a financially comfortable adult, I’m funding lessons and riding time for myself, but I really wish I was able to get to the skill set I have now (or will have in the next 5 years), with the body that I had 25 years ago! The riding discipline I’d most like to get involved in (eventing) is “no country for old ladies”, really.

  • cranky

    I was just reading this opinion piece on this very subject:

    Would not force my kids to take lessons or practice, but lessons teach more than just the one skill and often enable friendships and confidence in one’s capacity for learning.

  • cynthia curme

    One thing i have not seen commented upon is that a music student will have a long term relationship one on one with a teacher who gets to know him or her really well and watch your child grow for many years. This relationship can be very beneficial for your child and is usually quite unique in his or her life.

    another point: How often have you heard an adult say “I am so glad my parents let me quit lessons” – it is almost always the other way around.

  • Leah

    My mom signed me and my sister up for piano lessons when we were five. I don’t remember loving/hating it back then, but as we got older, it turned out that I enjoyed the lessons and she hated them.

    We were allowed to quit at age 11 if we desired; my sister quit and I didn’t. I have made money from my skill throughout my life doing accompanying and the extra-musical lessons I learned (how to concentrate, how to work independently, how to work closely with other people) have been valuable for me.

    I think that children should definitely be given a chance to learn something like music, art, or sports. After a trial period (predetermined), they should also be allowed to call it quits.

  • Lisa

    I remember my Mom insisting that I take piano lessons at first, even though I did not request it. I enjoyed it and practiced as I should, but still requested to quit after only three years of lessons, and now I regret quitting so soon. The ability to play the piano has so many benefits socially and intellectually at any age – whether it is bringing family together at Christmas to sing carols or to be able to lead a children’s choir at church when your child is 5 years old. I SO wish I had the ability to do so now!

    I did not force either of my daughters to start lessons before I saw an inherent interest in music from them through school choir (age 10) or dancing around the house (age 6). I first bought a very simple keyboard last Christmas to see whether the interest would blossom into requests for lessons; this way I figured I wasn’t out any money that made me drag them out of the house each week if they did not want to. As it happened, they both asked to start taking and are very much enjoying it for pleasure. Based on my experience, I will probably encourage them to continue as long as I possibly can, but cannot say for sure whether I will force them to continue for a set number of years.

    And just FYI, for those wondering if it is more appropriate for girls than for boys, my brother quit earlier than I did, and also now regrets it and wishes he had continued. His 12 year old son has taken for years and gives concerts in public now.

  • Zshivka

    My parents have never made me to take lessons out of school, and I do not feel OK about this, because I wanted to learn to play music, to swim etc. But my parents were unable to afford it. Later when I was 12, I have chosen many free lessons: astronomy, biology, chess etc, extra classes for the young people of the town. But those early lessons that I have missed, couldn’t be compensated. For my little sister there was money enough for ballet classes, and after 1.5 happy years she decided to stop herself. But even for 1.5 years only, these classes influenced her movements, posture, culture, communication style, self-esteem in very big extent and this influence lasts even now, 35 years later. Your children are blessed to have the OPPORTUNITY to try many new activities and to say “No” to some of them. All of them will make their inner world more rich and even happy.

  • doovinator

    I was a whiz kid, my wishes were irrelevant. My parents and “the system” shoved me into the next grade and then every accelerated class available, math, science etc.; I had no choice in the matter. My mother taught music, I took cello but preferred piano until my little brother proved to be very good. She then pushed me and my other brother away and let him monopolize the instrument. We went to Hollywood and had a family band which did very well, I was the drummer but quit when I realized I was ONLY the drummer and my opinions counted for less than the oxygen I used to express them.
    Today I play more instruments than anyone. I never took lessons, just picked up an instrument and plowed along until I played one song well, then two, three, six. As a teen I was angry and depressed, but now nobody can push me into anything. I’ve skills, some learned on the job, some in night school (mechanics, construction, Spanish, various arts & crafts) which allow me to be myself and not worry. If I lose a job, the car breaks down, the plumbing explodes etc. I can handle it.

  • R.

    My parents signed me up for countless lessons (swimming, drawing, piano, violin, language schools on weekends, etc.) and I am SO thankful for all of them. Of course I retaliated when my parents nagged me to practice, but now I actually wish I’d practiced more back then.

  • Kate

    Gretchen, sign ’em up!

    My parents “signed me up” for the usual: piano, ballet, tap, and horseback riding lessons. Being a kickball-playing kid, piano lessons turned out to be mind-numbing, I grew bored with ballet/tap, and later on a divorce killed whatever resources for my love of horses. Didn’t stop my mother, though. Growing up in the burbs of Washington, DC, there were always freebie activities for kids, especially at museums where I was “forced” to participate when I would’ve rather stayed home.

    Today I am 46 years old and grateful. The piano is by far my favorite instrument; I’m still a crappy dancer who loves to dance; part of my life is devoted to animal welfare, and had I been in touch with my gut 20 years ago, I would have no doubt become a veternarian. I’m well-rounded, comfortable in any room, and can talk to anyone. I credit much of this to my parents who got me up and out of our neighborhood bubble and sometimes comfort zone to experience the world. And yeah, we got to watch TV, too.

  • Kate

    What I forgot to include in my post below, is that although I didn’t have much say in taking lessons, I was always allowed to stop after completing a session, and move on. It’s how I discovered my love of horses.

  • I am one of those kids whose parents did not ever put me in a lot of activities. I took Piano lessons, for one year and that was it. I always wish they had pushed me a little more. For one I am very uncoordinated, and I think the lack of sports, or tae kwon do contributes. But also I am not very competitive, and I think it’s becuase I never played sports or anything. Being super competitive is bad, but a little of it would probably make me want to go after something. I have the attitude of “oh they can have that promotion, etc… because they want it more than I do” Weird right?

  • Mary

    I had to take piano lessons, I enjoyed it some of the time, and at one point I wanted to quit and I wasn’t allowed to – I didn’t like my teacher and my folks didn’t listen to me, I am of another era than you.
    What I learned was, that taking music lessons – was important – it opened up another side of my brain and my life and I had my kids take music lessons, however they were not forced to. They needed to complete a “season” of lessons – which teaches in my opinion – that sometimes we make a commitment and we have to stick with it. Second it gave them the opportunity to try ….and at the end of the time period it was up to them to continue or not. My son – quit – but is now a self taught musician – who wishes he could read more music and he is learning from his sister who at age 19 completed 11 years of piano – (and the deal was you lost the privledge of lessons if you quit practicing – if she got behind she would say please mom I will do better next week…)
    This daughter finds playing music so good for her emotionally and she is a vocalist so its important to her education but to me – tis so wonderful to be able to play music and listen and “get” more out of it – for our emotional selves….not for performance but for introspection.

  • I had the opposite problem. I was homeschooled and desperately wanted to take music/dance/karate lessons but my dad wouldn’t pay for them! I really regret that I never learned to play an instrument, since neither parent was musical and I had no school band option available.

