January 22, 2011

Dilemma: On Whether or Not to Let a Child Quit Music Lessons

May I put a dilemma before you and collect your advice? The trouble with such things is that unless all of you agree (AHA HA HA HA HA *wipes eyes*), I will be TAKING some people's advice and FLYING IN THE FACE OF other people's advice---and the latter will seem ESPECIALLY ungrateful since I specifically ASKED. Well, this is the trouble with group friendships, I suppose.

Here is the trouble, and it requires a bit of boring background information but I will try to make it quick. In our school system, optional school music lessons start in 4th grade. We were kind of whatevs/meh about this milestone, since Paul and I between us have not quite enough musical talent to play an oatmeal canister, but two years ago when Rob was a fourth grader he was Very! Enthusiastic! and perhaps you remember the decision about which instrument he should choose, a post that generated almost as much controversy and emotion as posts on weight and Walmart, and then the follow-up where I answered some questions from the first post (sample question: "Flutes are for sissies") and mentioned that Rob had decided on a clarinet.

I'm sorry, this is NOT ending up "quick," is it. I am HURRYING, but hurrying is not WORKING.

Anyway, Rob took the clarinet, and to our surprise, listening to him practice was not the torment we'd expected---because, also to our surprise, he had some talent for it. We had visions of college scholarships. But despite being good at it, he didn't enjoy it, and so we let him complete the deal: i.e., stick with it for the full school year but then be done. Then I spent about a hundred times more energy fretting about letting him be done than I'd spent on letting him take an instrument to begin with, and I'm still hoping he'll choose to go back to it in high school.

ALL RIGHT, that is the back story. And now William is in fourth grade, and at the beginning of the year we just sort of yawned him through the same path Rob had taken. William is a different personality type than Rob, so instead of a relentless series of conversations about Every! Possible! Aspect!, it was more like:

Me: Hey, do you want to take an instrument?
William: Um....yeah. Sure.
Me: Which one?
William: Um....maybe clarinet or flute or trumpet.
Me: Let's look at YouTube videos of those and you can pick one.
William: Okay.
[we watch videos]
William: Clarinet.
Me: Okay.

Well, and he hates it. HAAAAAAAAATES it. It's been months and he still makes horrible scraping squawky sounds, not because he can't play it right but because he is suffused with despair. He breaks one reed per practice session. He has to be HOUNDED to practice, and he's one of those silently stubborn types who doesn't defy outright, but instead you just turn around and realize he hasn't been doing it. He will sit there for two hours with his clarinet in his hands, close to tears, NOT practicing it. The other day after he'd spent 45 minutes in mute misery, I sat right next to him being encouraging and "WOOOOOO!" and "Yay for a concert!" and then "You know, the sooner you get this done, the sooner you'll get to play a video game!" and then "Okay, now do it" and "Okay, seriously" and eventually "Are you kidding with this??" for a FULL HOUR, and finally ran out of available time to spend on that project and sent him to his room to stare at a wall for 30 minutes.

So! My inclination is to take him out of it. Working against this inclination are these things:

1. Rob will DIE OF THE INJUSTICE. He will IMPLODE, and then EXPLODE, and then he will turn to smoke and block out the sun.

2. I don't want to encourage William's stubborn streak, and it seems like this teaches him that if he just keeps silently resisting, he will get his way. (But, er, this might be a true lesson.)

3. I would like to help him overcome the "I don't want to do it so I will sit here and let despair overwhelm me rather than getting over it" thing---so that he will also be able to overcome the inevitable future situations that involve that same thing. But I've exhausted my repertoire of advice and techniques and pep talk and he's still not over it.

4. I would like to teach him to finish out a commitment without bailing.

5. I really think it's a good idea for kids to learn music.

Working FOR this inclination are these things:

1. I have X amount of time and energy to spend on each child. "Forcing him to practice his clarinet" is taking up a large portion of his share of attention.

2. I want to avoid teaching him to HATE MUSIC, and I'm afraid that that's what I'm doing by forcing this. He used to sit around picking out tunes on the keyboard but he's stopped doing that.

3. Clarinet is one of his Monday Stress Things.


5. I don't think I covered the "You'll have to do this for a full school year" aspect as thoroughly with William as I did with Rob. I'm also not completely solid-footed on this principle to begin with: IS it good for character to finish out a commitment no matter what, or is it better to teach concepts such as "sunk costs" and "cutting losses" when something isn't working out? I could go either way on this.

6. It IS good for children to learn music. But he's not learning it this way.

So. This is the matter before the group: What should be young William's music-lesson fate?


Slim said...

Is there anything he really, really loves that you could hold before him? "No Wii unless you have practiced -- really practiced, which means only making sounds with the clarinet, not heaving sighs and muttering and announcing why this is SO UNBEARBLY HARD AND IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT THIS CANNOT BE DONE -- for 10 minutes, five of the previous seven days"?

I have a reluctant clarinet player here, too, and I am making him stick it out until the end of the year, and then I will brace myself for the next child's Year of the Recorder, which is mandatory at our school, and even when it is played well it sounds horrible.

Angie said...

Good grief, I would let him quit.

Omaha Mama said...

I am such a fence sitter. So here are my thoughts: you let him be done (don't use QUIT, he's just DONE, finished, retired, he gave it a try and it didn't work out). And if Rob is so upset about this, you could have a private conversation with him about the reasons this is different for his brother and could he please have some empathy and sheesh, fair does not mean the SAME, it means meeting everyone's needs.
Or...you make it a FAMILY rule, if you play an instrument in 4th grade, you finish out the year. And make it his responsibility to practice, etc. You can reward him if he does, but it's up to him. Also hang some BIG bribe out there for finishing the year? And if he's terrible and fakes it at the concert, that's the choice he's made.
I'm leaning more towards the first option. If it's causing anxiety and affecting his Mondays, then it's in his best interest to take one thing off of his plate. Yes?
Good luck, I know these can be tough choices and the moments in time when it stinks to be the grown up!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

(*resisting strong temptation to make Tiger Mother jokes/references*)

My oldest is 4 and not old enough for music lessons (since I'm not a Tiger Mother) (DAMN!) so forgive me for my ignorance here but what happens if you set aside time and give a little support for him to play but don't MAKE him practice? I mean, would there be natural consequences of him not practicing like him playing poorly and his teacher being disappointed in him? Maybe he would get to feel what that's like and then he'd decide to practice on his own.

Okay, fine, so that probably wouldn't happen.

Yipes, I don't know. I just can't imagine forcing a kid to do something they hate that much, unless it's about personal safety or something.

Kathy said...

I hated piano growing up and probably displayed some of the same characteristics while being forced to practice and go through a recital. It was such an incredible relief when my parents let me quit, it was like having a new lease on life. And I'm not a quitter as an adult but a successful professional. So I'd say let him quit. Rob is another problem but I agree with the previous poster that you could sit him down and say that his brother is not the same as him and that you are not the same set of parents you were when he was that age and that, like she said, fair does not mean the same. I am also the oldest so I know that the talk will only go so far and he will probably still be mad. Good luck!

ToyLady said...

My first impulse was to say No! Please don't let him quit! - I took piano lessons when I was a kid, "hated" it and my mother finally let me quit - and now, I wish I hadn't.

Would it be possible for him to switch instruments? The trumpet is a whole different animal from the clarinet and might be more fun - and maybe say, gee, the school year is half over, how about we give this NEW! and EXCITING! instrument a try instead the one you already hate. . .and that might keep him going for a couple of months. . . then well, it's almost the end of the year, you can just hold out another few weeks.

Have you discussed this with his band teacher? (I also took the trombone in 4th grade which I HATED, and the music teacher talked my parents into letting me switch to the flute, which I LOVED.)

Jen said...

I would say let him quit. There can be valuable lessons in quitting too. In fact, I would say I've learned more from times I have quit something than in times I have followed through. Quick example...I quit track in high school, meaning I ran and went to state in junior high but decided high school competitiveness can suck it, and I have regretted it. But I've also used that knowledge to not quit other things like running a marathon. Even though I, er, quit on that one time too. But the times I have quit something are times when I have been in tears over the misery x thing is causing. So I don't think quitting is bad per se and, well, from your description, he seems pretty much DONE with it.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a no-brainer...let him quit. There are "life lessons" in staying in it or quitting anyway, and given he's only in 4th grade, he'll digest those lessons, move on with life/activities, and learn many more lessons as he grows up. In the grand scheme of his (and your) life, this is a minor blip on the radar!

Suzanne said...

Oh please please let him quit. I was exactly the same way when my parents (spoken: marching band loving father) forced me to pick an instrument in 4th grade and I chose clarinet. I HATED that instrument. It is boring and stupid and you never ever get the good parts to play. I used to sit and stare at the egg timer willing it to move faster with my mind so the 30 minutes of practice would be OVER. All that hatred carried over to the instrument I actually DID like and was good at (piano) and practicing became a chore rather than something I enjoyed. I can still barely sit at a piano without wondering "Oh no, how much longer til I can STOP?!"

