How to Quit Piano Lessons

Well, folks, we've made it. The recital is over. There are only a few more weeks of school left. The end of the year is upon us. It's the time of year when, as activities are winding down, parents start to think about which of those activities their kids will commit to for the upcoming school year. It's one of the times of year when I'm likely, as a private music teacher, to see turnover in my studio.

I've thought about writing this for a long time. Through online teacher communities and attendance at conferences, I've come to know piano colleagues all over the world. I've heard other teachers say the same things that I've been thinking. Over the years when I've had a student leave the studio, I've sometimes found myself wishing that that student had left differently. How's that? Follow me.

We Know

A lot of times it's not a surprise when a student is going to quit. As much as we'd like it to be, piano isn't a great fit for every student. Not every teacher is a great fit, either. Sometimes a student is over-committed and music just isn't the activity of priority. Perhaps your child hasn't been practicing for the last 8 months. Perhaps you've canceled more lessons recently than you've attended. The signs are often there, and we aren't blind to them. So if we know... and if you know... and if the student knows... then why can't we talk about it? I may suspect that you're going to quit, but I likely won't be the first to bring it up because I might also be wrong. I don't want you to think that I want you to leave! 

Sometimes You Don't Have To Quit

It's true. What are your reasons for wanting to stop lessons? There may be a solution that would make everyone happy that doesn't involve you leaving lessons entirely. If time is the problem, perhaps there is a modified schedule that the teacher is willing to try. If the teacher's program is too rigorous, you may be able to continue with lessons but bow out of festivals or performances. If your reasons are financial, there may be a barter arrangement or a reduced fee schedule that the teacher is willing to work out. Sometimes a switch in instrument is what's called for. Talk to your teacher. There are times when we're willing and able to make changes that will make a big difference.

And sometimes not. Sometimes it really is time to stop with a particular teacher. So when it is, please call it what it is. I've been teaching for 22 years, and I've got lots of students who are currently "taking a break." I'm still waiting for that break to be over. I've seen some of them graduate, go off to college and start their adult lives while still "taking a break." You don't need to let us down easy. Unless you truly, truly think that you will someday be back, let us know that you're stopping lessons. We'll all part in a more settled manner if you just call it what it is.

Here's How We Want You To Do It

1) Let Us Know Ahead Of Time

The truth is, every single student that we teach is going to stop lessons eventually. Some will stop after 6 months or a year. Some will stop after 8 or 12 years. Some adults will keep going for longer than that. But no one will continue forever. In our time together, though, we develop a relationship unlike many others. It was once pointed out to me that the private music teacher is often then only non-parent adult who a child spends one-on-one time with during the week. It's not the same as the relationship you have with a dentist or a hair stylist. Yes, we are technically service professionals. But we get to know things about your child that the dentist never will -- how s/he thinks and learns, how s/he will best accept corrections, what kind of literature is best suited for him/her. Your child tells us knock-knock jokes before the lesson starts and draws us pictures for our fridges. We pick out stickers that we think your child will like the best and give hugs to relieve stage fright or for a job well done. Have you ever hugged your dentist?

So in light of this special relationship, there is nothing more disheartening than finding out a half hour before the lesson is to start that you won't be there. Ever. We've likely planned for that upcoming lesson and have a trajectory for the next three or four out. We're looking at the long term. So if quitting is in the short term, we want to know. We understand that things may change -- just keep us updated. But don't let it be a surprise. 

2) Give Us A Chance To Close Our Time Together

A last lesson with a student can make a huge difference in how both teacher and child remember the entire history of lessons. A last lesson won't look like the lessons that came before. It's a time for both the student and teacher to safely put this journey to rest. I like to go back to some of the student's favorite pieces and play through those. Perhaps we'll make a list of pieces that they may wish to play through at some point in the future. It's sometimes nice to do something collaborative like play a duet or an improvisation or even a game. More than anything, a last lesson is a time where the student can be reassured that the teacher does not "hate" them for quitting and where both teacher and student get a chance to say goodbye. A last lesson together can prevent awkward encounters in the grocery store in the future. And it can leave the door easily open for things like letters of recommendation or even a return to lessons in the future.