  • Vee

    I took lessons in a ridiculous number of things. I started young with piano lessons and horseback riding. Those two were definitely parent-initiated. There were also summer sport programs that I got to choose, but were compulsory. I did basketball, tennis, and golf. Oh, I also did Little League and thankfully was allowed to quit after I realized that, well, I worse than sucked. In the second grade I started compulsory after-school German lessons. Then I begged to take voice lessons and was allowed, since my piano teacher taught voice as well. I’m glad I did all of it. Such good experiences. I’ve tripped to Germany twice and could understand signs and order food with relative ease, and that means a lot in a foreign country. When I see a piano, I can play enough to prove that I *can* play and people are impressed. I don’t know if this makes me happy, per se, but it’s something 😉

  • When I was a kid, my parents wanted me to take piano lessons. I was madly insane about what the Beatles were doing at the time, and since I wanted to be just like them, Paul to be more exact, I got pretty excited about learning how to play. Much to my deep disappointment however, I’m not sure if my piano teacher had ever heard of the Beatles, and she sure had no interest in their music. While in my adult life I’ve learned to appreciate Bach, Mozart, and other masters of classical music, at the time is was deeply disappointing. I quit piano as soon as I could. Picked up a guitar, and taught myself to play in my bedroom. At 55 I’m still at it daily and the love for music has never left me. The lesson here, I believe, is that we should pay close attention to our children’s passions. I believe that their passions, particularly in the arts, are much more important than a list of competencies that we think they need to develop. If we fan the flame of these passions, we may just help greatness grow.

  • Diane

    Hi Gretchen – I took your survey and in the end I loved the lessons my mom sent me to because she wished she had them 🙂 I like this woman’s spin on lessons – http://www.support4change.com/blog/perfectionism/children.html

  • Maura

    My parents allowed me to pursue interests of mine to the level I wanted to do so. I wish that, for some things, they had insisted I continue. I changed activities based on my friends interests. I love tennis now and I had a tennis family growing up. I refused the lessons as a child and I would be such a better player now if I had learned as a child. Therefore, my children are playing (a bit against their will- one quarter of each year to get the foundation.) I pulled myself out of dance for gymnastics as a child…I wish now I continued with dance training as I watch my two girls take dance. I was never going to be an olympic gymnast…I just needed the skills to make the cheerleading squad!

    I think some steering of your child’s interests make sense if it is to gain skills that can be used over a lifetime. Of course, anything they love…they should definitely pursue. Let’s face it…it is challenging not to have over-scheduled children these days!

  • MMM

    My parents made all of us (six kids) learn to play the piano. We all ended up with varying abilities due to the differences in how we approached it. My siblings took lessons because they had to, but never got proficient because they weren’t really dedicated. They have used the skill from time to time as adults, but don’t volunteer. I was the only one who really put effort into my practicing, but it took me a while to get to that point. I’m not really sure what changed, but I suddenly realized I really enjoyed playing piano and wanted to get better. From then on I put a lot more effort in and I am by far the best pianist of all my siblings. Out of the ten years I took lessons, I was only dedicated to it for the last four. I still play as much as possible. Piano is now a stress reliever and very much a source of happiness for me.

  • Mary

    I took tap dance lessons and loved it. But after my father sat through a recital for the entire dance studio (of about 250 students) that lasted over 3 hours he told my mother that if I signed up again next year he was going to break my legs. I only recently heard that story but I guess now I know what I never went back for more dance lessons. I love that story

  • KT

    I wish I had taken piano lessons as young child. I wanted them desperately but by the time I started in middle school I feel like I already missed the “sweet spot” where learning seems to occur faster. Even though I pursued piano all the way through college and into my adult life I never became an accomplished player – but I still like doing it.

    I particularly regret that my parents did not encourage me to participate in sports as a young child. By the time you hit middle school, if you don’t already know how to play a team sport, your chances of making a school team are not high. I felt like a door had closed to me that was not open again until college when I discovered intermurals.

    I want my kids to learn to play a sport and an instrument. I hope they get excited about choosing one but even if they don’t, I’d like to give them at least a basic set of skills they can fall back on if they’d like to build on it later in life.

  • Heather H.

    Just finished the book and I had to subscribe to the blog!

    My parents required me to play a sport and a musical instrument (I think art lessons would equate to music). I got to choose the sport and instrument. I ended up playing soccer, swimming, and playing the cello.

    From a cello teacher’s perspective, I see a lot of kids who are spread too thin. Lessons/activities are important, but so is play time and adequate time to prepare for these lessons. Balance is important too!

  • Andrea

    My Mum & Dad signed me up for piano lessons and for the first few years… I loved it. But as I got busier and busier with schoolwork and other activities, it seemed like a huge burden. By the time I was in grade 8… I hated piano. My Mom kept telling me, “One day you’ll thank me. You can’t quit.” However, I do regret continuing with piano for so long.

    The exams, competition and pressure was too much. I should’ve stopped in grade 6 or 7. I didn’t become a piano teacher, as my Mum predicted. I don’t “thank her” for pushing me those extra years. Just like adults, kids get overwhelmed and over-programmed with too many activities. Life is a fine balance and while it’s great to have extra curicular activities… it can be a lot of work.

    I think it would’ve been healthier (and helped me out more!) to have a part-time job as a teenager… instead of having to practice piano 2 hours a day. It would have prepared me for responsibility and I would’ve learned more about money.

    Anyhoo… for young kids, I think it’s great to get them involved in lots of activities. But don’t push it too hard when they’re older. Being a kid is more stressful than parents remember! Gone are the days of roaming the streets and playing kick-the-can. Pressure and competition start in Kindergarten.

  • Sophia

    Ok, so my parents made my sister and I take piano lessons because they always wanted to when they were little. I was made to practice a LOT. I was definitely practicing 45 minutes to an hour within the first few years (I started when I was 5), and by the time I was 8, I was definitely playing up to 2 hours a day during the week, and even 5-8 hours a day during the summer (an INSANELY long time for a 10-year-old!). While I won numerous competitions, played in child-prodigy concerts, etc, I do think that the focus was misguided– while I could definitely upstage my peers in technical ability, I didn’t really gain a true understanding of the music (theory, styles of music, etc), which I think is MUCH more important. If you stop practicing diligently, you lose a lot of the technical virtuosity, but if you develop an appreciation and understanding for music, this can be applied EVERYDAY when you listen to music. So when I have kids, I’m going to get them to play musical intruments, but make sure to stress an understanding of the music over technical ability by encouraging proficiency in music theory and just having lots of conversations and dialogue with them about music.

    I also wish my parents had gotten me into SOME sport. It’s such an integral part of our culture, a great way to connect to others, and of course a great way to stay active, fit, and healthy.

  • My parents provided any lessons or activities we wanted to participate as long as we understood that we had to stick with it at least a year. That cured any whimsical requests we might make. The only lessons I got out of were clarinet- my asthma could not take a wind instrument!