Actually, no, make him finish the year. I sympathize too much with Rob to let him die of injustice. Don't force Will to practice, just set that egg timer and make him sit there holding the thing. He can work on his imagination skills.

Ack, it's not even my kids and yet I am so TORN. Good luck.

Type (little) a said...

I would make him stick with it until the end of the school year, but don't enforce practicing. I never ever touched my instrument (except for lessons) and, i sucked, but at least i knew why. LOL.

Sounds like you've already decided on letting him quit though. in which case. Rob will just have to seethe over the burning injustice. Won't be the last time. :-)

Erin said...

Oh, I am SO MASSIVELY UNQUALIFIED to give advice.

My first instinct is to stick it out. You've already made it half way through the school year.

But what I would do? Quit. Do whatever makes the family happiest. Your child will not learn gumption through music lessons alone.

See? Either way, you win! (slash lose!)

Cheryl said...

Find out if he hates taking music, or if it's just the clarinet. If it's just his chosen instrument, then find out if he can switch. I think you should make him stick it out the whole year. To reduce the stress, don't 'force' him to practice, but 'force' him to sit with his clarinet for the allotted amount of time.


Talk to Rob. Could he help his brother practice? To make it seem more fun?

I'm not sure if this would work at all, but could you talk to him about why you'd be letting William stop before the end of the year? Most kids do take the 'everything must be fair' thing very seriously, but he may surprise you.

Since music is one of his stress things on Mondays, maybe you can make a trade. He can either continue his extra school lunch deal, OR he can stop taking music on Mondays. He can weigh the pros and cons of both situations.

Rebecca said...

Normally I'm a "finish the commitment" mom, but there are exceptions to everything. And this is one of them. Clarinet isn't worth that kind of misery. I let my older son quit baseball for just that reason. Haaaaaaattttteeeeedddd it. It was more damaging than helpful and it sounds like clarinet is the same for your boy. Sometimes it's better to quit than to muddle thru and be miserable.

Rah said...

As a very committed music enjoyer, I have seen too many children forced to continue lessons to the point that they wind up hating music. Have a *reasoned* conversation with him and explain that you like to make your decisions based on facts and discussions, not whiney behaviors (you've already talked to him about why he doesn't want to continue, no doubt, but the point here is to emphasize that the despair/resistance isn't the preferred mode). Maybe ask him to write the reasons why he doesn't want to continue--is it MUSIC he doesn't like, or is it clarinet playing he doesn't like, or is it just that practicing is a PITA? Then ask him to think of something else he would like to do, to replace this commitment he made. The idea is to emphasize the no-bailing point. Maybe you could collaborate with a librarian to identify some CDs and arrange a listening-to-music activity for all your children. Ask William to see which kind he likes best (include some peppy kinds like ragtime, some jazz, some hip hop, maybe some classical guitar, Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, etc.). This will help assuage your concerns, and he might find a genre that he likes, and which you could then pursue with him in a listening mode.

Tess said...

Heh. I love the TONE of this post.

I know some people think quitting is one of the things that is Wrong With Kids Today, but I try not to let that argument affect me. Because I hate it.

I think it's okay for kids to be allowed to experiment with activities (or clothes, or classes, or whatever), to see what sticks. It might even be preferable to skip from thing to thing, because we only have so much time to develop hobbies and talents and interests before we grow up and have our hobbies and talents and interests mostly decided FOR US.

Of course, this doesn't work unless some...EFFORT is applied each time, but effort is different for each child. I tend to give things a long trial period, whereas my sister would try something and make an IMMEDIATE decision on whether or not it was for her. Both of us come to good(ish) decisions, eventually.

I'd expect that this situation may recur fairly often, if Rob is the type to TITFTLOG beforehand, and William is more "I'll try it and see what happens."

Well, this is not so much a jury vote as it is a charming Young Tess anecdote, but here we are.

I would let him quit, if you are satisfied that he has engaged enough to know he hates it (sounds like he has).

Rah said...

p.s. Choked on my coffee: "between us have not quite enough musical talent to play an oatmeal canister"

Devan said...

I have no idea. Every point that I read I agreed with, so yeah... good luck!

cheryl said...

Put Rob in charge of William's practicing. After a week, Rob will then himself say, "Let the boy quit."

Perhaps William is manipulating you, but I think I'd let this one go. Pack up the clarinet for the next child.

Jane said...

I am totally qualified to give advice and I'll actually be nice for once. Let him quit. Nay, make him quit. Nothing good has ever come of making a kid participate in an activity he hates. There's no point. Make him finish out whatever commitment he made (like if he's part of a group that's doing a concert, etc.), thereby teaching him that promises must be kept, but then shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, we tried that! Let's move on." And if Rob gets pissed, remind him that you let HIM quit too and also that you're the parent and he's not William.

Sheena/H2Mommy said...

Is there any way he could change instruments. That might make all the different. Sometimes people choose instruments that don't fit them either physically or with their personality.

If he isn't able to switch I would recommend having him stick it out for a year then reassess later.

Good luck!

Shannon said...

I tend to be an advocate of "you made a commitment and you need to stick with it for the year". If part of the problem is genuine frustration with the instrument, have you considered a weekly private lesson? Working individually with someone who knows what they're doing can make a huge difference in a person's confidence level and he would have someone who a) he couldn't get away with sitting there doing nothing for and to whom b) he is personally responsible, unlike band class where there are 30 kids and the teacher can't really look down and say "You, William! I see you have not practiced!". There's very little accountability.

Ultimately, it's your decision. I'm sure he won't be damaged for life (nor will Rob) if you decide to let him quit early. But my personal take is that if you want the privilege of playing an instrument then you should at least stick with it long enough to give it a fair try, and it doesn't sound like he's really trying that hard.

Nik-Nak said...

Hello dear Swistle!
I just want to point out one thing. But first I'll explain one thing. My mother raised me as a try it and see if you like it, if not don't waste your precious time doing it kind of girl. So with that I will say, do you really want to take up his precious young time making him do somehting that is both an inconvenience to both you and him? When you could be honing in on other talents/skills he may have? I remember the time I wanted to take up the flute. I thought it was so cool! All my friends did it! Well about 4 months into it I realized I was no good and had no interest. This, in turn, made me not even want to practice. Was I a failure? No. Does my adult self lack in some way because my mom didn't force me to stick it out with that wretched instrument? No. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful I got to try it. Otherwise I would have always had some sort of longing for the music I never got to create. But instead I gave it up, spent the extra time on basketball and went on to become pretty good at that. So there's my opinion.

Also, I would like to point out. You have FIVE kids. And I am willing to bet every one of them has FIVE different personalities. There will be some injustice done. You won't please them all. You can't raise all FIVE of them the same. It's just not possible. Fairness cannot trickle down through FIVE kids. (Not sure why I keep putting FIVE in caps lock)

Good luck whatever you decide!

Bea said...

You have really strong arguments for both sides, in which case I vote for "let him quit." It's worthwhile to steel yourself to do the harder thing that you don't really want to do when there is clear evidence that this is the Right Choice. If there's only equivocal evidence, with good points supporting both sides? Do what you want, what makes your life better.

Marie Green said...

Can he stay in it but not practice anymore? Or is that... detrimental to the rest of the band? IS there a band? Or... could he switch to a different instrument for the rest of the year? Take piano instead? I honestly don't know what I'd do.

Or, yes I do. I mull it over for a long time. I'd ask all my friends their thoughts, because talking about these things out loud is how I process. And then, I'd listen to my gut. Usually, after giving something like this a lot of thought and talking about it a lot, I start to feel The Correct Solution arise. I've learned to listen to my gut about it, to trust that FEELING.

What a ridiculous, cheeseball answer. Let us know how it ends up!

SheLikesToTravel said...

This is a tough one. But while thinking about it, there seems to be an idea that popped into my head.

I think I would let him quit... but I might consider that quitting a commitment has some consequences. So I'd think about if there is a way to come up with another activity that he would have to do in place of his clarinet practice.

This could then be presented as a choice and he could choose to continue to stick out the year or he could do 'x'. (I'm not speaking unbearable chores here... something more creative. If you want him to learn music, is there another way he could accomplish that goal that isn't clarinet lessons)

That way, Rob might not see it as a free 'out'. And a choice is presented. And a goal of "learn music" is accomplished.

Just an idea... this is a tough one.

Beth (A Mom's Life) said...

Here's my two cents...and I'm not even sure it's worth that much -

This issue really could go either way, but I think in your gut, you already know the best thing to do...for your child and for you (don't forget, sometimes, you have to think about you too!). Good luck!

See - I told you it probably wasn't even worth two cents!

K said...

You have the best timing Swistle! I am following this with great interest because we're making the decision here on whether to allow our daughter to start an instrument. I don't think she's ready, hubby thinks she is. I'm the one who is going to have to police and enforce practice times, and help her remember to bring it to school though.

We struggle with the fairness thing too. Our son is starting sports earlier than we let our daughter. He's a different kid with different needs and I'm a different parent than I was 3 years ago when she was the same age.

