Help Your Kids Avoid Musical Regrets

Last week I spend almost 3 days with over 40 high-school students as a chaperon on a trip to a musical competition in Chicago (the group included my youngest son). I came away really impressed with the richness that is being added to these students’ lives through the beauty and power of music. This reminds me that the smartest thing I ever did was to marry my wife, among whose many fabulous attributes is a deep love for music that has resulted in all four of my sons being skilled musicians. She also knows how to encourage young people who don’t always want to practice enough. I feel that the musical experiences and discipline they have all had form an important part of their lives and make them more well-rounded, fulfilled, and capable young people.

On the other hand, there’s me. My sweet mother tried. At age 8, she got me signed up for piano lessons. I took them off and on for about three years, typically not practicing enough. One day we had a recital at our church. I thought I did OK. But the next time I whined and said I didn’t want to keep taking piano lessons, she said OK and that was it. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I learned that my “OK” performance was so horrific that she was mortified in front of her friends and happy to pull the plug. Ouch. My bad, of course, but today I feel regret for having been so dense and quitting.

I shared this story with a musician friend recently who said, “I’ve never heard an adult say that they regretted being pushed by their mother to keep taking piano lessons.” Any counterexamples out there?

Music not only adds richness to one’s personal life, it can be a powerful tool to serve and inspire others. The skills of an organist or pianist, for example, are in demand in so many parts of the Church. The ability to sing or teach others to sing is a wonderful gift that can bless children and adults in the Church and beyond.

My observation of teenagers in the Appleton area is that the kids who are serious about music are generally well above average in terms of character and “classiness,” in spite of all the problems they may have and all the temptations they fall into. There may be multiple reasons for this, not necessarily cause and effect, but I can’t help but suspect that music and its rigors do something good for he individuals that is reflected in other aspects of their lives.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

17 thoughts on “Help Your Kids Avoid Musical Regrets

  1. I don't necessarily think the phenomenon is music as much as it is kids having something they are passionate about that occupies their time in a constructive manner. I think you find the same positive attributes in kids that play sports, hold jobs, etc.

  2. Amen. The rule in our family is that you have to be enrolled in something music related every semester; doesn't matter what, it just has to be something. I think it is something specific to music, though, that has this power.

  3. Some good attributes like hard work and persistence can be learned at any number of pursuits. And admittedly some things, like working with a team, will not generally be learned by taking piano lessons. But still, I think piano lessons are the very best gateway into good music, and good music brings rewards in life that other pursuits cannot replicate.

    When taking piano lessons, you are forced to learn the fundamentals of music theory in the most readily reusable way. You probably have a better chance of putting your musical skills to practical use throughout your life than with any other instrument.

    And learning to play piano or any other instrument will help you become familiar with music in general, which provides a seguey into singing, which is the most available, most practical of all musical experiences (for most of us who can sing).

    I never did become very good at piano, but my piano background paved the way for a richly rewarding lifetime hobby of singing.

  4. I blame my two older sisters, who did not appreciate piano lessons, for my mother not even trying with me. I would love to have had lessons even back then, but after hundreds of dollars that went down the drain on the girls, she just was done with it all.
    Since then, I've self taught myself a little piano and guitar. But nothing like I wish I could do with years of youthful training (when the brain is still malleable).

  5. I always wanted to learn how to play the Saxophone. I got a free saxophone while I was on my mission and I've learned how to play it a bit.

    I wish I would have started to learn how to play it…like in elementary school

  6. Jeff, I don't want you to feel too many regrets for not sticking with the piano. Certainly, the piano is a great way to begin with music, but I feel that music comes naturally to some and not so naturally to others. It doesn't mean that we all can't enjoy it. My parents forced me to play viola as a child, and I didn't particularly like it. After they gave that up, I discovered the guitar and 12 years later, I have an LDS musicians website, I've written and recorded countless songs, and music is one of the biggest influences in my life.

    However, I had to arrive at my passion on my own. My parents tried to shoehorn me into one path and I bucked against it, but found another musical path that suited me much more.

    PS… it's never too late to start!

  7. Jeff, I firmly believe that your other great talents would have been diminished to a noticeable degree had you spent thousands of hours in your youth practicing and playing music.

    You're an achiever, and someone who takes advantage of time to fill it with usefull things. Had you added music to the mix, there would have been less time for other things, even in your youth, that prepared you for the great achievements of your adulthood.

    Unless of course, you spent those thousands of hours in front of the television, then, yeah, playing the piano would have been better than watching TV.

  8. In my studies on education, I've read of studies in education. Included were evidences that students involved in music or another creative art, such as art, learn more than those who aren't involved in such.
    And then there was the E=mc(squared) genius who while he was in school was too dumb for his teacher to want him back – until his mom baught him a violin.

  9. I agree with what Paul said at the beginning: it isn't just music that helps kids (and adults) succeed. It is finding something that they can be absolutely passionate about, something that drives them. Some people find this early on. Some people don't discover what drives them until they are well into adulthood. And some people find that what drove them as a youth has changed as they grew older.

    That being said, I love music and I love performing music. I've played the trumpet for over seventeen years. I am a member of a community wind ensemble. I participate in my ward choir, possible. I hope that when my wife and I have children, they will want to be involved in music.

    But I don't think it is right to require them to do so. I have a friend who is an excellent French horn player, but he hates it because his parents required him to major in music when he started post-secondary school. After a couple of years of being miserable, they relented. He is an accomplished graphic designer and has talked of picking up his horn again. So I think it is important to expose children to many activities and let them decide.