  • Boukje

    I was always allowed to choose the lessons I wanted, with the exception of swimming lessons, which was mandatory. I picked a lot of art classes, ballet, dance and gymnastics, but no musical instrument. I had a friend who was practically forced to play the violin, and she had to practice at home every day. I never envied her. Sometimes I do wonder if I missed out, but I could still take the classes now, if I want to.

  • Susan

    The survey does not allow more than one choice e.g. language and music lessons and different reactions to the two (or more)

  • Katie

    I think my parents initiated my lessons, but then we moved, and I only had them sporadically from then on, which I have regretted, since I never got the chance to get any good. As an adult, I recently (three years ago) chose to start piano lessons again (with a much better method, called Simply Music), and also started violin lessons (Suzuki violin requires parents to learn alongside young children, and my kids wanted to play). My teacher recently had an adult “playing party” at which we had some wine and food and played for each other. Every adult there (with the exception of the teacher) had a story of starting lessons, not continuing them (usually because they didn’t like them and their parents didn’t make them continue), and regretting it ever since. It was beautiful to see these folks learning to make music and enjoying it immensely.

  • Maria

    I have wonderful parents, but they did not make me take any lessons or participate in any sports. I voluntarily took organ lessons, then quit when I got tired of them. I do sometimes wish my parents had pushed me to do something, because today, at 51, I would love to be able to play an instrument or be athletic. At the very least, I would like to have the memories of having been able to play an instrument or sports.

  • My parents made me take piano lessons, which I would have enjoyed had my mom not kept me up late and beat me every night for playing the wrong notes, being exhausted, or having the “wrong” attitude.

  • My parents made me take piano lessons, which I would have enjoyed had my mom not kept me up late and beat me every night for playing the wrong notes, being exhausted, or having the “wrong” attitude.

  • ldh

    Kids need to be introduced to things they wouldn’t access themselves, both algebra AND more fun things, like sports, piano, etc.

    I was put in ballet and gymnastics (several years ago, before kids were as crazy overscheduled as they are now). I enjoyed ballet for a few years, but gymnastics, not so much.

    They also put me in piano, and I played for 13 years with lessons (and still play today). It’s something I don’t know that I would have asked to do, but that’s kind of a parents job: introduce your kids to lots of stuff, pick things that will help them learn discipline, that effort produces results, and maybe just find something they are talented in. I am, it turns out, fairly talented musically, but I don’t know that I would have ASKED at age 5 to do something musical. It’s one thing to find a ball outside and throw it and find out you’re good at it, but some things need more direction (would I have ever stumbled across a piano and realized I had some aptitude for it as a child? probably not).

  • Rachel

    I took a few lessons when I was very young, but when I was six, my parents divorced, the family finances fell apart, and everything came to an abrupt end. That doesn’t mean the early exposure didn’t have some effect. One day, at 22, I simply woke up and thought, “You know, I’d enjoy swimming some laps.” I hadn’t swum in fifteen years, but I promptly joined my college pool and I’ve been swimming two or three times a week ever since. I’ve regretted not learning to draw as a child (partly because we couldn’t afford lessons after my first-grade year, partly because the schools I attended didn’t offer much art instruction), but I’m now planning to take some adult art classes. I do wonder if my very early experiences influenced my adult tastes. I wish I had had the opportunity to develop these skills more as a child, but I think that even a single season of lessons is not a waste if the child is interested, or even just ope to the experience.

  • Camille Hoffman

    Although I loved playing the piano and the violin/viola, I didn’t always love the lessons nor the practicing! I experienced wonderful lessons with a wonderful teacher – she allowed me to ‘play by ear’ because i was able to do so as well as teach me to read music. I also had the freedom to play with a church ‘band’ and even though i didn’t ‘know’ the songs, i was able to pick them up easily (again – ‘playing by ear’). However, when i had to change teachers, i was unmotivated because i had no other outlet to play by ear; it was all ‘rote’ and reading music; all the beauty and fun of just playing was lost. i demanded i stop the lessons (and the practicing)- which my parents allowed.
    now, i wonder what would have happened if they have ‘forced’ me to continue? i miss playing music and have thought of taking it up again.
    Both my children have experessed interest in music but my older son didn’t start with guitar lessons until he was 13 – and then i’ve never had to say anything about ‘have you practiced?’ because he’s motivated to do it on his own because HE loves it! my younger expressed interest in learning piano and we finally were able to get him lessons about a year ago. he is also one who plays by ear so i have made sure his teachers understand this….but i’m finding myself wondering (and asking him, too!) if it’s worth the $ right now as he isn’t so motivated to practice…i want him to continue but is it the ‘right’ time for him? i don’t want to ‘nag’ with practicing, etc – i think that should come from within; if a person really wants to do something, they will do it.
    so, perhaps music lessons, sports lessons, etc are all about timing. whether you’re ready at 4 or 40, it doesn’t matter – as long as it’s when YOU’RE ready! 🙂

  • Yvette

    I know that I’m not supposed to consider lessons I asked for–and the fact is, I did beg for piano lessons when I was six and shy and barely able to speak English–but for what it’s worth, I’d like to say that my desire to study music came partly from observing how much my family enjoys and even reveres it. Home life piqued that interest. Before Baby Einstein came along, my grandmother, who never learned to read or write or play any instrument, insisted on lulling me to sleep with the classical station, and listening to this music became a necessary bedtime ritual. My parents always, always had music playing; my dad, whose mother was a pianist and zarzuela singer, would take me to the opera and to outdoor concerts when I was little. When I asked for lessons, he refused, because my older brother and sister had gone through brief infatuations with clarinets, violins, drums, tap dancing, etc. But I insisted, and Dad relented–I think he was testing me–and I soon started lessons on a funky electric keyboard. But then I hated the reductive melodies and disliked the teacher, whose cheap toupee would often fall out of place. I wanted to quit. That’s when my father insisted I continue. He told me that I had to be patient and persistent, that I’d have to work hard at stuff I didn’t like before I could play the music I loved. He took me to a piano dealer to buy an upright and to show me how such a complicated instrument produced sound. And he told me that I wouldn’t always love the people I studied or worked with, but that I should appreciate what I could learn from them. In short, he forced me to stick it out, and I ended up studying seriously for sixteen years, with that same teacher, and competed regionally and became a church accompanist. I really loved playing, but when I realized I didn’t want to make a career of it, I stopped taking lessons and came to New York, where I stopped playing altogether, for ten years. But the piano stays in you. It changes the way you listen. I can’t explain it, but that training–that practice of meditative movement–teaches you a lot more than music and discipline. It becomes part of how you think, and it has a way of revealing how you approach (or ignore) problems. (You rush to the next note before giving full attention to the one you just played? You rush from one event to the next without pausing to reflect?) I’m grateful for the sacrifice my parents made, and for my father’s insistence that I work through difficulties with music. When I picked up your book, I had recently recovered from a long illness and had started a kind of life-assessment. I was working two jobs and felt crazy with exhaustion, until one day, literally, my friend just shipped me her grand piano so that I could “store” it for her “indefinitely”, and without even looking at my budget or considering my schedule, I signed up for a semester of piano lessons at the 92nd Street Y. How could I take up the discipline of practicing if I left the house at 7 and never got home before 11? I don’t know how, but turning to music for clarity is a kind of life-preserving instinct that simply kicked in when I was floundering. It has gently forced me to redirect my time and energy. I’ve found a way to work fewer grueling hours and lead a more balanced life. Playing makes me feel like I’m waking up to my self after all these years. My parents believe that music is an essential part of life and education, but they only pushed me to take lessons because they knew that playing the piano was important to me, even when I tried to dismiss it. They saw that it was something I needed.

