Musical guilt — and why you should let go of it

Written by Metro Music Makers instructor Sarah Cauthen

You’re lying in bed, almost asleep after a long day, and then BAM! You forgot something important. Suddenly, the heavy, slimy feeling of dread hits you like a ton of bricks, and you break out into a cold sweat. Nothing you do seems to slow the raging tempo of your heart, and the mysterious sound you discover is the shaking of your own limbs.

We’ve all been there.

And although it may not wake you up in a panic or cause you to toss your cookies in the middle of the night, as a teacher I see this guilt on almost every parent’s face on a weekly basis. It’s so bad that I’ve lost students because their parents are tired of feeling like failures.

If you are the parent who has anxiety and guilt over not “making” their kid practice, I’m here to tell you IT’S OKAY!

I’m telling you right now, take some advice from Disney and “let it go.”

I know that’s not an easy thing to hear. As a musician, I’m an expert at letting myself down. We are tough on ourselves on purpose, because the music demands it of us. So I understand a healthy level of guilt can — sometimes — be a good thing.

This is NOT one of those times!

Listen up, parents: you are the unsung heroes of this world! You do enough already without “making” your kid practice. And, let’s be honest, can you even really do that?! The moment that you make music just another chore to get done that day, you’ve sapped some of the magic right out of it. When music is fun, practicing becomes a privilege, not a pain. And the only way to make music fun is to stop stressing about it!

How, you ask? The answer is two-fold, and very simple: make music together, and make it a habit.

Just like meals, music should be a family affair. Ask about what they’re learning, and ask to hear it. Tell them how much you liked it. Don’t just force your kid to go practice — ask if you can join in! It doesn’t matter one bit whether you know music or not. If your kid can learn it, so can you! And kids LOVE to be the teacher!

My evidence is reinforced every week when a student beams with pride at me and says, “My mom/dad played this with me!” Never once has a kid told me with pride that their parent forced them to practice 30 minutes every day. Nope. Kids don’t learn that way anyway. Parents and teachers both need to temper their goals (30 minutes every day) with reality (we are only human). I know kids that “practice” 30 minutes every day and still don’t get better — because they were forced to do it and, therefore, took no pleasure in it!

What is the takeaway then? If you want to make the most of music instruction for your child, do what we as instructors do and try to keep the fun in it! And don’t stress — your little Mozart is doing just fine. I promise.

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