Predicting Piano Student Dropout

Hand on a piano Keyboard

A perplexing issue for many piano teachers are those students who dropout of lessons. New students to piano typically being with a lot of enthusiasm for their new-found hobby. After a while, progress doesn’t seem to come as easily. Practice becomes harder and each lesson seems like a guided practice session. This is not an uncommon scenario. 

It is odd that students begin with such enthusiasm but then abandon this effort soon after. 

Teachers try to use many methods to ensure the potential dropout piano student continues with their lessons. It may be a change of repertoire and choosing music which is recent, such as popular music or film music. Others employ forms of rewards such as stickers, stamps, and certificates. There are an array of musical activities and games to capture students’ engagement. For some, these work well. For others, it prolongs the eventual decline into dropout phase.

There has been a dearth of research in music student motivation and factors which best predict student achievement in instrumental lessons. 

Research has demonstrated a variety of factors relevant to piano student motivation. Previous research with school band and classroom music student dropouts has shown that predictors of academic achievement (Young 1971; Frakes 1984; Klinedinst 1991), socio-economic status (McCarthy ,1980), and musical ability (Mawbey 1973; Asmus 1986) show valid projections of , music student retention or dropout.

Interestingly, some research has shown that students require more than normal approval. These students like a lot of positive feedback and were considered to be highly approval-seeking students. These students were most likely to quit. This suggests that deep-seated behavioural issues related to low musical achievement could be a predictor (Costa-Giomi, Flowers, and Sasaki 2005).

The role of parents in piano student dropouts has also been studied. The research suggests that piano students whose parents were distant, demanding, or disinterested were prone to dropping out (Govel 2004; Chardos-Camilli 2010). 

From the research it appears there are many factors which could predict piano student dropout.

Gerelus et al, (2017) studied factors related to piano student dropout. After reviewing the research they found overarching categories that could lead to piano student dropout—expertise and musical environment.

Musical expertise and musical environment

Expertise was defined as musical ability, academic achievement, and musical achievement. Musical environment was defined and measured as social and educational status, gender differences, parental involvement, and home culture.

The research question was: What is the role of expertise and environment in students’ decisions to drop out of piano lessons? 

The hypothesis was: Since expertise and environment play a role in dropping out of classroom music programs, we expect the same effect of these factors in, the private piano studio. We also expect to find differences for these factors between continuing and dropout groups.

Gerelus et al, (2017) results’ found several factors which may predict piano student dropouts. These results are when compared to those students who continued with their piano lessons.

Musical expertise

There was a significant difference between the two groups’ rates of progress. Students who dropped out had reached significantly lower playing level, despite taking lessons for slightly more time. After an average of 4.76 years of lessons, the continuing students on average were playing at a Level 4 conservatory standard. The dropout students after an average of 4.9 years of lessons, were playing at an average of Level 2 conservatory standard. 

The dropout students also acknowledged their low musical expertise an ability, despite putting in the same amount of effort in practice as the continuing  piano student group. Academic ability was found to be non-significant.

Students in the piano dropout study rated their levels of musical ability much lower than those of the continuing piano students. There has been a great deal of research into student perceptions of their own musical ability. Children who feel they have a natural musical ability and are a natural musician have been found to reach a higher level of achievement in musical ability that those who hod negative views about their own musical ability (Austin, Renwick, and McPherson 2006). There is a general decline in competency beliefs in the later years of schooling (O’Neil, 2010).

Environmental and social factors

Parental occupation – While the fathers’ occupations and degree of education seemed not to have a significant role, the mothers were more influential. Within the mothers’ occupations, researchers found a statistically significant difference. This difference such that the dropout group had much higher instances of stay-at-home mothers. It was marginally significant that the dropout group had fewer academic or professional mothers. There were also important findings between the mothers’ academic degrees, such that the dropout group’s mothers were overall less educated.

Parents involvement in piano practice was predicted to be significant but it was not found to be for this study. However, the musical environment was a predictor. The significant findings were that dropout students spent more time listening to pop or country, less time listening to classical, and had fewer attendances at concerts. The continuing students were exactly the inverse. It appears that the quality of the home environment may be an important factor in predicting piano student dropout.

Overall, the findings of Gerelus et al (2017) demonstrated that there were significant findings within the social and educational status of mothers whose children dropped out or continued with piano lessons. However, this comes in contrast to previous research, which found that continuing and dropout, piano students were similar in parental occupation and education (Costa-Giomi 2004).

Parental Involvement

Parental involvement is typically found to be a significant predictor of music student dropout. This study found that it is the quality of the musical environment, and not necessarily the direct parent involvement in lessons, practising, or recital presence, which predicted the dropout of piano students. This research tends to report the behavioural supports available for music students as a predictor of musical success, rather than the idea of more and direct parental involvement (Comeau and Huta 2015). It maybe a culture of the family and home-life (quality) a more important factor than direct parental involvement.

The current results also found differences between music at piano lessons and music in the home environment. Piano student dropout families spent significantly less time listening to classical music, more listening to pop and, country, fewer attendances at professional concerts, and less ensemble participation than continuing students.

Although it’s difficult to gauge the exact mechanisms which determine musical involvement and success, this research reveals some areas which can assist piano students and their families to be better equipped to persist during the early stages of piano lessons. It may also help music teachers to better understand the musical lives and motivations of their students.

Gerelus, K., Comeau, G., & Swirp, M. (2017). Predictors of piano student dropouts. Intersections, 37(2).

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