The scene: It’s a typical morning in February.
Me: All right boys, get your breakfasts done and start your clarinet and trumpet practice, please.
Twenty minutes later – silence
Me: Have you two finished eating yet? I can’t hear any practising…
8:10am alarm goes off for Child 2 to clean teeth.
(Note: We stagger bathroom time because they simply cannot be trusted to do simple tasks in the same room without messing around and distracting each other.)
Me: Okay, come on, while he’s doing his teeth you can get your practice done.
Child 1: Uff. Do I have to? I’m filling in my reading record. [This could have been done at any point in the morning, but has now become the top and most vital priority].
Me: Fine, just be quick, please – you’ve got a clarinet lesson this morning.
Child 1: All right, but I need to mark my homework first.
Child 2 returns with clean teeth
Me: Right, good, come on then – get some trumpet done.
Child 2 (sighs deeply): But I wanted to play Roblox before school….I have a trade to make with my friend….
Me: I don’t care. This is more important. You’ve got a lesson this morning too, and you haven’t practised once!
Child 2: But I PROMISED…and I don’t want to practise!!
Me: Then you should have logged on last night. Roblox is for free time – it is not a basic before-school right!
Sulky blasting and tootling ensue.
Child 1: All done with my homework, but I can’t play now, because he is. I can’t concentrate.
Me: Well, go in the other room and close the door.
Child 1: But I can STILL HEAR him.
8:20am alarm, so our lack of soundproofing is immaterial. Teeth cleaning time for this one now, and soon it is 8:30am.
(Note: I don’t know why teeth cleaning takes 10 minutes, but it always, always seems to.)
Me: Right, quick, it’s time to go – put your music and instruments away, pack your bags and get your shoes on please!
This has to be repeated several times, at increasing levels of volume, and decreasing levels of patience. Finally we leave.
8:35 – the walk to school
Child 1 has his clarinet packed in his backpack, so is at constant risk of toppling over backwards and getting turtled on the pavement.
Child 2 huffs and puffs along with his large, rectangular trumpet case, accidentally bashing the knee backs of the unsuspecting in front, and creating surprise trip hazards for pedestrians coming the opposite way.
Me: Really, you two, I don’t think you’re enjoying these instruments. Getting you to practise in between lessons is like pulling teeth. If you don’t love it enough to play in leisure time, there’s really not much point…I wonder if maybe we should cancel from Easter onwards?
Both in stunned silence.
Me: How about this – if things don’t improve over the next couple of weeks, we cancel?
They don’t, so I cancel. I write to the school and I write to their teachers, explaining that I had high hopes for the musical genius, passion and aptitude that would be awakened by these lessons, and that sadly it was not to be; that they may be able to carry a tune, but they just don’t carry the burning love of creating beautiful sounds; that I’m sorry all their instruction and guidance will be going to waste. It’s sad, but it feels like the right thing to do.
March: a typical morning two weeks before the Easter Holidays.
Child 2: I’m excited about my trumpet lesson today. My teacher is so nice and I love doing a good job with my playing. I’m feeling a bit sad about giving up. I’m just going to do a bit of practice this morning.
Child 1: Me too! My teacher says I can do a mock Grade 1 and then prepare for Grade 2 in the summer. I’d actually really like to. I’ll start mine when he goes up to do his teeth.
Interesting turn of events. On the one hand, I’m delighted that a spark of the creative seems to have ignited; and on the other, realisation that I would have to go back to those nice teachers and tell them we’ve completely messed them around. Thanks, kids.
Me: Well, that’s lovely to hear, but are you really going to practise regularly? That’s an uphill battle I’m quite happy to do without. And I’m not paying for lessons if you’re not going to put the effort in.
Both: We will, we will! We will practise three times a week in the morning. We absolutely promise!
Me: All right. But if we’re going to do this, we’re going to strike a deal, so be prepared for my terms…
So I went back to the lovely teachers, and luckily, they were very happy to book them in again. And this is the deal: they continue their lessons and they practise three times a week. If they don’t practise, and they don’t progress, then they will contribute to the cost of their lessons from pocket money – which means no cash for Roblox, Fortnite, or whatever pixels they currently spend their pennies on. (I can’t really complain about that, because they buy things with much lower sugar content than I favoured with my pocket money.)
I think this an example of reverse psychology actually working. Tell them it’s perfectly OK to give up, and they started to weigh up what that would actually mean for them. I’m not sure I’d gamble on this working in every situation, but for now, it’s a win…