  10. I appreciate your comment about teaching music. When I was teacher age, a fellow quorum member sitting next to me on the deacon bench to pass the sacrament, noticed I sang the melody to the hymns. He came from a very musical family, I did not. He taught me how to follow the bass line and how to sing the bass part and told me it was much easier than trying to sing the melody. This was back when priesthood was early in the morning, sunday school mid-morning and sacrament was afternoon sometime. So, we had more opportunities to sit by each other and sing the hymns together and that's how he taught me to sing bass. Seems like a simple little story, but has meant a lot to me over the years. I have been blessed to participate in many choirs since then and thoroughly enjoy singing bass and it has helped me appreciate music much more than I would have had I not been taught by a caring quorum member.

  11. Alex: But I don't think it is right to require [children] to [be involved in music]. I have a friend who is an excellent French horn player, but he hates it because his parents required him to major in music when he started post-secondary school.

    I don't think Jeff was advocating pressuring kids to be music majors. Actually, I would tend to discourage most folks from being music majors given how hard it can be to make a good career of it (this speaking as an ex-horn-performance major — I've known several really good musicians who got sick of the gig life and went back to school to pursue something more stable).

    Taking lessons long enough to become competent is a whole different matter, though.

  12. Ryan,

    My comment was more directed at Coffinberry. I disagree with having a "rule" about being "enrolled in something music related".

    But hey, different strokes for different folks, right?

  13. not everyone can be a profound, or even an accomplished, musician–

    but *I* think everyone needs "art" in some form.

    The key is, I believe, in parents being in tune (spiritually and emotionally) with their children.

    I would trade my high GPA and my graduate work for a musical accomplishment, because it is what I so desperately wanted and what my parents refused to give me; it was simply not valued by them.

    I married a musician, and my children are musicians–

    Fewer things (beyond truly tragic things) are sadder than the dreams of a child or young adult not being fulfilled, because the adults in his/her life do not care.

    It's all right to feel regret. I have seen tremendous blessings in the lives of my spouse and children, because of music. And, yes, I sacrificed quite heavily so they could have it (including my spouse)–

    I will never be able to regain those years–

    when I could have learned well. As an adult I made a heroic attempt, but the best years for doing it were gone.

    And, no, I don't believe sports or employment can match music (or an equally absorbing art)–

    Sports and jobs have their place(s), but most adults spend their entire lives working, and many adults spend their adult years regretting sports-induced injuries and not being able to play on a 'team'–because so many sports are team-centered, and teams aren't handy–

    an old person can play a musical instrument; most old people can't do so well at shooting baskets or scoring a touch-down–

    no comparison.

  14. I think the topic of music is such an important eon for our youth as well. I love what Janeen Brady has to say about it so much. She puts such a spritual meaning to it. I can't wait to hear her at the Holistic LDS Living conference in june too. Music can either uplift or destroy.

  15. Late to the party, I know, but I'll proudly pitch in another one of the direct counterexamples you asked for.

    I started off with a good few years of piano lessons, but never really enjoyed it. I certainly did a lot less practicing than my parents or teacher would have liked, and about the time I started Junior High School, my mother finally relented and let me quit piano lessons.

    In all honesty, I've never regretted that decision.

    (…and yeah, my wife's friends hate to hear me say that within earshot of their children.)

    That said, by the time I entered Junior High I was also heavily involved in a local Boys Choir and the school choirs. Music (and in particular vocal music) has been a huge part of my life since that time. I'm a mechanical engineer by profession, but I've had great fun singing for fun and occasionally for money over the years — everything from sacred choral music to a rock band with high school friends to madrigals to opera to BYU choral groups to an international champion barbershop chorus to ward/stake choirs to the occasional musical number in church. Singing was always my thing. Piano was just not.

    As LuckyMatt stated above, the music theory foundation I got from those early piano lessons has been invaluable, and it has served me well in my 30+ years of singing. That said, I'm more than happy to let someone else play the piano while I just sing along. In fact, given my druthers, I almost always choose a good meaty a-cappella arrangement instead.

    Have we started all of our kids on piano lessons? You bet.

    Will they love it? We'll see. 🙂

  16. I have strong feelings on this subject, but I won't go too much into them. I took piano lessons for a year at age 9, got bored of it, and stopped. My parents never pushed me. If they had, I doubt I would be the professional musician I am today.

    But the point I want to make is that you speak of regrets, but there is no reason whatever why you can't start now. People talk like you have to start as a child in order to develop the habits you need to play well. That is completely false.

    In fact, in my experience, adults pick up the piano a heck of a lot faster than kids do. True, if they had started as a child, they would already be good now. But you have all the prerequisites to become a great musician. You have developed adult eye-hand coordination, you have emotional stability (that actually helps a LOT), and you have passion. Starting earlier just would have meant taking longer to learn to play because you'd be trying to develop those prerequisites at the same time.

    But you have to be honest with yourself, too. If you could go back and do it all again, you'd do just what you are doing now. If that involves starting to really learn to play, then great! But if you're not willing now to do whatever it would have taken then, then you wouldn't do it even if you could go back.

    My point is, if you wish you could play, start now. It's not too late, and you only think you have less time than you did then.

    But if you realize from this that you don't want to start now, that's totally fine! Why have regrets, then? You have spent your time doing what's most important to you, and if piano is not among those things, so be it – then it's good that you haven't been doing it, because, as previous commenters have said, you would have sacrificed things that really were most important to you.

    Okay, that's enough from me.



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