I think I would let William quit. It's stressing him out and it's not like he's letting a whole team /band down by quitting half way through. While I feel for Rob and the INJUSTICE of it all, I think it's a valuable lesson for him to learn. Life isn't always fair and what's best and right for one person isn't always best and right for everyone. I think it's a lesson some adults never learn at all.

sarahbb said...

I would let him quit.

I imagine that I'd likely encourage a child that hated something so much to try something new in place of the dreaded activity - to have a plan, anyway, for a new activity that might not suck so much. That's pretty much the approach taken with the kids in my life and they all eventually found things they enjoy and have stuck with them - and seem to have good memories of trying different things.

My parents didn't let me quit anything. I honestly still have a little bit of resentment that they talked me into playing softball because it's SO! MUCH! FUN! and then didn't let me quit when it was obvious that I sucked and I hated it and cried every time I had to go. Bad experience.

g~ said...

I would first assess your GOAL in putting him in music. Have you met that goal? Was it a valid goal to begin with?
Sometimes that helps me make a clear-cut decision because I can take all of the other factors out of it.

Like, did you want him to explore clarinet and see if he liked it? If so, you can let him quit because you have your answer.

If you did this to teach him about commitment then you need to make him continue because you want to teach him to stick it out even if it sucks.

If you did this only because Rob did then IMO it wasn't a valid goal to begin with.

Additional Assvice: I believe there is a tipping point where you have to encourage the practice so the child can get to the point where he or she enjoys the instrument and the 'we're just making everyone miserable' point. I think the stubborn wins and justice for all are valid considerations, though. IF you do not want to back down from the 'we value musical exposure and feel like we need to push our kids into musical pursuits because we are not music-oriented parents' thing then I would make him continue that practice time but allow him to fiddle with the keyboard or listen to a variety of music during his time, etc.
Assvice: You clearly brought it upon yourself this time!

Beth Wolfe said...

Tiger Mother him! 13 hours of practice with no food, bathroom or water! KIDDING!

i think that there are good arguments and lessons in quiting AND in continuing. either way there will be a result/consequence, and both sides will have valuable lessons. i say let him quit, you have 5 kids and only so much time to devote to this one issue.

MelissaInk Designs said...

As someone who, as a child, was forced to continue playing an instrument for YEARS before being allowed to quit ...

I started playing one summer, and I hated it by the end. My parents (mom) decided I'd play it through 6th grade, though, and 7th, and 8th. I will not even tell you the instrument. I HATED it. Heck, I still hate it.

My approach would be, you finish up the year - after that, you can be done, and nothing else will be said about it. I also would not hound him to practice. If he doesn't want to practice, then he'll face the consequences in music class. A few rounds of supremely sucking will probably encourage him to practice "just enough" to slide by (which is what I did FOR YEARS). It's just a few more months.

Safire said...

Coming from a musical family, we were always expect to play SOMETHING. But we were allowed to change that SOMETHING if we hated it. I would talk with his band teacher and see if William can go into the classroom and try the different instruments with just you, him, and the teacher present. That way he gets a feel for every kind of instrument. Then he can switch to one that feels better to him, or maybe his teacher has some ideas to make it less awful.

My parents made practicing no big deal, but a non-negotiable part of our day. We did it before school and only for 10 minutes. If we didn't have school or stayed home, we didn't practice.

It sounds like you've already made the decision to let him quit, but if it were me, I'd ask him to finish out the year. Either with a new instrument or shorter practice time.

You would never ask a child to quit reading because it was hard, or quit math because they hated it. Those are life skills that they need. Music, to me, is just another part of your education. Hence, 4th grade music classes.

Good luck in your decision!

Annie Pazoo said...

Ya, let him switch instruments.

Bitts said...

As a lifelong music geek and player of several instruments, I say let him quit. The purpose of introducing him to it at this age is to find out if he enjoys it / has talent. The answer is clearly NO on both fronts, for the clarinet at least. Nobody is out to prove how long his misery can be sustained (4 months? 6 months? 9 months FTW!). Alleviate it and allow everybody to move on. Have a sitdown with Rob and explain how fairness isn't sameness, and everybody Learns An Important Lesson.

Ginny said...

My vote is for "Don't enforce practicing, but make him sit with the clarinet for an hour (or however long he's supposed to practice) every day." He doesn't have to play it, you don't have to pester him or keep on him, he can daydream or whatever, but he needs to spend quality time with his clarinet. When the hour is over, he gets to go play.

It's basically a face-saving move to help ease the sting of injustice. An hour of boredom every day seems like a reasonable consequence, without creating additional trauma. And if he gets really bored, he may start playing the thing after all. (Although I also have that silently-stubborn temperament, and I'd probably have started to try to play the instrument but only if I thought nobody could hear me.)

velocibadgergirl said...

I took piano lessons from 1st grade until 4th grade. By the end there were battles, there was screaming, and my mom let me quit. I went to her in 7th grade on my own and asked if I could start again, and ended up continuing my lessons with a teacher I liked more than my first one until I finished high school. So I don't think letting him quit now means he'll never be into music again. The opposite may be true. (On the flipside, I asked my mom to let me quit Girl Scouts and she refused. I ended up being grateful later after also sticking with that until I finished high school.)

My younger sister didn't get to take piano ever, because the waiting list for the school lessons was too long and because piano was kind of my thing. She never died of the injustice. Mom also let her quit Scouts and I never died of it. Someone else said "fairness isn't sameness" and I agree.

So I think I'm leaning toward "let him quit," with a caveat that you tell him in a no-pressure way that if he ever feels he wants to try music again and can commit to practicing, he should just ask.

That said, is there any chance he could switch instruments for this semester? He might like trumpet better since there's no reed. If it's an option you can ask him to try that until summer and then let him quit if you still feel he should stick it out in some form.

Courtney from FL said...

I feel that the answer is in a post a few back...each child has their own needs. These needs shift and change and at times one child will need a little extra more than another.

IMHO: I say let him drop it but that's just what I would choose.

Melissa said...

Haven't read what others have said but having 3 teens/young adults--oldest was allowed to finally quit already since I couln't take it anymore and younger 2 kept up lessons only because they loved it and wanted to keep at it.

I say, let him quit. He'll eventually find something HE wants to do.

Tuli said...

Can he switch instruments? Maybe he doesn't hate music lessons so much as he positively loathes the clarinet (I know I did!).

jen(melty) said...

I am changing as I get more into this motherhood thing. This is why no 2 kids in the same family have the same parents :) I would let him quit because it's just too much angst and life is too short and you're damned if you do, damned if you don't as far as how your kids grow up. You're either going to be disciplined about yourself or you're not. Being forced to play the clarinet as a kid isn't going to affect that. There are other things that you can make him finish to the end. You could even make a deal with him - that if you let him quit, he has to do something else for the duration of the school year. This has the added benefit of negotiation and learning that you are a reasonable person if your boundaries are respected :)

As for Rob, he'll get over it, and maybe it won't even bug him as much as you think it will? (haha) I would remind him how you don't treat everyone exactly the same. Fairly, but not equally. I'm sure as you've said before, there were things Rob got to do that William doesn't/won't.

Sandy said...

Nthing asking him if he wants to switch instruments. I started on the trombone in 4th and 5th grade, but then switched to the clarinet in 6th and loved it. Drums, tuba, baritone, trumpet, french horn? (Sounds like you want something without a reed for this kid.)

If he doesn't want to switch, let him quit. One kid shouldn't have to be miserable just to prevent another kid from freaking out. (That sounds harsh, but I think it's true.)

P.S. I think it's CRAZY ironic that I'm offering my parenting advice to you. (1) I have no kids. (2) I have been reading your blog to get the nerve up to have kids, and find you endlessly inspiring.

Mrs. Dennis said...

Try a different instrument.

Clarinet is tricky, reeds are tricky if you are not a super careful person... wind instruments in general are picky picky.

Try the keyboard or drums.

The keyboard is something virtually everyone can learn to play in some capacity, and you do not need to buy a piano.

The drums do not have to be loud at first - get him a $30 practice pad and some $5 sticks.

Or, singing. That requires no investment in instruments.

Keep him in some kind of music, but the clarinet, he hates it, so do not force him to do something he hates.

If you decide to keep him on the clarinet, buy him a mouthpiece protector, and train him to use it EVERY TIME he moves the mouthpiece with the reed on it. if the reed is covered, it will not get snagged.

Reeds are cheap in the beginning years... you might talk to his band teacher and ask the teacher to specifically help your son with how to protect the reed, and perhaps to arrange songs he likes, and to help him develop a better tone.

But if all these things have been done, and he still just does not enjoy the feeling of sticking something in his mouth and having it squawk, then perhaps a reed instrument is not the thing.

There are many ways to go with this-- but if you want to try sticking with clarinet, you MUST get a musician involved who can help him understand and grow.

If it is physically too difficult, I would scrap it and find something that is physically easy (keyboard, drums, voice).

Superjules said...

Oh man. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW! I see all of your reasoning and it is ALL valid and good. Perhaps I can answer with an anecdote?

