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Summer Piano Lessons and Musical Progress

I used to believe that summer was a time to let go of piano lessons, to allow students a break from the tight schedule of weekly meetings during the school year. That was my perception until I slowly but surely realized how many holidays and Teacher institute breaks made September to June feel like 7 months instead of 9. (Oops, I forgot that many schools start in late August with Labor Day interrupting what might have been a jump start to serious study, musical or otherwise)

When I sat down with pad and pencil, tallying up Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King, President’s and Memorial Days, Professional Development and Parent/Teacher Conference interludes, I knew I was not dreaming up figures off the top of my head. (Did I forget Columbus Day?) If I factored in student absences for sickness and sports related events, 7 months diminished at a faster rate than “honey I shrunk the kids.”

In New York City, my home “town,” where I attended public schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, the last day of school was always June 30th or the nearest weekday if the calendar offset the number 30 with a Saturday or Sunday.

Here in Fresno, California the race to the finish line has been around the first week of June or a few days past, while neighboring Clovis boasts an extra week or two of school. That District touts an intensely academic focus.

Nevertheless, if schools are for the most part economizing on days serving students during the year, and if this has a ripple effect on attendance at piano lessons, then the summer should be considered catch up time instead of an excuse to dodge learning until LABOR day ushers in another non-laborious first semester filled with the big Holiday interruptions, Thanksgiving and Christmas beside the others enumerated.

It’s a miracle that any progress is made from September to June given this holiday burdened calendar. (not to mention the compulsive TESTING periods that seem to bring anything musical to a grinding halt)

I, for one, experience a mad rush to schedule a recital before the “breaks” occur because those are traditionally times students will not be practicing. When mid-year arrives, the Christmas musical gathering that should have taken place BEFORE the trees are decorated, has been preempted by a school district instigated three-week furlough through New Year’s Day, plus an extra 24 hours thrown in for good measure. Those “measures” are shrinking by the musical minute.

Not surprisingly, students who make the most progress take lessons during the summer. (at least for one month if not more) Parents who make it a point to inquire about the availability of lessons for July and August most often take a vital interest in piano lessons from the start and want to know how their children are faring. They are receptive to acquiring information that will help children move along in their studies so they will make progress, and better enjoy the musical journey. In the same discussion about summer musical opportunities, a teacher might suggest local music camps or programs at the nearby university or community college that might enrich piano studies.

What is truly reasonable to expect in the summer?

If a family is not off to Japan, Korea, or Austria (locales a few of my students traveled to for months at a time) why not suggest at least a month of continuous lessons–either through July or August. Don’t forget the lion’s share of June that is without school and could accommodate classes.

Better yet, taking lessons during the months of July and August would have a salutary effect on playing and would most likely be remediation for time lost during the school year.

In truth, parents wouldn’t have a second thought about having a child tutored during the summer months who needed extra help in academic areas (Math, English, foreign language) so why not apply the same to piano study?

Often students quit piano because they fall so far behind in their practicing that it’s no longer a joy to make music. The same roadblocks pop up in pieces and frustration builds. No matter what supports the teacher gives the student, these are to no avail if attendance wanes and long periods away from the instrument feed malaise and apathy.

Summer lessons can actually be an enticement to learn “new” music in the popular genre, or in a style a student particularly favors, especially if there is expanded time in the day to practice. However, regardless of musical genre, the same discipline of learning in baby steps embodied in a natural ripening process applies. There’s no escaping regular exposure to practicing with a patient, step-wise approach.

Finally, if a piano teacher is available to mentor your child during the summer, take advantage of the opportunity and give your son or daughter the gift of further lessons. If a youngster is to start lessons in the fall as a beginner and August is a free month, give him/her a head start at a time unencumbered by school, homework, and TESTING related obligations. Try your best to schedule around LABOR day which celebrates our nation’s workers of all varieties.


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