  • Heidi Starks

    I completed the survey but struggled with a few of the answers. My great grandmother LOVED to play the piano and encourage emotionally and financially ALL her grandchildren to have their children (my cousins and I) learn to play. Almost always I enjoyed my music lessons, but I recall several times, especially in the summer my mom nagging me to practice.

    I was fortunate to have a park and recreation center near my childhood home. As summer approached the catalog of summer classes would arrive. I could take most anything that interested me with minimal commitment, drawing, pottery, arts & crafts, ballet, tap, tumbling, swimming lessons of course, and many others. Now looking back, it was fun to try something new without the pressure to excel, that it was ok to try and have fun, with little regard to my performance.

    • Mary Robin Jurkiewicz

      Dear Heidi-
      Thanks for taking the time to share. I have a 13 yr. old who seems to be interested in nothing but watching tv, (which I have tried to limit to 2 hrs/day)- she says she’s “unwinding”- not a good habit to cultivate at such an early age, in my opinion. Or she’s texting, or looking at facebook. We are a bit busy this summer w/being in/out of town, so there’s not “regular” time at home. I am making her continue piano lessons sporadically over the summer (which she couldn’t believe I was doing, and which she doesn’t care for to begin with but is quite adept at). We have a arts center downtown and a university nearby which has a summer catalog but I don’t really care for the offerings. May I ask at what age you started the summer classes “with minimal commitment”?
      Mary Robin J.

  • I was given German language lessons as a child and I am forever and constantly thankful for it. It has definitely made an impact on my ability to pick up foreign languages when I travel, and in deepening my understanding of English (because we often don’t learn grammatical structure except when we learn a foreign language), and it really made me aware that the world is a big interesting place with lots of possibilities in it.

    I want to write this in caps, but I’ll restrain myself: please offer your kids language lessons. If you don’t start early, you may never have the chance to be truly bilingual, which is an amazing thing.

  • Barbara Collins

    My parents did not want/let me take the lessons that I wanted to take. Today, at age 63, I do all sorts of glass and metalwork and take lots of lessons!

  • Alden

    My mom signed me up for gymanastics, riding, and piano lessons. All of them I dropped. I wish my mom had kicked up more of a fuss, or made me stick with them. She says that I’m too hard headed and I gave her a hard time, but I think I would have learned something valuable from learning something and learning to do it well.

    In college I took piano and horseback riding back up, but by then it was a bit too late to master even some simpler piano songs. Horseback riding was a dream though!

    Sign them up! And if they whine, don’t let them quit. It’s actually a proven fact that there is no such thing as a child prodigy – it’s all practice! And it will contribute to their identity as well.

  • CB

    I say sign the girls up for lessons, but do not be a “stage mother” about what they take!

    My mother let me take lessons (tap, English saddle riding, flute) only after much begging. She usually decided after 5-10 lessons that it wasn’t going to work out because I’d never be a superstar at it so why waste the money? I never had a chance to develop the skills or overcome any temporary difficulties I may have enountered. As a result I always felt inadequate and a failure. That really did a number on my ability to be disciplined and follow through on things. It took many years to get over this kind of thinking but I did learn to.

    I guess the moral is let your kids find themselves in the activity. Don’t stroke your ego through what your kids do.

  • My mom definitely led me toward certain kinds of lessons, but I don’t think I ever felt (aside maybe from swimming lessons!) that she was *making* me take them (and I forgave her for the swimming lessons ’cause it was only for a school year, or maybe even less, and I remember getting to leave school a little early to go to them).

    Overall I think my experience with parent-initiated lessons was really positive: it gave me a variety of experiences, put me into group situations, and helped me find some things I really loved/love. I think it helped that my mom generally let me switch to a new kind of lesson if I wasn’t crazy about a certain activity, and also that she had enough of an awareness of my personality that she didn’t insist on me trying things that I probably would have hated (e.g. team sports). My mom would sign me up for a given kind of lesson, and I’d have to stick it out for the session, but that was that: so I did gymnastics for a session but no more ’cause I wasn’t crazy about it; I did ballet and jazz dance for a few years, but dropped those too. On the other hand, I took ice skating lessons from the time I was about 5 ’til the time I was 12 or 13, and really liked them; as an adult, I decided during college to start skating recreationally again and have taken lessons the past several winters. I started horseback riding lessons ’cause my mom had a friend who had horses, and my mom had her give me a single lesson for my birthday when I was maybe 8 and asked if I wanted to do more riding – and I said yes, so that was sort of a combination of kid-driven and parent-driven. (I then started riding regularly in the summers at camp, took lessons for a while, and kept doing riding at summer camp until the summer before high school, and while that isn’t something I do now, I did really enjoy it when I was doing it!)

  • Megan

    None of the survey answers really fit my experiences. There was a strings program in the public schools where I grew up. My parents encouraged me (very gently), but I remember it being my choice to take up the cello. It was a number of years before I took lessons outside of school, which delayed my progress significantly. I don’t remember my parents ever telling me to practice—it all came from my teachers and my own (meager) will power. Honestly, I wish they had gotten me into lessons earlier and pushed me more. As a kid, I just didn’t have the discipline to do it myself. Music has been an important and rewarding part of my life, but I think it could have been more so.

  • Angel Mom

    Gretchen, I just picked up your book at the library and haven’t put it down since!

    My parents sent me to hebrew school 3 times a week for years! I repayed them by converting to Catholicism in college. They were reform jews and only sent me because they felt it was their duty. Now years later both my parents and myself have found spirituality is more important to us than constructed religion.

    I have 4 children and due to financial restraints we only sign up for a class based on passion and high interest on the child’s part. My husband and I recognize their talents and encourage them to pursue their interests. And, they have more time to play with neighborhood kids, work in the garden and fill their days with creative play that will benefit them as adults and they won’t need to be pre-programmed every minute of the day.

  • Sarah

    I had music lessons throughout my childhood — first a year of piano lessons I voluntarily quit, then many many years of flute lessons, culminating in a conservatory education.