At my HS there was this optional backpacking trip you could go on during the spring break of junior year. Almost everyone was! so! excited!!!!! I wanted nothing to do with it but my parents signed me up for it. I remember being anxious and miserable just thinking about it and after many debates with my parents and crying fits they grudgingly and disappointed-ly told me I didn't have to go.

Their reasons for wanting me to go were VALID- Building Character, having a Good Experience, trying something new, having an adventure, spending time with classmates, learning skills, that I might regret it if I didn't go because everyone else was going, etc etc.

But to me it was just a HUGE source of anxiety. I *liked* camping but I was nervous about spending such a big chunk of time (and having to pee in the woods) with a group of classmates. I thought it sucked that it would be during my 'break' and I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO.

And even though I would LOVE to go on a backpacking trip NOW, I still look back on this experience and feel relieved that my parents let me back out.

Anyhow, my point (finally, sorry) is that I guess it depends on just HOW miserable this one thing makes both William and you. Also, if you let him quit, I feel like you could have a conversation with him and say that you really want him to value sticking to commitments but on the other hand if he really hates something then he should stop doing it and use the time to find something else he loves.

ssm said...

Aww, everyone else in the universe thought of the Tiger Mom joke, too. Bummer.

As for advice: my almost 6 year old juuuust started guitar lessons, which he has been begging for since he was two and now he all of a sudden never wants to practice, so I told him, "X amount of doing what the teacher told you, and then Y amount of time rocking out." I realize rocking out on a clarinet is not quite the same as rocking out on a guitar, though, so now this advice seems useless.

Is there some bribery you could hold over his head? Bribery works very well in our house.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

Disclaimer: I haven't read any of the other comments and I don't have kids.

However - I did play the piano from age 6 to age 18. For a long time it was one of those things I hated. But my parents wouldn't let me give up and I grew to love it and turn to it in college as an emotional outlet. I feel grateful to my parents for giving me that. I think it's one reason that I feel strongly about Not Quitting. And I think doing recitals and things also helped me force myself to Put Myself Out There, which is not a natural inclination. So, in my mind, Very Good Things come from being forced, initially, to play an instrument.

However HOWEVER - I did not hate the piano in the way that your son seems to hate the clarinet. That sounds like torture. (For both of you.) What if he were allowed to give up the clarinet this year with the understanding that he MUST take up an instrument - doesn't have to be the clarinet - next year and stick with it for a full year? That seems like it would placate Rob at least a little bit. And it would give William a temporary respite during which he could recover.

That's my recommendation: Allow him to stop for now, but let him know he will need to do a full year of an instrument next year.

Amy said...

I only have a toddler so take this for what is worth (ie I have no experience with older children). I would have him finish out the school year, but wouldn't make him practice at home. Eventually he'll learn the consequences (maybe) of being unprepared for class and perhaps he will have his own motivation to practice at home.

ComfyMom~Stacey said...

Well, I grew up in a 'commitment to others is more important than your own misery' type house. And now I find it damn difficult to make any sort of commitment to anything I am not 100% certain I will be happy with the whole time. (I was 35 before I had my 1st kid)

What kind of commitment is it? Do they *need* him that much? Can he play something else? My 4th grade clarinet experience went something like his but about halfway through it my mom threw up her arms and walked away. I *would* finish out the year because that was time period agreed to. But she was done nagging my to practice. She even told the teacher that. It was up to me to practice. I could deal with the teacher's comments about my efforts in class. I could get up there and fail at concert time all on my own if that is what I wanted to do. But for 30 minutes a day I would sit in front of the music stand & hold the clarinet. I could spend that time twirling it like a baton if I wanted. They were done.

I sucked at the concert, but was so glad it was over, I really didn't care.

I understood the importance of keeping a commitment and I never wanted anything to do with music again

Annika said...

I would let him quit. My reasoning may be SLIGHTLY extreme, but here it is: you were married before Paul, right? And you tried, but it didn't work. So you quit. If William was in a marriage that made him miserable, you wouldn't force him to stay married, would you? OBVIOUSLY clarinet is WAY less of a commitment than marriage, especially since it was just for a year, but a year is ONE-NINTH of his life. So to HIM it probably seems like forEVER.

Also I would let him quit simply because I don't think anyone should force anyone else to do something that makes them miserable unless the benefits HUGELY outweigh the misery, and frankly the only example I can think of is physical therapy type stuff, where yes it hurts like hell but at the end you will be able to WALK again. OMG what is WRONG with me? WHY can't I come up with an example that is less extreme?

ANYWAY. Where I go all to pieces is figuring out how to make this less of an injustice to Rob. I JUST DON'T KNOW.

The Mama Beth said...

I haven't read the other comments, but I see lots of long, probably well thought out posts, so I'm just going to say without huge elaboration: let him quit.

Jess said...

My instinct is to let him quit. I myself as an adult am a reasonable person who is good at following through with commitments, but I would never force myself to stick with something I hated so much unless it were completely and utterly necessary and/or led to a really awesome outcome (like people who hate being pregnant but love having babies). I don't see either of those being the case with William and the clarinet. I think it's fine for him to learn that it IS acceptable to change your mind about certain things as long as you aren't causing huge harm to anyone else in the process. As far as Rob, he's the oldest. That means he gets to do things first, and sometimes that will be awesome and other times it will lead to having to do things that his siblings will never end up having to do. So it goes. He'll get over it.

Carolyn said...

If this is a topic that is causing him such anxiety in the evenings, then my instinct would be to let him quit. I'm a big believer in knowing your limits and when you need to sacrifice in order to preserve your own happiness, so perhaps this could turn into a positive lesson on how to preserve your mental health instead of a negative lesson about following through on commitments (I'm sure you could find some other examples of things he HAS followed through on - it doesn't sound like he needs a big shake-up life-lesson on how to stick with something). If clarinet isn't for him, then I'd let it go and walk away, because it just doesn't sound like its worth the stress on anybody involved. Maybe he should have to take on some other task or hobby in its place for the rest of the year as a compromise, but that also sounds like a lot of effort ;)

L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L said...

I deleted my first comment and fixed it:

Let him quit (although I don't know if you prepaid a ton for this which might influence things). Those banners in school that say "winners neverquit and quitters never win" are over generalizing (I assume they are everywhere). It's great that William seems to have a voice and has made it clear he wants to quit. That's better than compliance and unhappiness for the sake of not being a quitter. Life is too short for that. The sooner we all figure out what we love and start doing that, the better.

AnnetteK said...

Let him quit. If he likes music enough the right instrument for him will come. My son hated soccer last year and when I realized all it was doing was making him hate all things sports I let him quit. He loves baseball now and I don't regret a thing.

Today Wendy said...

Talking to the music teacher and seeing if he could try switching instruments before quitting would be a good idea - but they may not be able to accommodate that. Private lessons could be awesome, but I suspect they wouldn't really help with the clarinet at this point as he has decided he hates it.

I'm all for letting him quit - talking to Rob first, pointing out all the ways in which this is different from what happened to him and how it will feel horribly unfair, but that sometimes things can be the right without being fair. But he's the oldest, this sort of thing is going to happen again with a younger sibling being treated differently, and I think that if you acknowledge it, he'll have a much easier time dealing with it.

So, I think what I'd do is let him quit clarinet, and sign him up for private piano lessons (since he was already trying to pick out tunes on the keyboard before all this started) that happen on some day of the week that is not Monday. It might be the clarinet, it might be the class situation at school, but if he was at all interested in music before I think that's worth encouraging.

Lippy said...

I haven't read through all the comments. We are in a similar place, different path to the destination. I would suggest talking to the teacher. I remember at that age I played flute. There was a lot of people moving from one instrument to another. Maybe a reed instrument isn't the best option for him. One girl wanted to play flute but could not get it. My teacher switched her to the oboe and she was awesome.

The trumpet may be better, or at least different! We are struggling with the same pros and cons, but with the piano. Practice is a hellish nightmare that **ahem** has cause parental arguments and such. Can't wait to see how this turns out.

christine said...

I'd let him quit.
But I also started playing an instrument in fourth grade: flute. I have NO musical inclination. I knew it. My music teacher knew it. I tried for a month or two...and then I pretended to lose the flute in order to get out of lessons. No point in making him suffer. See if there is some other thing he could get into and enroll him in that, but only if he wants to do it.

Good luck!

Mrs. Dennis said...

There are so many ways to deal with this - you could reward him for practicing.

You could also "guide" his practice- it might be that he doesn't know where to begin.

Turn to the page in the book where he is working, point to the first note on the page, and ask him the fingering. If he doesn't know the fingering, go to the back of the book and look it up. Have him show you how to do it.

Praise him accurately for playing what is on the page, and make sure he knows that for however many lines he plays, he will get a reward.

If the trouble is that he's simply being defiant to be defiant, then the above is one way to help him actually practice.

I would also send a note or call the band teacher, to ask for special attention to "how to practice" in William's band lessons.

Jess said...

Let him quit.

