Words Matter: Let’s get rid of ‘quit’, ‘practice’ and ‘recital’
by Ginevra Ralph, Director of Education
At The Shedd we spend a lot of time trying to understand what the barriers – and the enablers – are to lifelong music making. I am convinced that the language surrounding music lessons makes a huge difference.
I find three words in particular to be extremely problematic: Quit, Practice, and Recital. I have solutions for two of these word, but have yet to come up with a replacement for the third. I have a standing offer of a $50 gift certificate to The Shedd to the person who suggests a brilliant alternative!
When asked if they play an instrument, people often say something like, “I took piano lessons as a kid but I quit,” with a downcast face and a strong implication of failure. At The Shedd, we don’t use the word “quit”, but rather consider someone not currently playing an instrument as “taking a break”. We don’t, for example, quit tennis or golf altogether in between lessons or even years of playing – we can always pick it up again. We believe the same is true for music-making – it is never too late to resume playing an old favorite instrument or to pick up a new one – even if you have been “taking a break” for decades! Our faculty are experts in working with returning adults. And if your child wants to stop taking formal lessons for a while, emphasize to them that they can “take a break” and come back later. But they aren’t quitting, there’s no failure and no guilt.
Second, we so often speak of playing music – but when it comes to students we only seem to talk about practicing. “Playing” implies having fun! “Practicing” implies work and tedium. It’s the professional musicians, who we are paying good money to hear perform, who should practice! At The Shedd, we want our students to go home and excited to play their music – not to dread practice time. If a student isn’t having fun with their lessons, we need to examine what to change –either their music, their instrument, or their teacher.
Finally, the word “recital” is about as stodgy as it gets, and “hating recitals” is a top reason people cite as to why they quit… I mean, “took a break”. At The Shedd no student is required to perform in front of others unless they want to share what they have been working on. We offer regular student performance opportunities for those who do -- with an emphasis on their learning, not performance “excellence”. However, using popular school terms such as “student showcase” is too stuffy, and “student demonstration” sounds like a Eugene protest! So a $50 certificate to the person who comes up with a friendly, encouraging, inviting word to describe these celebrations of playing music.