3) Respect Your Teacher's Policies For Terminating

Teachers have studio policies to protect themselves. Remember that this is our livelihood. We may have something in our policy about how much notice we need or about how to settle final payments. I ask that families provide me with either one month's notice or one month's tuition. This is to allow me some time to fill your student's spot. Even with a waiting list in place, I can't always have someone in that spot in seven days. I can guarantee, though, that I'll need to eat, buy gas, and pay bills during those seven days. So asking for that last tuition payment isn't meant to be mean or a way for me to squeeze a little more blood out of a withering relationship. It's asking for respect for our profession and the way that we put food on our own family's table. Please ask your teacher what his/her policies for termination are. We may feel awkward about telling you after you've announced that you're taking your leave. And if we present our policies to you, please respect them. There is a good reason that we ask for this.

In Closing...

I do hope that if any of my former students are reading this they don't feel this is directed at them. It's not. This comes from 22 years worth of students starting and stopping and 22 years worth of gathered stories and experience. This comes from my desire to have children grow up with fond memories of piano lessons and not with a habit of ducking and covering if they see their teacher in the parking lot. This comes from little heartaches I've had over the years as I wrestle with knowing that at the end of the day, I run a business, but also knowing that that business touches something emotional for both me and my students. We've been on a journey together. Whether it's been smooth or bumpy, that journey deserves a proper ending. This is just a guide.

Do you have any thoughts about quitting lessons? Other things that teachers would like to see happen? Stories, good or bad, about when you left lessons? Leave them in the comments below. 

15 comments

  • Valerie

    Valerie

    Great article. I loved it

    Great article. I loved it

  • Alex Roth

    Alex Roth

    This is great advice and some things that students and their parents may not have considered. I know that I have some of these same concerns and experiences as a psychotherapist. The reasons people don't end the relationship properly include fear of hurting the provider's feelings, fear of emotional goodbyes, fear of saying it wrong, and just plain dislike of partings, but we all have to face this part of life eventually and you get better with practice. I wonder if parents know that teaching your child how to say goodbye is part of parenting.

    This is great advice and some things that students and their parents may not have considered. I know that I have some of these same concerns and experiences as a psychotherapist. The reasons people don't end the relationship properly include fear of hurting the provider's feelings, fear of emotional goodbyes, fear of saying it wrong, and just plain dislike of partings, but we all have to face this part of life eventually and you get better with practice. I wonder if parents know that teaching your child how to say goodbye is part of parenting.

  • Patricia Claussen

    Patricia Claussen Michigan

    Excellent. So well thought out. Wow.

    Excellent. So well thought out. Wow.

  • Martha Yasuda

    Martha Yasuda Atlanta, GA

    I think this is great! I am considering including something similar to this in my policy letter I pass out to new students. I recently had several students leave without much notice. The hardest part was not being able to properly say, "Goodbye." Thanks for sharing!

    I think this is great! I am considering including something similar to this in my policy letter I pass out to new students. I recently had several students leave without much notice. The hardest part was not being able to properly say, "Goodbye." Thanks for sharing!

  • Susan

    Susan NH

    Very helpful article. The hardest and most heart wrenching thing for me is losing a student whom I've taught for a few years (or longer) through a "Dear John" email from the parent. It just happened recently. First, they decided not to sign up for ANY summer lessons having done them in the past. At their last June lesson , I ask the student is she'll be back in the Fall. She says she's nut sure and acts uncomfortable. Then I double check with an email the following week about summer lessons. the reason given does not make sense. They don't know about Fall yet. I then contact everyone at beginning of August and immediately get the Dear John email citing the traffic as the reason for switching to a closer teacher. Really? I could have offered them a different time..No closure for me with my content student progressing nicely who was just about to go into a new set of books I had already purchased. and I feel totally unappreciated and cry.

    Very helpful article. The hardest and most heart wrenching thing for me is losing a student whom I've taught for a few years (or longer) through a "Dear John" email from the parent. It just happened recently. First, they decided not to sign up for ANY summer lessons having done them in the past. At their last June lesson , I ask the student is she'll be back in the Fall. She says she's nut sure and acts uncomfortable. Then I double check with an email the following week about summer lessons. the reason given does not make sense. They don't know about Fall yet. I then contact everyone at beginning of August and immediately get the Dear John email citing the traffic as the reason for switching to a closer teacher. Really? I could have offered them a different time..No closure for me with my content student progressing nicely who was just about to go into a new set of books I had already purchased. and I feel totally unappreciated and cry.