Fourth-grade cheerleading - I HATED it. Mom wouldn't let me quit. I had to finish out the year to prove I wasn't a quitter. I still to this day don't understand the status assigned to Head Cheerleader, since everyone can differentiate between offense and defense. Jump forward to college calculus. I HATED it and again, I just didn’t understand the point. Yet, I stuck it out. Why? Only to prove I wasn’t a quitter. I failed the class.
At a job interview, the screener asked me when I had failed. I told the story of college calculus. Then I added that my failure wasn’t reflected on a report card, the failure was not knowing when to quit. They ate that up. Sometimes the lesson you learn isn’t the lesson you were going for. There is utility in learning that at a young age.
William has a stubborn streak that may come in handy one day. The fact that you want to battle that stubborn streak may just mean that you have one yourself, Swistle. Rob will get over it, if you explain it to him like he’s an adult. As for teaching William to finish out a commitment and to learn music, just make him spend the previously-committed time playing this horrendous instrument into time spent doing something else musical… even if it is just Guitar Hero.

Jess said...

Are you FIXATED on the clarinet? Why not give him a choice - explain to him that he needs to finish what he started, but sometimes things just don't fit.
And then find him another instrument.
Drums? Not a woodwind.

Jenni said...

Let him quit if that is what he wants to do, but explain to him that next time he makes a commitment he will be expected to follow through. And then next time make him follow through.

Firegirl said...

I think, after much hmmmming, my solution would be switch instruments. The dreaded clarinet is banished yet he still finishes the commitment.

Then after that if he still hates it the deal is he never has to touch another instrument. I would let him fling that &*^ing clarinet as far as he can throw it.

The way I see it is it ends up being a compromise instead of a black & white decision.

I like the idea of not practicing & letting it be a natural consequence. I also agree with the "fair is not same" rule.

Jenn said...

Disclaimer: I haven't read all the previous comments. I hate it when people do that, but well, there it is. :)
I would NOT let him quit. I'd make him stick it out for the rest of the school year, as per your agreement. The only way for any of us to gain self-esteem is to succeed at doing things that are difficult for us. Even if "succeed" just means "finishing" and sticking to our commitment. Let's say it was you, and you were running instead of practicing. And you were going to run in a race at the end of the school year. And you found you hated running, and you were sorry you ever started doing it in the first place. IF you continued, you would STILL feel a sense of accomplishment (and self-esteem) if you made it all the way through and ran the race at the end of the year even if you weren't the fastest or the best. If it were my child, I would tell him he doesn't have to be the best, but he does have to finish his commitment.
Is he supposed to practice every day? Can you cut it to 3x per week?
Can you do a reward chart for when he does practice? Start out with a small reward (3x in 1 week= small prize, 6x in 2 weeks = small prize, 12x in one month = larger prize. etc)
I know it's difficult to constantly be encouraging/ enforcing but he's only 9 or 10 and he needs your help and guidance with this. Parenting isn't for sissies :)
Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

Lawyerish said...

I would lean toward having him finish out the school year, but also giving him the option of switching instruments (if that is, in fact, an option).

Either way, I think lessening his home practice time (not eliminating it altogether, but cutting it to a couple of times a week at most) will not affect how good he is (since he's not really practicing anyway) and will free up some of his time so it doesn't seem like thie ORDEAL hanging over the entire household.

I also like the idea some people had about getting him a private lesson once a week or every other week. This doesn't have to become his life's work or anything, but sticking with it til a set time like the end of school seems reasonable.

Siera said...

I am not there yet as I havw a toddler. My sister was always one to make her kids finish out the committment so I understand that aspect. My dad raised me to not finish out committments or more so he bowed to my every whim. I think it is important to finish committments. But on the otherhand if he truely does not like it it might hurt him in the long run. Is there any compromise of switching instruements? Maybe you can find a middle ground. He is your child and you know him best you have to do which will benifit him most in the long run.

-R- said...

I don't think it matters what Rob thinks about it. His being pissed off has no effect on what's best for William. (I know you know that, but I'm telling you why I'm not considering it.) So taking that out of the equation, I would let him quit. You didn't let him quit the second he started disliking it, so I think you've taught him not to give up right away. I don't see what forcing him to stick with it will accomplish.

Hayley said...

I haven't read any of the previous comments, so apologies if I duplicate anyone.

I play many instruments and love it. My feelings are thus:

If he hates it, let him finish. The clarinet may not be his instrument - they're not as easy to play as some people imagine. I would try a different instrument - my instinct would be the piano for the following reasons:

1). You say he already picks a tune out on the piano, so he knows what it involves and doesn't hate it.

2). Piano is a really rewarding instrument to learn because you can sound really good at a really basic level. There are none of the vagaries of other instruments - no tuning issues, no reed problems, no strings to worry about.

3). If he stops playing clarinet and starts something else, you can explain to Rob that he did not have the same aptitude for clarinet, but you still believe in the importance of seeing things through. As William is so stressed, you are looking for a compromise.


squandra said...

I apologize if this has been said; I can't finish all of the comments right now.

I played violin from age 5-15, and saxophone from age 8-18. Oh, and both of my parents are PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS. (My mom, at the time, taught K-8 music class; my dad is a saxophone and oboe professor at a university.) And as much as I loved music, I never really LOVED playing the way some kids do. I certainly didn't remotely like practicing.

But by the time I was William's age, my parents didn't "sit in" on practice, and if I didn't do the work, I simply dealt with the consequences (being unprepared for lessons/class). Eventually, it was sort of not doing anything for anyone, and I had other things going on, and I stopped taking lessons.

And that was fine. Even though I hated practicing by the end, I still adore music with all of my heart, as a listener. And I think understanding a little bit about it from a performer's perspective is part of that love, now, even though I didn't like performing at the time.

And I do think it was good for me just as an exercize, to learn how to manage the problem of doing something I'm not wild about, and understand the consequences, and know that if I don't like playing violin much, it's perfectly okay that I don't practice as much as that other person, or that I'm not as skilled or talented. I think it helped me recognize MY thing, when I found it.

So, I'm not at all surprised if this is the less-common opinion, but I would vote that you require him to finish the year, but don't put a ton of expectations (or effort) into HOW he finishes the year.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I used to be a band teacher!

TBH, it was so annoying when kids would quit, without even really trying. The first year or two is hard, most things are hard when you first do them (even video games! they take practice to get good at them and they're more fun after a bit of practice).

But, that said, clarinet is really hard. And broken reeds make it even harder. I say see if he wants to switch instruments.

A few kids I taught changed instruments and then really took off, it was amazing the difference (my own brother started on clarinet and switched to drums, and now is a high school marching band director)

Alternatively, make him keep playing in school but not practice. I always knew no matter how much I talked about practising most kids didn't (you're a good mom for trying to make him!)

One last thing, did he only pick clarinet because that's what Rob played? Is this a copying older brother issue? Being not very good at a (difficult) instrument your brother played easily could provoke despair, I think.

Good luck!
(sorry, I don't mean to be anonymous but I can't remember my google account password!)

Mimi said...

I'd hate for Rob to have to implode/explode (god, I love your writing, Swistle!) and all of that... but I would probably let William quit, if I were you. Music just seems like one of those things that people either have a love/passion for, or they don't. And perhaps if left alone he would develop he'll pick up a different instrument later on in his life and love that.

I hope everything works out! =)

Anonymous said...

Let him try a different instrument. Have him stick it out for a few months. Wash, rinse, repeat, until you feel that he's put enough effort into the whole music thing to be able to say it's fair for him to quit.

Lisa said...

I'd let him quit, but only because I find that if my kid is going to have drama over it, I will have drama, because it falls to me to be the enforcer. Last year I signed my oldest (5 yrs old) up for karate, which was an unqualified disaster, but we had paid upfront for it, so dadgumit we were going to karate. And we did, except every single time was preceded by hours of screaming, children barricading themselves in closets, me carrying them bodily out to the car and then into the karate gym, where he hid under a chair. I dreaded karate as much as he did. I should have just asked for my money back, instead of making him do something he clearly hated.

We have done soccer and baseball since then with much less fuss (still fuss, but no one is locking themselves in closets), but if we were to do another sport that caused as much drama as karate, I'd probably just let him quit after a few weeks.

If not going to the extreme of quitting, could you compromise with no practice at home? Or doing a different instrument?

JCF said...

I say let him quit. I'm not one to normally say quit, but I'd talk to him about quitting now and about how you don't want to foster a habit of quitting, etc. and then let him off the hook. If he tries something new soon, I'd again have a talk about sticking with things, etc.

Also, I do think music is a great thing for kids to learn, but guitar or piano are better "lifetime skills" that will serve him for life. Clarinet? Probably not so much. He'll probably quit it at SOME point anyway. If he is interested in music, I'd look into either piano or guitar--lots of people still play those instruments as adults. (For the sake of an example, my husband plays guitar and I play piano, both as a result of childhood lessons).

Alice said...

i admit i skimmed a lot of the responses, so i'm not sure if this actually is an option or not, but i'll side with the "let him switch instruments if it's a possibility" option. my parents had to practically tie me to the piano for a few years (prob right around 4th/5th grade, in fact) because i WAILED and GNASHED TEETH about having to practice, but i'm one of those annoying ones who think that sticking it out was actually the right thing to do.

that said, i also played clarinet for a year, and GOD was it awful. i couldn't WAIT until the band requirement was over at my school so i could stop playing the damn thing. hard to play; hard to play well; sounds UNREASONABLY bad if you're only a LITTLE bad. i had already been playing piano for 6 or 7 years, and could play both alto and soprano recorder very well (as well as a recorder can ever sound) so i was quite musical. but GAH the clarinet.

