- Students are more self conscious of gender roles. Boys frequently quit at this age because "piano is for girls". In elementary school, we have roughly the same number of boys as we do girls enrolled in lessons. By high school, girls outnumber boys by about 5 to 1.
- Students are developing their sense of personal identity and are attempting to separate themselves from things they perceive as childish. Students that started in elementary school can begin to view piano as something for kids.
- Students are being allowed to make more decisions about what they do. Piano lessons are often the most challenging activity kids are involved in. Because kids at this age have difficulty seeing the long term rewards of playing the piano, they will frequently want to quit at this age because it is too hard. Parents frequently will decide that they no longer want to "fight this battle", so the student is allowed to quit.
- There is greater peer pressure to fit in. Since piano is a pretty solitary activity most of the time, it is vulnerable to outside pressures. When competing against more visible activities, such as sports, piano can be a hard sell. Plus, most middle school bands and orchestras have no chair for a piano.
So, how do we keep these students? I think positive adult musical models help. Assigning more popular music helps motivate students and gives them something that they are willing to play for their friends. Offering group classes for students of similar ages can really help as well. Taking students to piano concerts can help students envision piano as something for adults. That can be a powerful motivator for a middle schooler who is trying to appear less childlike.
No matter what we do, Middle School is a challenging time for students and their parents. As teachers, we can do our best to be supportive and use our best motivational tools. For parents, we recommend love and logic.