Wait…So, why do we HAVE to keep stretching our brains?
I guess the rule of thumb can be summarized thus: "Everything in moderation!" Taking an extended break from intellectual pursuits at any age has actually been proven detrimental for homo sapiens. Scientists found that the more mental stimulation in earlier childhood, the more developed the parts of the brain dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead (and for more about older students/adults' brains, click here).
In my experience both as a musician & educator (and one who keeps up with the studies on these topics), taking a COMPLETE break from anything that a kid is learning for three consecutive months is guaranteed to ensure that their retention rate will go down significantly, leading to a loss of at least 8 weeks' worth of lesson time & tuition investment (in other words, when they return to lessons & assuming all goes smoothly, that's how long it would take them to get back what they lost). Similar studies & rules dictate the adult brain, so older students should bear all of this in mind as well. This is perhaps the most important reason why we encourage music lessons continue throughout the summer, but it’s not the only one:
Grow More Enthusiasm! Sprinkling musical learning and activities throughout these three months encourages creativity, fun, and a continued sense of accomplishment. Taking too long of a break, on the other hand, invites an excruciating uphill battle in September to get a student back into the routine (of playing a musical instrument) in which so much ground has been lost.
Retain Your Beloved Teacher! More on this topic is below.
NOTE: While all these points are also applicable to adult students, most of this info is directed toward parents of younger students...
Avoid Loads of Corrections: If there’s one thing we all despise, it’s having to go back and make corrections to our work— especially kids! Students who don’t get enough instruction throughout the summer invariably come back with some bad technical habits on their instruments. The longer the period of time between lessons, the harder those habits will be to break and correct (Again, enthusiasm/encouragement is the name of the game; we’re trying to avoid having to battle discouragement!)
A Great Head Start: The school year is SO full for most families, it’s hard to catch our collective breath at times! For many, the summer is a time to recharge and take a break from the norm…and it can also be a great time to develop some new musical skills, styles, have fun trying out group lessons, maybe form a band with other interested students, or even try out an entirely new instrument! Whether a student finally gets a chance to nail his or her sense of rhythm or learns some fun summer piece to share with the family—these are great ways to get a “head start” before September arrives. For older students who are getting more advanced and participating in Festivals and/or Competitions that have deadlines, etc., it’s also a great time to get a head start on that repertoire.
Boredom Crusher: Never underestimate the power of a child to get bored…and quickly. Fun, varied musical endeavors in the mix will definitely help!
Why Summer is Actually the Perfect Time for Music Study
So, if we're being honest, I'm sure most of us would love to take off for a full 3 months and cavort in the Caribbean somewhere, maybe on a yacht (ideally, being waited on hand-&-foot while doing so), with our most difficult mental task being what to order for dinner. But for those of us who don't have that luxury, I have some words of encouragement: the wonderful world of science says that's not such a good idea anyway.
But We Won’t Be Around Enough!
Gone for most of the summer, you say? We work with many families who take longer stretches of vacations, as well as the schedules of day camps, etc. We are willing & able to be flexible and work with your schedule. As a reminder, Online Video Lessons continue to be a viable and helpful option for slipping in lessons. Even so, if the kids are unable to have ANY lessons for 2-4 weeks in a row here and there (or some other variation), that's still ok. Notice that we say 6 lessons are the required minimum, not 6 weeks. Many families schedule in two lessons during the weeks they are in town/available; morning/early afternoon lessons, later-evening...weekend lessons...you name it--there is generally more flexibility in the summer months with which we can work (whether you come to the studio, or an instructor comes to your home).
Oh Yeah…What’s the Official Summer Studio Policy again?
"Like most music schools, we are open year-round. Students continue through the summer, (barring vacations, etc.), and all students are expected to register for a minimum of 6 summer lessons. (Summer = 10 weeks between June & mid-August) This enrollment is a firm commitment that reserves your place in the studio for the following school year. In general, if you are unsure exactly what your summer is going to look like regarding lesson availability, we ask that you pay June tuition as normal, and we will then apply that payment to the next four lessons that occur (whether they are all in June, or spread out over the summer). Additional lessons can be paid for individually as they occur. You are also welcome to pay for all six (6) up front and use them whenever possible (assuming instructor availability).
Ultimately, as the director of the studios, it is my responsibility to remind you of the aforementioned policy &
to let you know that we would love to continue to work with each and every student we currently have (your
instructors truly have a blast working with you!), but ultimately, we respect whatever decision you make. I just
need to make sure everyone understands that the other issue mentioned in the Policy above is a real one--we
cannot hold nor guarantee lesson slots for students who essentially stop lessons for an entire three months.
We can HOPE there's room, but most likely, you would be placed on our waiting list. To clarify another
perspective: your instructors would dearly love to continue with you, but they also have to continue to pay
their bills and balance their schedules as well. When students take an extended leave and other students
subsequently come on board with those teachers during the summer, there's a very real risk that their Fall
schedules will no longer be able to accommodate everyone...and of course, as a general rule, students with
ongoing enrollment (as opposed to 3+ months with zero enrollment) will have to take first priority in the schedule.
This is nothing less than the reality under which we all have to function--for the sake of the students (memory, retention, etc.),
the studios (dedicated, thriving student body, etc.) and teachers (income, scheduling, etc.).
Is there Flexibility?
In closing, let me emphasize
again our willingness to work
around whatever schedule you
may have over the summer!
We had one student who was gone
for the middle-6-weeks of the summer last year, and at first, her parents didn't know how we would make it work--but it was pretty easy! She had two lessons per week during the weeks that she was here (mostly in the evening, due to day camp), and she also tried out a few of our fun group-piano classes. In the end, her mom told us that she absolutely LOVED her summer lessons and the fun, seasonly-appropriate songs & activities in the group classes, and not only did she retain what she had learned from last year, but it reinvigorated her as she started school again in the Fall.
As a reminder, online live-video lessons continue to be a well-received alternative to in-person lessons as well…and you don’t always have to have your instrument with you to do them either (We’ll be happy to furnish more info upon request)!
Please do share your thoughts (and perhaps, at least your tentative summer plans/schedule) when you can, and we'll move forward from there. Once we've got some idea about your individual summer schedule, we can happily get creative with crafting
a unique summer-lesson plan that works for you and your family. And for those of you cavorting on a yacht for all or part of the summer…at least be sure to bring along some good puzzles and a ukulele! ;-)
Director, Piano Lab
Note: This article was originally published in May 2019, and has been recently revised