Michelle said...

If he really is that miserable and not just being defiant or lazy about practicing, I would let him quit. No sense wasting time doing something you hate so much!

That being said, I quit both piano and swim team in junior high and my parents didn't try to talk me out of it at all. Later in high school and college I wished I had stuck with it so I could do those activities at more than a beginner's level. I wasn't miserable, just, I don't know, angsty about everything I guess. Anyway, my n=1 anecdotal experience FWIW!

Doxie said...

I read a few other responses... I think I would have a heart to heart with William. Let him spill his guts... about what he hates, what he fears, how he feels...what he loves, looks forward to, dreams about. What passion does he have and help him follow that instead of wasting time and energy (your and his) on something that is bringing so much unhappiness to you both. In regards to Rob: As far as fairness..."with children equal is not always fair"...each child is unique and has unique needs...so what is fair for one is not always fair for another...but it all equals out in the end because each child gets what he/she needs. I hope this helps a little, let us know what you decide. Follow you heart and it will always lead you in the right direction!

M said...

Here is my tale:
I hated piano lessons throughout my middle school years. Used to cry about practicing, on the way to lessons, etc... Tried to bargain my way put of them all the time.
In junior high I had gotten decent enough that I could play the songs I listened to on the radio, as well as much much more interesting classical pieces. That instrument saved my sanity - playing it was the therapy/release I needed to get through a dark depressing time.
Now I am a professional musician and music teacher. I can't count the number of times I have thanked my lucky stars that my mom wouldn't let me quit piano lessons.
Every kid is different, of course, but beginning music lessons ALWAYS suck. Beginning music songs are boring and simplistic because you don't yet have the skills to do the interesting stuff. Because of my experience, I'm in favor of forcing some kind of music training in the early/middle school years. It takes time to develop the skills that make music fun.

Elle said...

Here's something else to consider: Children learn by taking risks. Next time an opportunity to try something new presents itself, you wouldn't want William to think, "I'm not going to try it, because if I don't like it, I won't be allowed to stop. Or if I do stop, I'll be in trouble." Just something to think about. Good luck with your decision! :)

lifeofadoctorswife said...

Now that I have read the comments I feel compelled to comment AGAIN, just because I want to chime in with those who suggested not enforcing practice. My parents did not enforce practicing, and sometimes I did it and sometimes I didn't... And it was up to me to deal with my piano teacher's disapproval and frustrated air-puffing as I plonked my way through a song I hadn't looked at once. It was easy to draw the conclusion that more practice equaled less disapproval and better skill. (I am hugely competitive, and at the recitals my peers would sometimes play much more complicated pieces and it was easy to understand why I wasn't at their level.)

And now I will be done commenting!

Bird said...

So my parents forced me to take piano from ages 6-17 and though I wanted to quit they never let me. At the time I thought they were mean, horrible parents as kids are wont to do but in retrospect I'm really glad that they were persistant and I now have this skill that I enjoy. I would push him to stay with it through the year but I wouldn't push the practicing.

kris (lower case) said...

my son started cornet in 4th grade (last year). the music teacher had every child tested on every instrument and the teacher graded their natural ability on each one. whatever top 2 or 3 they were best in they could chose. this year connor is in concert band (regular band) and 'jazz' band. he has to go in early 2 mornings a week for one and one morning for jazz so 3 mornings a week he is at school 40 minutes early. he wants to quit jazz but since it is a laziness issue and not an 'i hate this instrument' issue he is continuing until the end of the year. he then can tell the teacher he isn't going to do jazz again.... ha, ha, ha.. like that teacher will ever let him stop..i had the big 'if you start you are not quitting' talk with him last year so he knew the deal this year. that said..if your son picked out an instrument to play based on just seeing youtube videos and had no teacher input i would see if the teacher thinks there is something else he could play. if he hates it, let him quit. you can't make him do extra chores or anything else unless that was part of the deal to begin with. no fair putting in penalties unless this was discussed prior to him starting. also, if you make it so miserable he may never try anything again for fear he is stuck with it for life. 9 or 10 is pretty young to really know what musical stuff you want to do. quitting now may mean he tries something else later. and as for the older one..oh well, life is not fair, fair does not mean the same and being the oldest has its privilege too.

Misty said...

I am of this opinion: You get one life. Let's spend as little of it being miserable as possible. Surely there will be some other ways he will learn 'commitment'. Like the next time he sees something he wants to do, you can say: Remember the clarinet? Are you SURE?

Anyway, I would let him quit. And tell Rob different kids have different needs. Amen.

Sara Hammond said...

Wow, are there opinions on this. What a great post! 14 hours in and you have 82 comments! Can I just say that I don't have an opinion to share on this issue, but it looks like it is ok. Good luck!

Christina said...

My mom has taught piano for over 30 years. My entire life being brought up she ran a piano studio out of the downstairs of our houses. I have watched hundreds of children and their parents march in and out of my driveway weekly for lessons. As well as several recitals, concerts, and competitions per year.

Speaking as somebody who chose to enter music WILLINGLY, but then it turned into an "oh! you have a talent for it! you must practice practice practice" made me hate it. I can play the piano. Very well, I might add. I've won many competitions at a young age at colleges and universities on the east coast. However, I don't play at ALL now. In fact I didn't touch a piano for about 10 years b/c I was so bitter about it.

I think the decision with Rob and how you handled it was terrific. He showed a talent for it and it ran its course. Showing a talent for something does not mean it needs to turn into something you go to school for or do for the rest of your life. I especially like that you made him finish out the year.

My recommendation on William is to maybe try a different instrument? For example - my brother used to take violin for years until he started acting as William was. He just didn't like it anymore, and would defiantly refuse to practice as well. Or if he DID practice it would be that stubborn "well FINE" half assed attempt w/ a big scowl, tears in his eyes, and sounding awful through the song. Then my mom bought him a bass guitar through eBay and he LOVED it again. B/c apparently the violin and the bass guitar ea. have 4 strings so all the notes and music he knew could be applied, just to a different instrument.

So maybe for William try an oboe? Or saxophone? I don't know which instruments are exactly like a clarinet. Could you maybe try renting or pawn shop or purchasing on eBay to defray costs?

Either way, the end of the school year is what? 5 months away. Not too bad to finish off so he meets his goal and doesn't end up quitting, being allowed to nurse his stubborn streak, or making Rob die of injustice! (As an eldest sibling I can definitely relate.)

Music lessons are important and can serve a purpose, but forcing a child to do anything they don't like will only make them bitter and resentful. I've seen students LOVE piano for years and years and be great at it and practice, but then they just lose the will for it. It just happens sometimes. It has nothing to do w/ his talents or values you're teaching him, etc. even though I know it seems like that. There's so many other things in children's lives that they can follow through with. It doesn't HAVE to be music.

Christina said...

Oh and a few other thoughts -

I wouldn't hound him to practice either. My mom (the piano teacher) usually just requests her students try to get at least two 30 minute sessions in a week. I think that ups to an hour when they're advanced. But I wouldn't make it an everyday thing or it doesn't even have to be the 30 minutes all at once. Maybe 5 minutes or 10 minutes here or there isn't bad.

And another thought - although totally weird I know - is maybe his eyesight is bad? You would not BELIEVE the number of students my mom has had that HATED playing/practicing and it turns out b/c they couldn't see the notes that far away. If you notice him squinting or leaning in, perhaps schedule an eye appointment. It would have never occurred to me if I hadn't seen it so many times before w/ my mom. The student gets glasses and poof! problem gone!

bluedaisy said...

If an instrument switch isn't an option or won't be helpful, I'd let him quite--the whole "monday stress" factor weighs heavily for me. It won't be the first time or the last time that things aren't done the same way for each child. Maybe just give Rob a quiet explanation to help him understand? Overwhelmed isn't good. I think you will see over time if William tries to re-use this strategy...you can deal with it if/when needed. I used to suffer often with that overwhelmed feeling and it sure ain't good. If you do let him off the hook, I'd be interested to see if the Monday Stress eases a bit?

Maggie said...

Haven't had a chance to read the other comments from people who have actually experienced this problem, but my inclination is either to let him quit or just stop making him practice. I understand the issue with a stubborn child and worry about the lesson you fear he might learn if you let him quit. But as the mom of a stubborn child I've also learned that I really have to pick my battles. Unless learning a musical instrument is important to you (and it doesn't sound like it is) I think I'd let this battle go and save it for something that it's important to you that he stick with and learn.

Kami said...

