Summer Music lessons: To Play or Not To Play?

Summer is a magical time for children. School and homework are tossed out the window, and sunny days of biking, swimming and relaxing stretch endlessly ahead.  Summer is the time to kick back in the grass and do nothing for three months!


What about music lessons?  Do those go “out the window” as well?  For many families, summer music lessons pose a dilemma.  Should the child be expected to continue the schedule and maintain a consistent practice record, or should parents give their child a break and give him the summer off?


Most educators will agree that, when at all possible, families should elect to continue with lessons! There are several excellent reasons for this:


1.  Students lose progress when they take a break.  Do you remember what it was like to return to math class when school resumed after the summer?  Math teachers spent weeks on review in September in order to get the class back to the level of achievement from the previous school year.  Music is no different!  Technique and theory will be rusty after a three month break; significant time and energy must be expended to get your child’s skills back to the pre-break level.  Your child may feel discouraged when he starts up with his lessons in the fall and realizes he has a lot of “make-up” work ahead of him.


2. Students who take a break from music lessons may not re-enroll.   The transition between summer and fall is a hectic time with school shopping, registering for classes and fall activities, as well as  the return of homework, a structured schedule and new social opportunities.  Re-enrolling in music lessons can very easily be deferred, forgotten, or relegated to the bottom of the priorities list as children move on to new activities.


3. Children need at least a little bit of structure in their lives.  A summer of endless free time is not necessarily a good thing.  Bored children tend to get into trouble.  Retaining some structure with concrete expectations–while at the same time allowing time for swimming, biking and hanging out with friends–provides a healthy balance of activities and prevents “re-entry shock” when September rolls around.


In a perfect world, all children would be able to continue their music lessons during the summer break without stress or interference in family recreational plans.  But what if that just won’t work for your family? In a real world, schedules are more complex.  Families must make plans which fit their needs and lifestyle. For some families, maintaining a lesson schedule during the summer is simply too complicated, too stressful, or logistically impossible:


“We are just too busy during the summer to continue with lessons.  Jake has scout camp for two weeks at the end of June, Dana has summer softball.  We are going up to Italy for three weeks in July, and have relatives staying with us for 10 days in August.”


“Carlie is an honor student.  During the school year she is involved in Youth Group, basketball, drama, and swimming.  She is working hard to maintain her GPA.  She is so stressed during the school year that she NEEDS the summer off.”


“Sarah spends her summer with her Grandma in Manitoba.”


If music lessons cannot be continued through the summer, how can children maintain their skills and be prepared to jump back into lessons in the fall?  With a little creativity, it is possible!  Try one of these strategies:


1.  Enroll your child in at least one week-long orchestra, band or choir camp–either an overnight camp or a local day camp.  Your local recreation center might also offer some short-term options.


2.  Just before summer break begins, ask your child’s music teacher to provide or suggest some “fun” music to play over the summer.  Ask your child to spend five minutes a day  practicing, playing anything he chooses.  If he is willing to do five minutes and is having fun, chances are good that he will spend 10 or 15 minutes or more!


3.  Ask each family member to choose a challenge for the summer. You might suggest that your child set a practice goal and keep track of his minutes over the summer.  Plan a celebration when he meets or beats his target.


4. If your child has friends who also take music lessons, invite them  over for a picnic and an informal  “jam session.”


Any amount of practicing will help to preserve your child’s skills, and the more relaxed schedule during the summer may encourage him to experiment with music and enjoy some recreational playing!