    I started taking these lessons when I switched instruments from percussion to flute in my elementary school band; I needed them to catch up. My parents allowed me to continue taking them as long as I practiced as much as my teacher recommended. They reminded me and sometimes even mildly nagged, but when I really resisted, they would remind me of this deal and I always chose to practice, in the end.

    From both this experience and my later experience teaching flute lessons, I think this is a good approach. The truth is that a kid who is younger than, say, 16 or so is going to have a hard time optimizing for the long-term outcome on her own. When she’s playing with her friends, coming in to practice won’t ever sound fun, and that’s totally okay! At the same time, it isn’t worth anyone’s time or money for her to take the lessons if she’s not practicing. So taking the lessons is a good more intermediate goalpost: it’s something later in the week that she can think about wanting or not wanting when trying to decide whether to practice.

    I also took other lessons that didn’t call for practice — dance for many years, ice skating, swimming, and martial arts — all at my own request. My parents turned down a few pricier choices (horseback riding sticks out) and limited the number of such activities I could do (I eventually chose dance over ice skating), but I pursued most of these with a fair amount of seriousness and am grateful still for lessons from all of them. Ice skating, by the way, provides me with possibly the most adult joy of any of them 🙂

  • Trixie

    I’m GLAD that I had to take piano lessons. I still play, for my own amusement only. And because I can sense that I’m using part of my brain that doesn’t get nearly enough exercise.

  • Mrs. Miniver

    I couldn’t wait to take piano lessons – I’d been encouraged by an adorable and loving grandmother who had majored in music and sang and hummed whenever she could. My hands have always been large – at seven I could reach an octave plus one key (imagine my hands at 14 – or not!). My piano teacher was quirky and lived across the street – she knew that I needed to hear a song before the notes made sense, so she’d play it, and then I’d be able to play it, using the sheet music as a guide. Some of my happiest moments as a child were nearing the end of a song (Peer Gynt by Grieg, Clementi Sonatinas, Bach Inventions) and feel as though I’d just awakened from an especially wonderful dream…I guess I would just lose consciousness as I played, and my fingers just knew where to go. Has anyone ever practiced their piano lesson on their pillow? Another bonus – learning how to type at 12 was EASY because I’d already learned the brain/hand communication skills. Music has magical properties – if you take a few seconds to whistle the theme from “The Andy Griffith Show” you will find yourself feeling happier by the time you’re done – try it!

  • Kate

    When I was in 2nd grade I told my mom I wanted to take piano lessons because one of my friends played piano and it looks like so much fun. I enjoyed it for a couple years, but by somewhere in 5th grade I was tired of it. I started playing drums/percussion in the band in 6th grade, but my parents insisted that I continue to take piano lessons. That was the point at which it became more of a battle – I was playings and taking lessons for an instrument that I enjoyed, yet I also had to continue to take piano lessons. This continued through 8th grade, and finally when I started high school my parents decided that I was busy enough that playing only one instrument was fine.

    I appreciate what piano taught me in preparation for percussion, but once I wasn’t learning piano by choice I stopped learning much from my piano lessons. I was never great at practicing regularly, but I certainly practiced less once it became a requirement and not something I was doing by choice. I completely support a musical education (I played percussion through college, my brother and boyfriend are both music majors, my sister is a music minor), but I think your child should be able to choose the instrument(s) she wants to learn, and be free to change instruments if she becomes more interested in something different.

  • Guest

    I wish I had kept up with piano lessons but I was too busy with school projects to practice.

  • Derek Patton

    Yes, I was required to take lessons following in older brother’s footsteps and younger brother and I often went. This was traumatic in travel on a streetcar and 2 buses, then a walk through a deteriorating inner city Baltimore neighbourhood. Then we had to have Judo lessons so we could protect ourselves. BUT it consider it helped me appreciate music, be able to sing and be in a choir. This was classical lessons, and the only one in my book i like was a boogiewoogieblues. Now, reflectively at 60, and having trained late as a child psychologist, I think if the teacher or an observant parent had said, ok, he is only motivate by the Blues, and we could just teach him that for now, I might have continued to hold the interest long enough to learn how to play, rather than giving it up ASAP. Research that I trust shows keyboard and fretted instruments help maths learning. Why? it is all about ratios. Whereas singing and unfretted instrument learning help language acquisition. I think i would choose piano as a basic start to a child’s music and then let them sample other instruments. Take them to concerts simultaneously or otherwise experience the end result. The Suzuki method makes great sense, seeing or hearing the end product so they know where it is supposed to go.

  • Funfuture

    I really wanted to take ballet lessons as a child, but my mother said no. Her reason was that I’d “get fat legs”!! If she could see them now! Money wasn’t really an issue, but I think as I was the 7th child, having the energy and time to take me was. I did take piano classes and regretted not continuing with them when we moved house (no piano teacher at the new school). But we’ve just inherited a piano so I’m thinking of taking it up again.

    I have a 9-year-old and I have enrolled her for the past few years in extra-curricula classes – one physical, one musical and one language. I can afford it and I think the combination of those three areas will help round out her education. As her ethnic heritage is Chinese, the language class is non-negotiable (and it’s not a language offered at her school, so she has to go on Saturday afternoons. She wants to learn – and, as her best friend also goes, it’s sort of fun for her and she doesn’t complain about it. They usually have playtime afterwards as well.) Until she was nearly 8, I also made her take swimming – also non-negotiable because of where we live (Luckily she enjoyed swimming classes, though she got a bit bored with it by the end because she was mostly swimming laps). Her swimming is far from perfect, but she’s competent (and hopefully safe) in the water now, so I’ve let her replace those with tennis – which is her choice and which she loves. When she was younger, I put her in a general music class (mostly listening and movement and later some recorder). Since last year she has been taking flute and is in the school band (her school needed flute players – and, again, her 2 good friends are playing flute – so that’s how we made that decision). She enjoys it and, while she grumbles about practising, generally plays beyond the required 10 mins practice Mon-‘Thursday (usually, unless she’s tired, she plays for about half an hour by the time she realises the time is up). She’s very chuffed with her flute-playing at the moment because the band picked up a gold ribbon at a district band festival this week. I think the classes are good for her – yes she grumbles from time to time, but don’t we all. I think it would be sad for her to leave childhood without these opportunities/skills.

  • Patti

    I was forced to take piano lessons from age 7 to 9. Even though I picked up reading music quite easily, I loathed the practicing and the silly songs I played. Performing in recitals was so terrifying to me, I recall throwing away the recital invitation so my parents wouldn’t know about it! My piano teacher was also my Girl Scout leader, and soon after, at a scouting function, she asked my folks why I hadn’t participated in the recital! They then realized I REALLY didn’t like piano, and despite my mother’s insistence that I’d really regret it, I was allowed to quit.

    And now, at age 56, I still don’t regret it a bit.

