INTEREST vs. REQUIREMENT
Many parents require their children to study music as part of their general education. This could be a two-year requirement, a five-year requirement, or a requirement until graduation from High School. Other parents pursue private music education only if the student is genuinely interested and makes significant progress. At KMI we have parents of both types, and will accomodate all points of view. Toward this end we have two general approaches: Music Appreciation and Pre-Professional (our Young Artist Program).
INTEREST AND SUCCESS: For most children interest and success go hand in hand. Children learn quickly what they are good at, and what does not require significant effort. Unless there is an underlying passion that seems not to be coupled with inherent talent, children do not tend to work hard to succeed at something that does not come easily to them. Ultimately, this becomes a difficult conflict for the teacher to manage, because regardless of the student's inherent ability, music education always requires hard work and there will always be something along the way that is difficult for the student: Some are good at playing, but find the written theory difficult. Some understand the concepts easily, but have to work hard to make the fingers play. No one has it easy in all courts. Further, it is the teacher's responsibility to challenge all students, even the brightest ones, so that every student learns the importance of working hard in order to succeed. Most students will experience a slump where they do not want to work as hard as the teacher is demanding. Parents must work with the teachers to help their students understand that music always requires work, and that just because something seems difficult now, and requires work does not mean it will always be difficult nor that they are not doing well. In the end, the hard workers with little talent will succeed, and the talented ones who are lazy will fail (the Aesop story of the "Grasshopper and Ant").
MINIMAL REQUIREMENT: Whether or not a student begins music lessons because the parents insist, they have expressed actual interest, or the parents suspect a hidden talent, the parents SHOULD require that they commit to music lessons for AT LEAST TWO YEARS once they have started. At KMI we cannot possibly make this a requirement for any of our students so it is up to the parents to stress the importance of giving it a "good college try". Remember that children under 10 will often form "likes" and "dislikes" based on insufficient information. A single stumbling block can be enough to elicit the "I hate this" attitude, just as easily as a moment of pleasure can create the "I love this forever" response. Usually after two years most students achieve a level of understanding, adjust to the routine and process, and accept that music is an important subject to learn. If after two years, the struggle to get the student to practice, the attitudes displayed by the student toward music and any other obstacles have not improved, it is probably best for all involved to discontinue all together. Some parents may even feel four, five or six years are really necessary to make sure they have given their child every chance to take advantage of the opportunity. A five-year minimum also makes sense because it takes about five years just to acquire the basic music reading and playing skills (what we call our "Core Curriulum"). (See PROGRESS). [In the case of piano students, who often start much younger, we recommend the student participate in the Annual PPTA Piano Evaluations AT LEAST TWICE, which may require 3-4 years. These outside evaluations provide excellent feedback for the student and parents to help them assess their level of progress.]
GENERAL EDUCATION APPROACH: At school all students are required to study reading (English), mathematics, science, and history. These subjects are required every year all 12 years of school! The reason is that our society has determined that these four subjects cover the basic skills and knowledge that all Americans should have in order to be productive members of society- and hence we have compulsory education to ensure all Americans have these skills. However, as we well know there are many other subjects that are part of education, which are not required to the same degree: art, music, drama, physical education, trade courses (typing, wood shop, computers, etc.), and foreign language, but which are required for some programs (such as pre-college track), or to some degree (for exposure). (See ELEMENTARY SCHOOL for explanation of how exposrue to many subjects is a part of education.) In addition, many parents may feel their children should engage in activities that are not provided by school at all: religious education, boy/girl scouts, little league baseball, hocky team, summer camp, community service, etc. A music education falls into these two latter areas: some is provided at school and some must be provided by the parents outside of school. These activities may be considered so important that the parent will require it and pay for it until the student graduates High School. For others, the parents will require the minimal effort (two-five years) as described above. Finally, for the remaining parents, commitment and support will continue only as long as the student shows interest and progress. At KMI we firmly believe that a music education is for everyone, and is just as important as all the other activities listed above, and should even be valued as highly as math and science if you consider the cross-over skills the student learns. (See Why is a music education important for my child?) Therefore, as you decide which point of view you favor, and which is best for you and your child, be sure to give every possible consideration to the General Education Approach: that music every year until college is probably best for your child regardless of interest and inherent talent. Many parents have told us, "I wish my parents forced me to keep with my lessons." [Do you want your child to say that about you in 20 years?] NO PARENT HAS EVER SAID, "I resent my parents requiring me to take lessons." Once a child reaches adulthood, is working out in the world, or is married and has kids, she or he will appreciate having the opportunity of a music education. The fact that we have so many adult students who are beginners or continuing what they never finished as a child is testimony to this fact.
POTENTIAL AND PASSION: Most parents are willing to go the last mile and make every effort to help their child succeed in something for which she or he has a gift (potential) or a strong interest (passion). Unfortunately, life never deals us a Royal Flush, but instead we must allocate our priorities and resources based on less than perfect hands. Even the most gifted child will also have an area of weakness that seems to keep him or her back. This is the moral of the Greek story, "Achilles Heal". Sometimes it could be as simple as the attitude "everything comes so easily, why should I work at it?" Most children have a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses, and the responsible teacher will allow the student to flourish in the areas of strength, and work hard to improve areas of weakness. This means challenging the student in all areas, not just letting her/him slide - whether it comes easily or requires work. If your commitment to a music education is tied to your child's potential, passion or progress, you must first realize that every student learns at his/her own rate, and every student comes into her/his own (blossoms) at different times. The mediocre student at age 10 might suddenly show interest and move quickly at age 13. During the four years in between, the parents may have to be patient and supportive, despite all their concerns. Then you must consider your child's strengths and weaknesses (you know what they are, even if it is difficult to accept the negative ones), and if you felt at age 10 your child had musical potential, you probably should stick it out and let the processes of growth and maturation take their course. If you began this process as a shot in the dark ("Let's just see") approach, then you will have to make decisions about how much of your resources you can dedicate to your child's music education, and when priorities dictate that you must stop. The bottom line is that few students will ever demonstrate huge amounts of potential or passion, and yet fewer will demonstrate this every step of the way. We have to pay our ante, trade in our cards, and pray the dealer (time) fills out our inside straight - it's the best you can do!
(See COMMITMENT for more information on how to motivate your children in their musical studies.)