Should I give up the music?

A music teacher says: "Just mastering the technique does not give the music any meaning"

In Switzerland, 300,000 children and young people learn a musical instrument every year. But sooner or later most of them give up. Why actually? Music pedagogue Christian Berger has answers - and suggestions.

Mr. Berger, most children and young people in Switzerland learn a musical instrument. But at the latest when they are adults, they stop doing it. Why?

Christian Berger: One possible aspect is perhaps that music lessons will at some point become part of everyday school life and the homework associated with it. Practicing, which at the beginning is still associated with a desire to discover, turns into a duty. Since the lessons are voluntary, many stop again, for example when a new phase of life or school begins. This means that the instrument has lost its emotional meaning for the students. You played for your parents, for the teacher or for lessons, but no longer for yourself. This is how one deprives the music of its meaning and purpose.

Does that mean the music schools and teachers are doing something wrong?

The fact that there are around 400 public music schools in Switzerland where every child can learn an instrument is, first of all, a positive development in music education. The decisive factor, however, is how the material is conveyed. When the motto “faster, further, higher” rules, very few benefit from it. Music lessons should not only promote a talented or highly talented elite, but should also offer a place to everyone who wants to deal with music. All children should be able to experience what it feels like to express themselves with and through music.

To person

Christian Berger

The 58-year-old musician and composer is professor of elementary music education, specialist didactics and collective forms of music at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). He studied classical guitar at the Winterthur Conservatory.

And that happens too little?

Let's put it this way: It is a great challenge for every teacher to keep their students' original joy in playing. If you get the feeling that it's more about practicing than making music, then something is wrong.

Practicing is, so to speak, the dark side of the music lesson. Still, it doesn't work without it. As a teacher, how do you convey the desire to practice?

To practice means to deal with yourself. You can learn that too. If this is difficult, it often helps to join a group, for example to play in a band, in brass music, in a chamber ensemble. Music is a social glue. Today many music schools have recognized this and offer various forms of making music together. It is also nice when a child has the opportunity to make music in their own family and they notice that adults also have to practice and make mistakes. That encourages you to stick with it.

Nevertheless, if you want to get ahead, you have to work on your skills. And that is usually a lonely activity.

It is all the more important that the music you play means something to you. That you understand it as a personal expression. Just mastering the technique does not give the music any meaning. Only when I notice that technology helps me to express myself musically better and more adeptly does making music acquire its own value. I notice: I am practicing for myself and not for the teacher.

Is the first instrument you choose actually decisive for the course of your musical development?

It used to be said that an instrument is for life, but that is cheese. Younger children in particular are not yet able to judge very well whether the choice of their instrument will still be the right decision in a few years' time. If not, you just switch again. It seems to me that the first encounter with the teacher and what kind of learning experience this conveys is much more important. This has a bigger effect on the students than the choice of instrument.

Then put another way: What are the criteria for choosing an instrument?

It has to be a fun choice, not a practical one. Just because there's a piano standing around at home doesn't mean that you should choose the piano.

In the past there was only the classical way to learn an instrument. Today you are more broadly positioned: pop, jazz, folk music - everything is possible. Do you like that?

In any case. Why should a girl who wants to play electric guitar in a rock band practice classical guitar for years first? The music lessons should not exclude, but pick up each individual there where his possibilities and interests lie. But even that is only useful if the pupil understands the instrument as a means of personal expression. As a means of communication and exchange. Or even just to occupy yourself with yourself.

Many give up at some point because they feel like they are not making any progress. That the effort is not worth it. You lose confidence. How do you prevent that?

Good teachers should give their students the feeling in every learning phase that music is really being made in the classroom. And you are not in a constant preliminary stage of it. Learners need to be able to recognize and name their progress. My advice to parents: listen to your child making music and express your joy at it. Give him the space he needs to develop his skills and you don't always know everything better. Supporting the child is the responsibility of the parents; correcting mistakes is the responsibility of the music educator.

Adult amateur musicians in particular may at some point ask themselves: Is it still worth spending money on lessons if I stagnate at my level?

The question doesn't have to be how far I can get with the music, but how deeply I can immerse myself in the music I play. Where does she take me personally? Do I enjoy it even if I don't end up playing like Carlos Santana or Arthur Rubinstein? Here the teacher needs a sure instinct. It must be demanding, but not overwhelming. It should support and enjoy making music together.

Well, there are different talents. That means there have to be different paths and goals in music lessons, right?

Yes. Music lessons are always a confrontation with the individual student. Ideally, a good teacher or music teacher combines their own experiences with the different needs and requirements that their students bring with them. The goal of music lessons shouldn't be that all students become professionals. One of them may be content to play a few chords on the piano or guitar. It is important that making music is and remains a positive experience.

Many adults later regret quitting their instrument. How do you get people to start making music again after a long break?

Here, too, I recommend making music in a group. Playing in an ensemble is not only more fun, it can also help to regain confidence in yourself. Perhaps a few lessons will be enough to uncover something that has been lost and to show you ways in which you can make music with relish. It shouldn't be about telling someone who wants to resume lessons that they will have to practice two hours a day for the next ten years, but primarily about rekindling the fire.

If you accompany a student over several years, what is your goal as a music teacher?

Your independence. If someone says to me after a few years: I've learned enough to keep playing on my own, then I've achieved my goal. I was always happy when my students said to me: “Mr. Berger, thank you, but now I don't need you anymore. I know how to do it and I can go on alone. " It's like taking a patient out of their infusion. It is sad when, after years of frustration, someone quits lessons and no longer touches the instrument. Then something went wrong.