  • betts

    Nine years of classical piano and I had no talent. It was painful, recitals were humiliating. I begged to quit, my mom said someday I would thank her. I even calculated the money she had spent on those lessons and said it was a waste, still could not quit. So at 13 I simply stopped going. My piano teacher called my mom…is Betty sick, because she hasn’t been to lessons for the last two weeks. Oh, oh, I thought I was in trouble. Not a word was said, I never went back. Fast forward 20 years later, I bought a Steinway 1903 Model O baby grand and play often – I’m not so bad actually. Thanks mom, you were right here I am: Thank You for making me take piano lessons. I have appreciated classical music all my life, despite the awful lessons as a kid! And now I play at home, just for fun the things I enjoy. And every now and then my husband says, “oh that was a pretty piece, play that one again.” That feels nice. Thanks Mom, you were right.

  • SeizeTheDay

    My parents started me on piano lessons in second grade. My mom had one rule: I must practice each song 3 times a day. Oh, how I hated it at times. I vividly remember one beautiful winter’s day sitting on the piano bench in my little snowsuit, mad as a hornet that I couldn’t be outside playing in the sparkling snow.

    But a funny thing happened — playing the piano gradually insinuated music into my life, and before long I was accompanying our little children’s choir at church, accompanying my school classmates as they competed in the district Solo & Ensemble Music Festivals, and in 8th grade I started playing the organ at our church’s worship services. Learning to read music at a young age was also invaluable when I started to learn a musical instrument to play in the school band, and when I sang in various choirs.

    As an adult, I continue to accompany the senior choir at the church where I now live, I play in a contemporary worship band, and I still volunteer to accompany high schoolers and middle schoolers at Solo & Ensemble Music Festivals.

    I never had piano lessons past 7th grade, but my active involvement forced me to keep my music skills sharp — at least as sharp as they could be considering I am just an amateur. A special joy — and terror! — had been accompanying two daughters for the first year or two of their schooling as music majors at a major university.

    Even though I initially wanted to do anything but practice, music has been a huge part of my life and I really owe it to those “parent-imposed” music lessons all those years ago. My life has been so enriched, in so many ways, by my involvement in music: I have shared many precious moments accompanying my daughters, I have been able to encourage many nervous school-age performers, it has enhanced my experience of worship, and it never fails to lift my spirits. To this day I love having a few (rare) moments when the house is quiet and I am alone without the friendly chaos of family life; it is then that I can set aside my responsibilities for a few precious moments and lose myself in the joy of music. Soon my mind and spirit is awash with the texture and color of song, and no matter how happy or sad I may have been when I sat down on the piano bench, it never fails to relieve stress and make me feel more fully alive. I thank God for those “terrible” lessons my parents made me take so many years ago.

  • Sam

    I have to weigh in here, even though it’s way too late to comment and I’m drive-by posting. My mother FORCED me to take piano lessons for over twelve years (starting when I was five and continuing literally until I graduated from high school). She started this not because I asked for lessons but for two other reasons, the first being that she had always wanted to take them. So far, it sounds like this is going to be a disaster story, right? It’s not. The second reason is that she found me plucking out melodies from the radio on the piano she had purchased years before. Sometime in my twenties (I’m 36 now), I realized how much of a gift it was to keep forcing me to practice and learn. When I was twelve or thirteen, it became VERY difficult–I fought every moment practicing. I didn’t mind playing, and I was pretty good then, but I did *not* want to practice the “hard” stuff that wasn’t my kind of music. Now, I am REALLY grateful–and others are, too. Last month, I went to my husband’s cousin’s funeral. He was near-destitute, and his family had precious little money to spend on the funeral. I played the piano for the visitation of friends and during the funeral, and not only did it save them some money, it was also meaningful for them (and for me). I’ve played in churches and museums (for gallery openings and in a local natural history museum’s cafe), and I’ve done literally hundreds of weddings now…

    So I think the lesson here is that you have to know your kid and you have to know your kid’s talents. As a kid, I didn’t want to do ANYTHING hard. Most things came naturally to me, and I was happy to do them until I hit a level of difficulty. (I was in graduate school before I ever had to study anything). Mom knew both that I had a talent and that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t push through the tough stuff to really polish that talent.

    Sure, she could’ve let that go and then as an adult, I could’ve picked up lessons if they meant anything to me… but the brain is more plastic at the younger age, and I’m glad she stayed on me.

    My best friend from church was also forced to take piano lessons for years against her will. She hated it, *and* she was awful at it. That was a mistake.

  • Ronda

    I actually give piano lessons-and my primary focus with my students is for them to ENJOY it! I tell them (and their parents) that this is for their relaxation, enjoyment, stress relief or whatever! It also can help pay the bills when they’re older or more experienced at it! Many times I’ve pounded on my piano when I could’ve bit someone’s head off. I’ve also been blessed to play at some amazing functions (for money!!!) on an amazing instrument-what a great gig! Learning a musical instrument doesn’t have to be costly either-I exchange services with many of my students’ parents! Great for all of us.

  • Mabry Yvette

    I asked for piano lessons, as for tap, ballet and jazz dance lessons my parents signed me up for that and I enjoyed it. Oh and I forgot to mention the art school lessons on Saturday as well. I was actually good and the art teachers used to tell my parents so. My problem was that because I want everything to be perfect I had a hard time finishing projects. In the end as a 44 year old adult, I can appreciate all of my experiences in life that I have been fortunate to have including the times I ran to the end of countless museum exhibits like King Tut.

  • Berrykix21

    The house rule growing up was two years of a musical instrument. I started with the violin, which I wasn’t very good at. Then the teacher started making fun of me so I no longer was insterested. Then my mom made me take piano lessons. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t the lady from church who scared me as a kid and instead of teaching me the piano, would go off on tangents and start teaching me the bible… I think if a few elements were different, I would have actually liked playing the piano. I voluntarily choose to do 3 sports a year growing up. Most of us were much more athletic then we were musical.

  • Anoel_43

    I was forced to take piano lessons. I liked it at first but after a year or two, I didn’t and want to stop but my mom forced me too because she wasn’t able to do it when she was little. I totally disagree with that decision and still don’t regret finally quitting like my mom said I would. It didn’t help that my brother was super good at it and I wasn’t.

    I am of the general opinion that kids should TRY a lot of things: music, sports, art, etc to see if they like them but once they don’t like them and they’ve given them a reasonable try, let them QUIT THEM. It does kids no good to waste time on something they don’t enjoy when they could be getting good at something they do like.

  • linda z

    My father was raised in a home where playing a musical instrument was thought to help you be the “life of the party”. While I neve achieved that status through playing the piano or flute, I did have many wonderful moments playing music with others and for my own enjoyment. I still enjoy making music with friends and family. I believe learning to read music, sing or play an instrument helps you learn other things easier and is another avenue for lifting your own spirits and can create a spiritual bond with others. While I may have hated to practice at 9 years old, I grew to appreciate the discipline of practice and the results gained from practicing. I’ll always be grateful that my Dad opened this doorway to happiness for me.

  • Jen

    Agreed!! I used to teach piano lessons, almost exclusively to beginning adults. There’s no need to feel intimidated (although you need to be prepared for a little frustration as you get started). If cost is an issue, check your local college — students will charge less, and you could get a real gem of a teacher.