I played the clarinet, I also hated it with a passion. So much that I told my Mom it was making me "dizzy" playing it. I'am a Mama to three and a firm believer that if a child doesn't enjoy/have interest--your beating a dead horse. I did quit playing the clarinet, it wasn't my thing...obviously I knew NONE of the notes by choice...I faked it. Cheerleading was my thing along with tumbling. Let the boy quit is what I personally would do. I normally go with if you start it you finish the year--BUT if he is having anxiety over it...really is it worth it? And there ya have my 2 cents...good luck ;)

Mom again said...

My parents policy was no quitting. After the first time I was miserable for months until something finished i learned - to not start. I no longer asked to sign up for different things for fear I'd not like them and/or not be good at them and/ or get teased for being not good. I became very bookish which seemed reasonable but was actually pretty lonely. And of course all the things I didn't even learn a little bit of I miss as an adult.

Let him quit. I do like the plan to require a substitute of some sort. Then look for a chance for Rob to appreciate his own differences.

Jody said...

I would probably let him quit if this were me, but first I would double down, as it were. Get him a really good private teacher and sign up for one month's worth of lessons. Make sure the teacher is a boy. A good private teacher can get a kid over the hump of not being good enough to enjoy something, not even a little. It totally worked for our kid and trumpet.

Oh, and I would stop caring about the practice. My apologies to William's teacher but you've got other battles.

And I agree that maybe this is just the WRONG instrument and something else would work better. But I get the feeling that William is just done with music, so in your shoes, I would see if a good one-on-one lesson experience would turn that around, and if not, say that it's time to stop.

Tell Rob that he taught you a valuable lesson, which is not to force a musical instrument past its use-by date. And then stick with the idea that this is an instruments-at-school lesson only and doesn't necessarily apply to other commitments made by children before they know whether they'll enjoy keeping them.

Good luck. Listening to someone not play the clarinet well makes me want to dig out my ears with a spoon. (Or so I remember, from my sister's hated two years of clarinet in school, lo those 30 years ago.)

Slim said...

As the voice of "Teach him how to half-ass it without help," I am not going to care one bit if you follow the "Let him quit" or the "See if he can try a new instrument" or any of the other advice.

Because A. You are the expert on Rob and B. Asking "What do you think?" is not the same as "Tell me what to do."

Slim said...

Um, Will. Although you're also the expert on Rob.

Lucy said...

For what it's worth, I really like Safire's response. :o)

Linda said...

I can't wait to find out what your decision is! Tell us ASAP!

I would probably make him finish out the school year, but I would stop hounding him about practice. I would scale back the practice time (10 minutes a few times a week seems reasonable), set the timer, and let him sit there in despair. When it's done, it's done. No more stress about practice for either of us.

Do you have to PAY for lessons? Because if money is involved, I would definitely make him finish the year.

Erica said...

I suspect some of your decision depends on Why Williams hates playing the clarinet.

Is it the clarinet itself? Is it the teacher? Is it that reading music doesn't make sense? Is it weird to play with other people listening? Is it all linked to the Monday Stress?

I loved to play the piano, still do. But I hate practicing, and absolutley refuse to do it, when other people are around. The house has to be empty. I need to get a song to where it's presentable before anyone else can listen to it. My mom thought I just stopped practicing and stopped liking the piano. But really, I was practicing when nobody was around.

Susan said...

I think if it were me, I'd definitely let him quit the clarinet, but make him do something else that costs the same amount of time and that is beneficial while not being thrilling to him. For example, the same amount of time doing household chores.

Maybe give him the choice ahead of time to help him clarify his feelings. Does he want to quit badly enough to pay for it with something that wouldn't be his first choice in free-time fun but would be helpful and not terribly unpleasant? Or does he want to quit only if it means he can do as he pleases?

Anonymous said...

I would let him quit. It's stressing him; it's stressing you. Sure, Rob's going to explode and implode, which will stress you. But I think that stress could be short-lived. Any chance you can spin it to Rob that the music teacher has mentioned that this clarinet thing just isn't for his brother?

Cayt said...

I nagged my parents from the age of six to let me play the flute. They made me wait until I was 11. I took lessons for five years, and still play for fun.

My brother hit 11 (2 years before me) and picked an instrument. He liked it okay. He took lessons for I think 2 years, then switched a couple of times. I don't think he plays at all any more.

My sister (3 years younger) hit 11 and chose clarinet. She didn't like it much, and I think she took 2 terms of lessons, then quit.

If he can try out other instruments, that seems like it would be a good idea. If not, it's probably not worth the stress it's causing. I think that I liked my instrument because I'd loved the idea of playing it for years beforehand, and I was actually pretty good. My sister picked the clarinet pretty much at random. I hardly know any clarinetists who love it.

Pickles and Dimes said...

As soon as you mentioned this was one of his Monday Stressors, my vote went to "let him quit." Maybe once he doesn't have so many activities on that day, you can revisit the music issue and see if he's interested in playing again (or trying another instrument).

Rob will just have to deal with the unfairness because I'm guessing he didn't have tons of activities all on the same day that stressed him out, so it's not a simple matter of doing the same thing for William that you did with Rob. That'll be a tough concept to learn, because as the oldest in my family, I totally get the "but you did that with me, why can't you do the same thing for my brother?" argument.

Sarah said...

Well, might as well make it an even hundred here!
I say let him quit. Basically I agree with everything Rah said in a comment way above. Let him know that the decision will be made on FACTS, not whining and stalling tactics, but also let him know that you are his PARENTS, not his jailers, and you have no interest in forcing him to feel utterly miserable for a half hour of every day if he's not getting anything out of it (which it sure sounds like he's not.) It's bad enough that you have to make your kids miserable with things like shots and medicine and coats and bedtimes. Throwing in an extra curricular just for the "music is good for kids" reasoning is kind of lame, I think. Would you MAKE a kid keep learning a sport if they hated it?
Well, I guess some peoople would, people who think quitting is a big Sin in the game of life. I am not one of those people. I think continuing to do something you have no talent for/desire for just because you don't want to be labeled a Quitter is just stubborness and stupidity.
I feel kind of strongly about that, as you can tell.

Anonymous said...

Oh please, please, let him quit. Rob is old enough to understand that different kids have different personalities and needs, and stuff needs to be adjusted to fit. Maybe when William is 15, he'll fall back in love with music, take up the bass guitar on the assumption that chicks dig it, make it big in the business, thank his mother for letting him quit clarinet in his Grammy speech, and support you and Paul in your dotage. ~Laura

Karen L said...

OMG 101 comments already. Seeing as my kids are just at the age where I'm thinking, "hmm. maybe I should sign the older one up for some kind of activity," maybe I'll just go read and learn.

Farrell said...

Is there an option to let him change instruments? Maybe the clarinet just isn't the instrument for him. The trumpet or flute would be completely different and maybe he would actually like those?

Ann Wyse said...

It seems like William should be allowed to stop.

What would happen if you (biasedly) presented the problem to Rob and asked for his help in deciding whether or not William should stop? Is he old enough to "help" in the way you want... or is it just a really bad precedent?

DawnA said...

Sticky wicket. I only have one child, but we told him if he started he had to finish. He had sports seasons where it would have been much easier to let him drop out than deal w/ the issues, but we made him stick with it. We believe these times are life lessons about finishing things that are unpleasant. And goodness knows life presents many of those times. Good luck!

andreaunplugged said...

I didn't have a chance to read all the comments yet, so sorry if someone else has already said something similar.

If he does have the option to try another instrument I think that would be best. Have him stick out the rest of the year. Especially since you've already paid for this year, and it would also suck to try to fit in some other activity into your already busy schedule.

If trying another instrument isn't an option, I think you should let William stop. But there has to be something else he has to do in place of the clarinet for the rest of the year. I don't have kids, and I am a little mean, but I'd probably choose a few options for him that are less desirable than clarinet (say, scrubbing toilets, helping elderly neighbors around the house?)

Kalendi said...

Let him quit. He didn't sound all that enthusiastic in the first place like Rob did. I took piano in Jr High school because I wanted but I SUCKED! However, I still like sitting down at a piano and plunking out a songHe may decided to take up something on his own, but if he's not a virtuoso or prodigy is it really worth the misery? Rob will live...talk about it with him.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read all the comments here, so apologies if this has already been suggested: can you arrange a weekly practice playdate with another kid who needs to practice? Maybe if practicing seemed more fun (he gets to see a friend and they can be noisy together), he might like it more. If the other kid plays a different instrument, maybe he'd find something he likes to play--they could show each other how to play.

Kristin said...

Let him quit or change instruments. I played the clarinet from 4th grade on throughout high school and it is HARD. I played it because we had one in our family, hence, it was free. I was always envious of the reed-free kids. Especially when you are just starting out--it is definitely a harder instrument to learn than say, a trumpet.

Jenny Grace said...

I emailed you, but also, I just remembered.
I played the saxophone and I NEVER practiced because I HATED it (same deal, 4th grade music, etc).
And my mom just didn't worry about it and I just ended up being really embarrassed and faking my way along in band practice and performance and all red cheeked I can't believe this happened, AND my band teacher used to just spend a lot of time LOOKING at me not playing the parts that I was supposed to be playing cuz I didn't know them, like, with EYE CONTACT and then me staring at the floor sheepishly, and um, then I started practicing to avoid such experiences.

