This is a fantastic article found on this website by Theresa Chen

As a private piano teacher, I have taught students young and old, from ages 3 and up.  The longer I taught, the more I began to see a pattern of the stages that piano students go through.  I saw my young students start out extremely enthusiastic about their music study, then lose interest, then go through a zig-zag of motivation, gain interest again, then quit.  For a small majority of students, they would continue piano studies until they graduated high school, but this was rare.  Student drop out rates were an issue.  Hence, I began thinking and researching about the issue of piano student drop out rates, and why and when piano students decide to quit lessons.
In this article, I will discuss my findings on:

  • the 6 stages of piano study
  • the average drop out age of piano students (i.e., at what age piano students typically quit lessons)
  • why piano students quit lessons

The 6 stages of piano study

Stage 1 (ages 4-6): “Listen to me play, everybody!”
In this pre-piano stage, children love to make sounds on the piano just for the sake of being able to make sounds themselves.  The concept of music is fascinating and they enjoy being able to be in control and produce sounds out of an instrument with their own hands.  Children typically learn through peer group interaction and like being in groups, hence their motto: “listen to me play, everybody!”

Stage 2 (ages 7-8): “Not now, later.”
Once piano students enter the beginner and late beginner stages, they find that playing the piano actually takes practice.  This is different than before, when playing the piano was fun and like playing a game.  All of a sudden, motivation levels have dropped because now piano actually takes work.  Note reading is difficult and each lesson is getting progressively harder.  The student gets discouraged.  The lesson time is often spent with the teacher practicing with the student what they were supposed to practice at home.

Stage 3 (ages 9-10): “Look mom – with my eyes closed!”
Students have gotten past the difficult stage of note reading and music concepts begin to make sense.  For some reason, something has “clicked” in the students’ minds and they figured out note reading through ‘every good boy does fine’ or other means.  Usually at this stage the student’s goal is to play as fast as possible or play pieces memorized with their eyes closed, in attempts to show off to family and friends.  At this age, students enjoy flashcards as a means of learning, showy pieces, and tunes they recognize.  Regular practice time can still remain a challenge due to distractions at home (i.e., video games, television, internet, friends, etc.).

Stage 4 (age 11): “Why can’t I have good music – like rock or pop?”
At this age, the adolescent child begins many changes, and it can be quite difficult to continue with piano lessons.  Their world is moving out of the family structure and into a world of peer association and approval.  Students are in the early intermediate stage and teachers often begin introducing students to easy pieces from the classical era (i.e., Minuets, Sonatinas, etc.).  This type of music is so far out of line of what the student enjoys to listen to on a daily basis.  The student wonders why they can’t play “cooler” music like the Harry Potter theme song or the rock song they heard on the radio.  The student gets discouraged, do not care much for their progress at the piano, and playing the piano is no longer cool.

Stage 5 (ages 12-14): “I want to quit.”
After Stage 4, students often have resentment towards learning the piano.  It takes away from the student’s free time, it is hard work to learn the music concepts, and requires a lot of practice that the child does not have diligence for.  The teacher has expressed some frustration toward the child and the parent is placing pressure on the student to keep practicing, furthering the child’s resentment towards music lessons.  The student is not playing music he or she likes anyway, and figures the easiest thing to is to quit lessons.  Unless the parent continues to force the child to go to lessons, many students quit at this age.  Parent involvement and support is very important at this stage to ensure that the student continues learning.  Even if the parent just has the student merely “show up” to the weekly lessons until the student passes the growing pain hurdles, that is better than the student quitting on his or her own terms.  This is the stage that adults who once learned piano often look back on later and regret that they quit.

Stage 6 (ages 15-16): (If you get past the growing pain hurdles) “No more kid stuff.”
After a rough patch of frustration by the student, parents, and teacher, the student will begin to gain an appreciation for classical music in the advanced repertoire.  Students will begin to feel satisfied from their ability to play difficult pieces, and the teacher will begin guiding the student on artistry and interpretation aspects of music pieces.  The students are approaching adulthood and begin to take on responsibility without reminders.  Usually they are taking piano lessons because they want to.  The student and teacher begin to develop a strong bond of mutual respect and students can become very close to their piano teachers.

Assessment and Conclusion

As discussed above, the average age that students quit lessons is around ages 12 to 14 (stage 5 out of 6).  Students often quit at stage 5 because of their desire to seek peer attention and approval, their realization that learning the piano is hard work, and distractions from other activities, friends, and technology.

Note that Stage 5 is extremely close to the last and final phase of a child’s piano study.  I always found it a shame that students often quit at a time (unknown to them) that is right before their motivation level that is about to shoot through the roof.  If the student were to continue for an additional year or two, the graph above displays how their motivation level will become far higher than they have ever experienced in their lives.  This is why parent involvement is extremely important in Stage 5.  It is highly recommended that parents continue taking their child to lessons, even when the child resists and wishes to quit.  Parents should realize that this is just the growing pain hurdles of piano study, and once the student passes this stage, they will develop their own self-motivation to learn the piano.

Once the student reaches Stage 6, the child will likely continue with little further effort by the parent.  And as an adult, the student will thank the parent wholeheartedly later for pushing them to continue through the growing pains.