    It’s never too late!

  • Tprutu

    I took piano lesson from 1st – 12th grade. I did not always like to practice, but I am so glad that I took them. I play for pleasure now and I really enjoy it. I challenge my self. It makes me relaxed and happy when I play.
    My son it 8 and I will have him take lessons. Tammy

  • Jen

    I begged to take piano lessons when I was 9 because my brother was. Turned out, I had a lot of talent, to the point of going to competitions and such. In junior high, I begged to quit — can’t remember why now; I think I hated practicing.

    My mom wouldn’t even consider my quitting piano. I ended up majoring in music and now playing the piano is my greatest joy.

    You have to “make” kids do things sometimes — they’re not going to push themselves or learn discipline on their own! That’s what parents are for. The trick is knowing when to say when. My mom also made me play on a softball team for a couple of years in junior high/high school. I think she thought I wasn’t making enough friends. I hated it, I dreaded it, I was terrible at it. It’s still one of my worst childhood memories.

  • Ramona Gordy

    Hey Gretchen
    I took piano lessons when I was in grade school. There were two inspirations, one was that my best bff had her very own piano and was taking lessons and the second reason was that my mom loved the “Peanut” character Schroder. She loved Beethoven. So she spoke with the musical director at our church, and he agreed to take me on as pupil. I remember being enthusiastic, and I actually practiced. I have a “gift” for listening to music and then playing it, whether I know the notes or not. That was my downfall. I could listen to the teacher play a piece or part of a piece, watch his hands and play it back verbatim. He thought I was a prodigy,but he didn’t teach me to read music. So when it came to playing in a recital,I didn’t do too well. Of course the piano teacher was angry and called my mother to tell her I was a waste of time, obviously I never practiced. My dad came to my defense, and explained that I did, and asked my teacher to take the time to teach me to read music. It was all too stressful for me, I asked to quit the piano, and I learned to play the clarinet, which was easier and fun. So I guess the moral of my story is this, some kids have an aptitude for music,and given the right instrument,they will succeed and enjoy it. You may have to “try out”a few.
    Thanks Gretchen

  • kt

    In 40 Ways to Look at Churchill, why was Churchill not ever knighted?

    piano: Yes, I took piano lessons as a child and gave my children lessons…and any other music lessons they requested. Two of them stayed with piano for quite awhile, two branched out to violin and clarinet. Two did the minimal and said they did not like it. Regardless, they were all able to read music notes and knew that to create and play music well took a lot of dedication. Just be able to appreciate other people’s efforts was important to me.

    • gretchenrubin

      He became “Sir Winston Churchill” in 1953, when, after refusing the
      distinction for many years, he accepted the Order of the Garter in honor of
      Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation.

  • Bobhughes

    My experience with music is something like Chris and Brenda. I was denied the opportunity to take piano because my next older brother had and did not practice and gave it up. Their was tight money also, and I never blamed them for it. Worked in my father’s drug store when in High School so did not take up music or sports, except inter mural which I enjoyed and later played American Legion Baseball on weekends, loved it and played well. My wife and I have been blessed to have had a loving marriage for 62 years and are still growing in that love. We have six children, all married with families of their own, nineteen grandchildren in all. Although the work ethic was the first thing we taught them, we supported then in any activity they selected, only our oldest and youngest daughters showed an interest in piano. The oldest persisted and gave good example to the younger, then switched to organ, which she played until she started college, then both quit. We did not force them to practice, but I would always alternate asking them to play for me, as I rested after dinner. I seldom stayed awake till the end of the first piece, so I don’t really know whether they persisted to the end or not. Our youngest grandchild learned to play very well, following her sister in dance, music and acting and took vocal lessons. My wife and I saw her in person as the guest soloist for the city orchestra the first time last week. We were amazed and thrilled with her poise, projection and quality of voice. This same granddaughter, when her folks (our youngest daughter) bought her
    a good piano gave her keyboard to her grandmother for her eightieth birthday, and her children arranged and paid for a good teacher to give her 20 lessons. She loved it and I gave her a top of the line keyboard for our next anniversary. She had always wanted to be able to play for her own entertainment. She did not practice through her lesson each week, but did as her grandchild did. She would practice 10 minutes at a time four or five times a day. I love music, have enjoyed singing all my life, but can’t read a note. Have to wait and hear one chorus then take off. I have gained in musical appreciation, however and feel parents that can afford it should encourage their children, but never force them to enter into activities they do not then have an inclination for or desire to participate in.

    Very Happy Father

  • Akmmcc15

    I tried to take the survey but I only got as far as the first question since the other two didn’t have any answers that applied to me. When I was 7 we got a piano for Christmas and my parents arranged for me to take lessons at a local music store. I don’t remember that it was my idea, but I remember being excited about it.

    My teacher was a very active retiree, who would teach me a short lesson, give me a simple little piece to practice, then spend the rest of the class time telling me about what she and her husband did that week. I didn’t mind that, since she was an entertaining storyteller and as I said, they were very active.

    My parents expected me to practice 30 minutes or more a day, but the simple little pieces she gave me to practice only took 5-10 minutes to play, without any mistakes. I spent more time repeating the stories the teacher told me, which annoyed my father no end. He said he wasn’t paying money for her to tell me stories. I told him I didn’t ask her to tell me stories, that I asked her to teach me more, but she didn’t. I don’t know what my parents told the teacher or music store but after a few weeks they stopped my lessons. Although I wished I could have kept taking lesson, I don’t remember being upset about it. A few years later I took what I had learned those few weeks and in music classes at school and taught myself how to play more advanced pieces. One day I’ll go back to it again.

  • no more piano

    i was forced to take piano lessons for many years as a child and absolutely hated it. the reasoning from my mom was “i wish/wished i could play.” i expressed little or no interest in it. what bothered me the most was the recitals. i was a very shy and anxious child and these events terrified me. if i made any mistake (which was always), i would leave the room and cry. at one point, i tried to bargain to just take the lessons and skip the recitals, but that was not acceptable for some reason. finally in jr. high, i was able to call it quits, but then told to take typing and french, again because they were things my mom wished she could do. i’m sure it’s good to encourage kids to try new things they may not always be interested in at first, but if it’s clearly more painful then fun or useful, why not try and help them find something they can be passionate about? as adults, we are the ones who should be able to accept that maybe we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do as kids, but not force our kids to live out our dreams. the one time i did try to express a musical interest and asked to play drums instead of piano, i was told that ‘drums are not lady-like.’ at my workplace there is a piano that people sometimes play, and all it does is remind me of those horrible recitals. i know my parents made those decisions out of love and interest, but i can’t report any positive impact for having gone through them (except that i’m a pretty mean typist!).