CAQuincy said...

I'm in the "try another instrument first" camp--if you're allowed (talk to that band teacher!). The clarinet may just not be his thing. He just may take off with another instrument. Finish out the year trying another instrument (maybe the lessons won't be on Mondays!)--if it doesn't happen, then so be it. Committment done!

And yeah, I'd not force the practicing so much, either. Life is too short for all that misery--for the both of you.

My oldest hates almost everything we put her in. But we've never put her in anything without asking her first, tho. I had her quit ballet after two years because she didn't seem to enjoy it that much. She was only in soccer for one "camp." She is quitting softball after five years (and several "are you SURE you want to do it this year?" requests)--that one is really frustrating because she WOULD act like she wanted to do it, and she would even play well and enjoy herself right up to about week three and then it was all misery the rest of the season. Anyway, we always made her finish her season through, but we always gave her the choice of whether or not to continue on the next year. (Granted, softball isn't such a long committment as clarinet lessons!)

Blah, blah, blah--try another instrument first. THEN let him quit.

aibee said...

I really hope you let him quit, mostly because I think a more important lesson that staying with your commitments, is recognising when something you chose to do (back when you were ignorant of where that decision would take you) no longer serves you, and that's important because then you also learn the power you have and that your life is what you make it. You learn to go with the rolls and punches life throws at you, so you learn to be resilient in the face of change.

I know we're talking about clarinet lessons here, not the Meaning Of Life, but I really really REALLY believe it's these small life lessons about instrument choice in our childhood that teach us to have faith on ourselves for the more complex and far reaching decisions we face when we're older.

If we learn we MUST stay with a choice NO MATTER WHAT, then what have we learned?

That we're powerless.

That we should fear our decision making process.

I mean, what if we get it WRONG? Then we're STUCK with it. FOREVER.

We made the WRONG choice. We FAILED.

When what we actually did was make the RIGHT choice when we made it, and it's not right anymore.

So, um. Yeah. I think you should let him quit.

In regards to avoiding Rob Angst, is involving him possible? Get his opinion? Ask him for advice? Ask him what he'd want you to do if it was his life being made miserable by clarinet lessons?

SIL Anna said...

I'd let him quit, or switch. May I recommend the woodblock or the triangle? These instruments have never let me down.

Karen L said...

Just want to add (oh so helpfully) that my captcha is mistlesh but it looks like mistle sh. So Mini-Swistle SHHHHHHH.

Kali said...

My vote: Never quit. CHANGE.

Corollary 1: Let him 'own' the consequences of not practicing.
Corollary 2: Honor his efforts and acknowledge his difficulties as he struggles to complete his music commitment.

As others have said, there are many ways to participate in learning music. Discuss it with your son and his teacher(s). Just being able to read music is terrific! It is common for first-time ANYTHINGs to feel like they should be good from the start (like his older brother was). When they do not live up to their own unrealistic expectations, it is hard to convince them to continue.

Tell him to play lousy. Tell him to spend his practice time playing *with* his instrument. What sounds can he make? Forget the music, just see what you can make the instrument DO. Proceed until the practice time is up and then stop.

Hotch Potchery said...

When I was 12 I was convinced my mother was the most horrid person alive (which actually was proved to be true many years later for many a different reason) and we made a wager that we put in writing.

If when I had a 12 year old and they so desired to leave music lessons after having participated for one year, they could. We wagered $100.

My mother found that paper a few years ago and owed.me.money.

Let him quit. But somehow figure out how to deal with the big brother in the mean time.

Anonymous said...

Let him quit.


Pippi said...

Let him quit, but make him own it. He has to tell the band teacher and explain why, return his instrument,etc. Sometimes it's good to quit but it's rarely good to just slink away.

Jen said...

My parents were the type to make me see something through even if I hated it PIANO LESSONS and it made me miserable GIRL SCOUTS and I wanted to vomit whenever I had to do it SCHOOL PLAY and I looked goofy wearing the uniform SWIM TEAM. As a result I was pretty much afraid to try anything new just in case I would then be stuck forever and ever with my Wrong Choice.

I say let him quit. Sooner or later he'll find something he likes and wants to stick with and in the meantime maybe he wan't learn to be scared of trying out new stuff because he knows he can always change his mind if it's horrible and the uniform makes his butt look big. SWIM TEAM!

Anonymous said...

I homeschool, but during my last hyperemesis pregnancy the sickness didn’t go away at the same point that it had with my other pregnancies (I started getting REALLY sick in mid-June and it should’ve stopped mid-September), and on top of THAT misery, the 3 months of starvation ramped up my normally-higher-than-everyone-else’s anxiety by, like, 1,000 so I started to panic that I was going to ruin my children’s education by not being able to teach them for however long it was going to take me to recover. So, we decided to put our oldest two in school (seems like they were 10 and 7). My oldest LOVED it, but my 2nd son (stubborn as a MULE, also known as “steadfast and immovable”) HATED it! (Mostly because he was bored out of his mind.) More than once, my husband had to carry him screaming out of the house in the morning, getting him to do the homework was a nightmare (much like getting your son to practice; mine would sit in his chair and stare at his page for HOURS rather than take the 15 minutes to do it), and he kept saying over and over that he HATED school. Around February, after the baby had come and I was starting to recover, I broached the subject with my husband, and here’s where I had the same problem you have: there was the whole “we don’t want him to be a ‘quitter’, and we shouldn’t be rewarding people for throwing fits/complaining” side of the matter, but also the “well, if something isn’t working and we’ve given it an honest try, should we keep doing it if it is not benefitting ANYONE involved?”. My husband leaned more towards the “we need to teach him to finish what he starts”, so we went that way (not that I normally just go with what my husband thinks, but I was still recovering =) ), but it just kept getting worse and worse so we finally decided to take him out at Spring Break. Ironically, it was Mr. “Teach Him To Stick With It” who ended up letting him stay home one day when he threw another massive fit about going to school one morning, and that ended up being when we pulled him out. Also ironically, our child had recently done a writing assignment in class (which we became aware of AFTER we pulled him out) that largely consisted of “I hate school and wish I could tear up my work and bomb my desk”—he is not usually a violent (other than boys’ natural inclinations to such things) child. So, by not following MY instincts about the matter, he ended up getting exactly what he wanted RIGHT AFTER acting VERY BADLY. Whereas, if we had gone with my instincts, he would have gotten what he wanted but not in such close proximity to specific bad behavior, just the general bad attitude. Like all of your commenters who are recommending some sort of music thing REPLACING the clarinet experience, my son didn’t get a free pass from schoolwork since I kept teaching him at home, and he still complained about that, BUT it wasn’t KILLING HIS SPIRIT and SMOTHERING HIS LOVE OF LEARNING like forcing him to go to school had been. (I was SHOCKED a few months later, when we got the results of his state testing and he had scored *100%* on *8* of the tests; I thought for sure he would just refuse to do those tests!)...continued below....

Anonymous said...

.....Of course, we don’t know how this will affect him in the long run, in terms of quitting issues/life success, but the two things *I* learned from this were: 1. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wish I had NOT automatically lumped the boys together in this instance, even though we usually think of them as a set since my oldest is a little less mature than those his age, and my 2nd is a little more mature than most his age, and they’re boys…and we just tend to lump them together. In this case, it would have been PERFECTLY FINE to send my oldest to school and keep my 2nd home; he would have learned more at home, even without me being as involved with his education as I would have liked to have been. I feel REALLY TERRIBLE about that. 2. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wish I would have listened to my instincts and pulled him out when I first thought I should, but I was just so worried that I was not making the right choice or that I was going to damage his character in some major way.
I’m sure that you will be able to figure out what they best thing is to do for *YOUR* child, and you are intelligent and conscientious enough to go about it in the best way possible for your situation; you are just so smart that way =). You are an AWESOME, dedicated parent, and your children are lucky to have you as their mom!

lottie mae said...

Okay so what happened? I didn't read through all the comments so I don't know if was settled. I am going through a similar situation with my 8 year old son who begged to play flute. It took him awhile to develop his ombersure (sp?) and during that time wasn't enthused about practice. It is a constant argument about practicing. At one point I said, okay lets quit. We went to talk to his teacher and started crying saying he wants to play, so for a few weeks he was on it. Again, just as school is ending he doesn't want to practice, and instead wants to play the guitar. I feel like he should play until he is good enough that somewhere down the line he could pick it back up and play if he wanted, but also, maybe that point won't happen if he never wants to practice!

Swistle said...

Lottie Mae- Here's where I wrote an update. It hasn't been going particularly well, though: he is just DETERMINED to get out of practicing---even though he agrees when we discuss it that he DOES want to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

I am so thankful that I read your post and all of the comments. I am going through a similiar situation with my son and the guitar. He was SO EXCITED to start playing and his father and I had a huge discussion with him about the commitment with playing an instrument. It's been a nightmare since he started lessons. Everyday tears and tantrums over practicing. I didn't want to let him quit do to the money we spent and the "commitment he made". Now I feel so much better about throwing in the towel. Guitar is going on craigslist!