Do you know why students have been coming home in recent years with summer reading lists? I am sure you do. Experience shows that students who don’t continue reading over the summer find their skills lagging once the school year resumes (especially new readers). As parents and teachers we also know that many other skills, notably, math, language and even attention to homework become rusty over the summer break requiring a great deal of renewing and reviewing at the beginning of each school year.
Another analogy is exercise. Many people work out regularly, walking, running, sessions at the gym, etc. The goal is to realize all of the health benefits of doing so or to train for events such as marathons or competitions. We know innately that we couldn’t maintain a work out routine for ten months and then quit for two months each year. Maintaining the physical and mental benefits of training and exercising require a year round commitment. Once you stop exercising the benefits begin to deteriorate slowly and after several months those benefits can actually be lost completely.
I am sure you know where I am going with this! All of the above goes for learning to play a music instrument as well. All of the benefits of ten months of music lessons can quickly evaporate over summer vacation. Music reading skills are not kept fresh, muscle memory diminishes quickly and as we know from our own experience, once we let go of a discipline it is often difficult to get back into the rhythm of setting aside the time and doing the work. Generally what happens is that once lessons resume in the fall there can be some disappointment that creates a bit of a struggle. Some students work through it but once in a while a student can become so frustrated by their decline that they don’t want to continue lessons into the new school year. It is psychologically much easier to learn something the first time around. Re-learning can be tedious.
As previously discussed, practicing a musical instrument must be a regular and continuous activity. For some students and families summer actually affords more time for honing musical skills. Yet what we hear is that the students need a break, a sentiment that seems connected to the traditional ten month school year. The message seems to be that to enjoy a carefree summer vacation, everything needs to be put on hold. Students do need the time afforded by summer break to relax, vacation, attend camp if that is a family tradition, run around out of doors, swim, play with friends, etc. But even so, maintaining the structure of some day to day routines can be beneficial. Children learn many things from routine, most importantly that things run more smoothly if they are organized and predictable. Lessons and practice are routines worth holding onto. Encouraging students to do so helps convey the message that they are not an unsavory activity that they need to have a break from , but rather something that they work at for their own enjoyment. Many teachers use the summer months to lighten up after the spring recital, introducing new repertoire and skills such as music composition where students learn to write and perform their own original pieces!
If your summer provides hours and hours of unstructured time, why not protect the investment you have already made in lessons by continuing those lessons over the summer? After all, most students are not practicing hours per day anyway (and those that are do not stop their lessons over the summer or any other time). A weekly lesson and a bit of practice each day or at least several days a week, some household chores and chipping away at the summer reading list can actually provide a healthy dose of needed structure. The enduring social and psychological benefits of music are as enormous as those of school and sports in many of the same and in some different ways, all of which have been discussed in previous posts.
Perhaps your summer is packed with other activities and travel. If your child will be away for large chunks of time it is still possible to preserve some of the progress they have made. Intermittent lessons can be scheduled one or two at a time during those times when the child is available and practice can be kept up with a little determination. Might there be a piano the child can play a few times a week at the camp they are attending? Can they bring their instrument to the shore house? The continuation of regular weekly lessons is of course the ideal but when that is literally impossible to do there are still other arrangements that can be made to prevent as much loss of progress as possible which maximizes the overall experience and chance to succeed to the fullest.
Do we have a vested interest in your continuing lessons over the summer? Of course we do. But we also have a vested interest in seeing our students do well and enjoy what they do. Additionally, it is important to us that we are providing an excellent return on the money you are investing in music education. The attrition of skills and technique lost over the long summer break will ultimately result in those skills and techniques having to be re-learned upon your return in the autumn. From the perspective of money spent wisely and well, lessons should continue during the summer months. We want to see our students succeed. Those who make the most of their musical experience over the years do tend to keep their lessons going year round.