  • Jcsdmeyr

    My mom started me in piano lessons in second grade. I didn’t really want to do it at first, hated practicing, but as I moved along and realized I could play my favorite popular songs I began to love it. Now 35 years later I teach piano as a side career. I have about 13 students ranging in attitudes towards it. Research shows that children who are in music do better academically and are more creative. But, overall, children that are in activities in or out of school have a better chance in succeeding in life and away from drugs, alcohol, etc.

    I “made” my oldest daughter go out for volleyball in 7th grade to just try being in a team sport….she went on to play all through high school. I “made” my youngest daughter play an instrument in band starting 6th grade….she chose percussion and loves it.

  • I’m so glad you asked. I haven’t thought about this in years. My mother made me take piano lessons because she always wanted to play and never had lessons. When I was little, a piano teacher came to the house and my father took lessons too. We played a duet from Die Fledermaus at a recital — all 8 year olds and my father! An old lady said to him, “You’re a brave young man.” I loved playing with him. Hated practicing.
    When I was a teenager we moved to Baltimore and my mother made me go to some institute (Pratt?) and take lessons from a mean old woman who didn’t like me because I never practiced and I didn’t like her because she was mean.
    But I learned to read music and I could play popular songs at parties if there was sheet music.
    The best thing was though that when I reached one of those significant birthdays later in life, my youngest daughter bought me a keyboard, and then went to the trouble of writing to all my friends and asking them to send me sheet music of some song they knew I would like (New York New York, Les Feuilles Mortes, For it was Mary, Mary,) and write a note on it wishing me a happy birthday and something personal. It was one of the best presents I ever had and if my mother hadn’t made me take piano lessons I would never have had that experienc.
    Mary McHugh

  • Crystal K.

    When I was 6 or 7, I was facinated with pianos and when my parents got me a grand piano for christmas, I was so ecstatic! Then came the piano lessons. They were fun for the first year or two but then when it got harder, my mom did have to nag every day. I ended up playing the piano up until I graduated highschool (11 years). In retrospect, I wish that I had taken more time to learn to sight-read. Towards the end of 7th grade, piano had become more of a competitive thing for me. I practiced every year for state competitions and learned to finger-memorize, ie. my fingers knew exactly where to go, but I could not remember what keys I was plying.

    I think music teaches a great deal of discipline and I really appreciated my mom’s unwillingness to let me quit (I appreciate it now…not so much back then).

  • Patricia

    My parents had all three of us take piano lessons beginning at age 7. We took lessons through the end of our senior years in high school and were required to each practice for a minimum of an hour a day.

    Although at times I begged to quit, my mother adamently refused to give in to my pleas. My mother played the violin as a child and wanted us to learn to play an instrument, read music understand music theory and learn about the different types of music and composters.

    At times I hated it and would hide books in the bathroom and take very long bathroom breaks. Other times I was very happy I was learning so much about music and played in music recitals and for my friends and family. I began college as a music minor but eventually found the 4 hours a day of practing to be too time consuming.

    As an adult I feel that learning to play the piano has made me a happier person. I play several times a week for enjoyment and find my “piano time” to be very relaxing. I have learned to appreciate all types of music and feel music is a important part of my life.


  • I am SO GRATEFUL to my parents for pushing me to continue with piano lessons as a child. I began at first (the age of 5) because my best friend was learning, and her parents were the teachers. I would go through many phases however where I would throw tantrums because practicing was the LAST THING I wanted to do! My parents would let me skip lessons for a while, but push me into starting up again every few months. Though I was often angry with them for their persistence, now that I look back on it I am so very proud of myself for the skills I have acquired and maintained. Now I find so much joy in playing the keys, and often impress others with my talents, inspiring boosts of self-esteem. I KNOW that once I have children, I will make sure they stick w/ mastering the extra-curricular activities of their choice because they will be so much more satisfied with themselves as they enter adulthood.

  • Patty13 Larkin

    As a single parent, my mother was unable to give us lessons (but I did take flute lessons through school for free. Those were the days!). My perspective is as a parent and music lessons. My older son started drum lessons when he was six. I was very concerned about “practice.” His wise teacher told me to not push it, just let him drum when he wanted to. Well, that was difficult because I often felt like I was “wasting” money. I never made him practice (well, maybe once or twice, truth be told.) Well, lo and behold, 7 years later he plays all the time! He seemed to learn to be self-motivated about music and his desire to learn new things. Drumming is noisy, though, and he cannot play as often as he’d like. However, he is planning on a career in music. My other son tried guitar lessons. He was frustrated by his lack of skills in the beginning. I did encourage him to practice, but he didn’t want to. Consequently, he gave up guitar. Two different kids, two different experiences!

  • Guest

    Did you ever do anything with the results of this survey? My parents and I were having a discussion about this in light of the recent Tiger Mama Drama and I thought this would be a great resource.

  • ruben_bush

    aside from regular structured school, my friend sends her kid to take violin lessons, chinese language lessons, ballet, and a lot more. i think it sucks because kids should have time to play. they should learn how to be creative. i think it is totally wrong to force your kid to go to these things that perhaps you wished you went when you were a kid. fascist education never works. ask the kid what they want to be….. and they will tell you that they only want to be happy!!!

  • Pamela

    I started piano lessons with my 2 sisters at age 9. Our teacher was a 14 year old neighbour mom paid to give us lessons once a week plus a couple extra bucks to practice with us twice a week. Within one year we passed grade 4 conservatory piano. It was a hard job to get to grade eight but all of a sudden it became really fun because I could now sight read really easily. It was a really tough time but soooo worth it. All three of us perform in music. I ended up studying voice and both sisters are in orchestras with the oboe and the bassoon. Presently I am extremely challenged by an extremely bright son who plays beautifully but “hates all music” and only wants to play video games or argue with me why music is so useless. Meanwhile my daughter loves singing and dancing and is progressing quickly. Too small hands for piano so far but her ear is really developing. I know music until you reach a certain stage is so frustrating so I really am trying to follow my mom’s example and stick with this for at least one more year. I keep trying to find any kind of music he would like. He loves his little sister so I think I’ll try to get him to learn Rihanna’s ” stay” song for her…

  • Caydon

    My parents made me do some stuff when I was younger but as I got older I quit most of the stuff they made me do and then I chose what I wanted to do. I began to learn how to play the piano, and while my mom was supportive, it would be an understatement to say that my dad was not. He thought I would quit in a few months and was DEEPLY against buying me even a simple keyboard. Now, about 9 years later, I am almost finished all my piano exams and theory exams and I still haven’t quit. I am now playing on my own piano.

  • Roxanne

    My parentssent me to Lutheran school, loved music, and choir, they also said that they would not send me to piano lessons unless I would be willing to take lessons and practice on my own. I loved it. My girlfriend’s parents forced her to take piano lessons and she had to take 4 hr. a day lessons so that one day she could become a concert pianist. She is fantastic pianist…but hated all of it.
    By the way, according to neurologists, those who study/ take music do well well also in math . …especially boys. Girls do better in Verbal skills, ( English, reading etc.)

  • Roxanne