The 3 most challenging transitions in the music education journey

When I prepare a concert program, I spend the majority of my time on transitions. It’s the most challenging part of performance and if you can make transitions look effortless, you win. Just like performance, learning to play an instrument also has transitions and they are just as difficult.

Now that I teach, I see my students challenged in the same battles that I once fought:

Starting off

Problem: Getting a rocket off the ground takes more energy than propelling it upward once it’s going.

How do you start students so that they have a great foundation?

Starting to learn an instrument is incredibly difficult and has a high rate of failure if the right environment is not cultivated. Students need to develop a love for music before they can develop mastery. What values do you push in the lessons so that students and parents succeed?

I believe in habits and do everything I can to make parents aware of it. “My daughter doesn’t want to practice.” My answer, “Of course not, it’s hard work. And she just started lessons last week. Help her make practice a habit. If you make practice a part of her daily routine (even just 1 minute) then the chances of her succeeding are higher.”

Habits run our life and over time they decide many of our outcomes. Make practice a habit. Do you think about brushing your teeth?

Teenage years

Problem: Confusion about who you are as a person.

Is music a part of my identity?

I think this question is a subconcious one, but definitely active in my students who are going through this transition. Music should be more than good for them – it must be fun and boost their confidence.

What is so powerful is the idea of being different. Learning music gives you a special ability that most people do not have – it’s an emotional outlet and a universal connector. Continuing music through middle school opens up so many opportunities for students: youth orchestra, band, chamber music, church choir and solo competitions. Depending on the student they can shape their own life by the circles they are in. With music they have a tight bond they can lean on during the frustrating days and put them in a better place. All they need to do is close their door and play to themselves.

For me, this was the time period when I shifted my understanding of music as a “thing I do” to more of a “relationship”.

Last years of high school

Problem: AP classes, college prep and social life make learning an instrument difficult.

How do you make time for learning music when life is getting so busy? What happened to the days of just playing outside until dinner?

High school students need loads of emotional support as they head towards graduation. Thankfully they have known their piano teacher for at least a few years and at best – since they were 5 years old. How’s that for trust?

I took the last two years off of high school to practice full time in preparation for my music career. But music can also be an academic supplement for students and help them standout for college. This is what I’ve seen in my own students more recently as I’ve helped them put together video recordings, performance organizations, publish music and write recommendations for them. Students at this stage believe music is an achievement they want to announce to others, showing off their years of dedication.

These phases and transitions in music education are full of ups and downs, but I really love going through them with my students. It’s incredibly emotional to see the journey and understand their pain and joy.

What are your experiences through these transitions?


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