  • Preston

    Preston

    My parents are making me do piano lessons and I don't think they are the right thing for me what should I do I don't want hurt feeling but I don't want to take piano either and I DO think my teacher hates me so anything???

    My parents are making me do piano lessons and I don't think they are the right thing for me what should I do I don't want hurt feeling but I don't want to take piano either and I DO think my teacher hates me so anything???

  • Savana

    Savana

    My parents refuse to allow me to practice. They force me to go to lessons yet they will NOT let me practice. All I get to play is some old country tunes beneath my level or I am yelled at. Mom is always on the phone, and she and Dad watch T.V. In the living room and refuse to go to their room. I have remained on the same level (6) for the past four years. My teacher wants me to quit. She didn't outright say it but I know she does. How can I convince them to let me practice piano

    My parents refuse to allow me to practice. They force me to go to lessons yet they will NOT let me practice. All I get to play is some old country tunes beneath my level or I am yelled at. Mom is always on the phone, and she and Dad watch T.V. In the living room and refuse to go to their room. I have remained on the same level (6) for the past four years. My teacher wants me to quit. She didn't outright say it but I know she does. How can I convince them to let me practice piano

  • Libby Wiebel - Singer, Songwriter, & Private Music Teacher

    Libby Wiebel - Singer, Songwriter, & Private Music Teacher

    Savana and Preston -- I have a new blog post coming out soon that I think will help the both of you. Hold on, and I'll try and have it out next week!

    Savana and Preston -- I have a new blog post coming out soon that I think will help the both of you. Hold on, and I'll try and have it out next week!

  • Emily

    Emily Earth

    Basically I've actually quited piano and dint say say goodbye to the teacher and I've recently joined another piano lessons with a different teacher.But I wanna quit but my my parents will probably be mad and the teacher HATES me...really hates me.I always feel a really big weight when its almost my piano lesson ...what should I do?

    Basically I've actually quited piano and dint say say goodbye to the teacher and I've recently joined another piano lessons with a different teacher.But I wanna quit but my my parents will probably be mad and the teacher HATES me...really hates me.I always feel a really big weight when its almost my piano lesson ...what should I do?

  • David

    David NYC

    I wish I could quit without the guilt. In the instant matter I read the entire article including responses, and neither I nor anyone I know takes piano lessons

    I wish I could quit without the guilt. In the instant matter I read the entire article including responses, and neither I nor anyone I know takes piano lessons

  • Noe

    Noe NYC

    I am gonna quit soon and this helped me in all sorts of ways!!!

    I am gonna quit soon and this helped me in all sorts of ways!!!

  • lucia

    lucia wellington

    i downright hate piano. my dad is the one that has to pay, and he is cool about me quitting piano, but my mom forces me to practice, and when she was a little girl she had to choose between dancing, or piano, and she chose dancing, so i think she wants me to do what she wasn't able to do. she says i have a gift. i say ive been doing piano for 6 years so im good. i don't wanna never play the piano again, cause its fun. i just dont want lessons. when i tell my mom i dont want to play the piano, im gonna say 'well if im gifted, then i can teach myself and i dont need lessons.' its only half way through the year but holidays are in 5 weeks or so and i wanna stop then, Im quite shy, so i dont think i would be able to tell my teacher 1 on 1 that i dont want to do piano. she would try to talk me out of it, but i think ive made up my mind. the hard thing is, im half way through my exams. my family doesn't have a lot of money-my dad has a paying job, but my mom doesnt have a job and my moms house is still not bought, so my dad gives a 3rd of his money to her every fork night. aswell as paying for food, gas, rent, me and my brother, his uniforms, field trips, bus drives, etc-he has to pay 350$ every lesson once a week, and i dont think that's fair. as im writing this my moms in france and its been 3 weeks and i havnt practiced a single piece or done my theory try, cause i dont like it. i dont like piano. i dont like my teacher. i dont like exams, or recitles, and it has made a big impact on my life-insomnia, stress, and anxiety. i can never sleep at night cause i have these thoughts in my head about my piano teacher scolding me for not doing anything, and not knowing all of the note names. in my 6 years of piano, ive foind that i prefer to do my own fingering, i prefer to play the song my own way. i know its not correct, but this is what i find best. my teacher doesnt like it when i do this. i think i might send a long email to my mom tommorrow explaining that i don't want to do piano anymore. ill tell her not to bring it up on skype so theres no drama with my brother, my brother got to quit when he was 9, and i regret not taking advantae of that moment and quit then and there. i realise im completly thinking outloud here. more like a diary. it feels good to finally tell someone-that someone being anyone anywhere. from lucia joyce

    i downright hate piano. my dad is the one that has to pay, and he is cool about me quitting piano, but my mom forces me to practice, and when she was a little girl she had to choose between dancing, or piano, and she chose dancing, so i think she wants me to do what she wasn't able to do. she says i have a gift. i say ive been doing piano for 6 years so im good. i don't wanna never play the piano again, cause its fun. i just dont want lessons. when i tell my mom i dont want to play the piano, im gonna say 'well if im gifted, then i can teach myself and i dont need lessons.'
    its only half way through the year but holidays are in 5 weeks or so and i wanna stop then, Im quite shy, so i dont think i would be able to tell my teacher 1 on 1 that i dont want to do piano. she would try to talk me out of it, but i think ive made up my mind. the hard thing is, im half way through my exams. my family doesn't have a lot of money-my dad has a paying job, but my mom doesnt have a job and my moms house is still not bought, so my dad gives a 3rd of his money to her every fork night. aswell as paying for food, gas, rent, me and my brother, his uniforms, field trips, bus drives, etc-he has to pay 350$ every lesson once a week, and i dont think that's fair. as im writing this my moms in france and its been 3 weeks and i havnt practiced a single piece or done my theory try, cause i dont like it. i dont like piano. i dont like my teacher. i dont like exams, or recitles, and it has made a big impact on my life-insomnia, stress, and anxiety. i can never sleep at night cause i have these thoughts in my head about my piano teacher scolding me for not doing anything, and not knowing all of the note names. in my 6 years of piano, ive foind that i prefer to do my own fingering, i prefer to play the song my own way. i know its not correct, but this is what i find best. my teacher doesnt like it when i do this.
    i think i might send a long email to my mom tommorrow explaining that i don't want to do piano anymore. ill tell her not to bring it up on skype so theres no drama with my brother, my brother got to quit when he was 9, and i regret not taking advantae of that moment and quit then and there. i realise im completly thinking outloud here. more like a diary. it feels good to finally tell someone-that someone being anyone anywhere.
    from lucia joyce

  • Jason Brown

    Jason Brown Virginia Beach

    Great read about the procedures, and feelings associated with terminating lessons. I can definitely relate! I have "very last" lesson coming up for a student this week. We've already done the song and dance of one extra month of lessons, and this is the actual final lesson. She has barely practiced in months, and consequently doesn't really have any repertoire to play through at the lesson. I was wondering if you (or anyone here) has any ideas on what we might fill our final 30 minutes with this week, so that we are not going through the motions of playing through music which she can't exactly play, and will almost definitely never look at again. Thanks for any positive ideas!

    Great read about the procedures, and feelings associated with terminating lessons. I can definitely relate! I have "very last" lesson coming up for a student this week. We've already done the song and dance of one extra month of lessons, and this is the actual final lesson. She has barely practiced in months, and consequently doesn't really have any repertoire to play through at the lesson. I was wondering if you (or anyone here) has any ideas on what we might fill our final 30 minutes with this week, so that we are not going through the motions of playing through music which she can't exactly play, and will almost definitely never look at again. Thanks for any positive ideas!

  • Henry

    Henry Fort Thomas, KY

    I really don’t want to do piano anymore; it give me great stress because my mom seems to beat me up when I don’t play the notes correctly. (She threatened to cut off my finger with a knife.) If I say I quit, she would probably kill me. I also don’t want to commit to it because I love my teacher, I enjoy interacting with her, I like seeing her every week. I feel like quitting will break her (and my) heart, but I also feel like it’s for my own good, if my moms gonna cut off my finger with a knife. What should I do?

    I really don’t want to do piano anymore; it give me great stress because my mom seems to beat me up when I don’t play the notes correctly. (She threatened to cut off my finger with a knife.) If I say I quit, she would probably kill me. I also don’t want to commit to it because I love my teacher, I enjoy interacting with her, I like seeing her every week. I feel like quitting will break her (and my) heart, but I also feel like it’s for my own good, if my moms gonna cut off my finger with a knife. What should I do?

  • Henry

    Henry Fort Thomas, KY

    Can anyone help me?

    Can anyone help me?

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