Balancing Music and All the Other Things

Children are incredibly active. Honestly, too much.

When competing with sports, academics, church, clubs, play dates, and all the other things, how does music fit into a well-balanced life for today’s youth?

Here are eight ways to help you keep music on the schedule.

1. Don’t Compete.

We need to understand that we cannot compete with all of the other things. We must accept them, work with them, and above all, embrace them.

These activities are what makes our students who they are going to be. They may not choose or even like all of the activities they are placed in, but it is part of their life, and it will shape them.

Likewise, our lessons play an important in developing the person that youngster will become. Use that time wisely and positively to help shape that love of music.

2. Use their activities to enhance your teaching.

Your student dances or plays basketball? Talk about the importance of moving their fingers correctly for muscle memory.

Your student is a mathlete? Subdivision, fractions, tempo: built-in math/music-learning!

Science Olympiad? Talk about the process of dissecting the music. Those kids love processes!

Reading bowl? So much of our music has a built-in plot line. You can talk about how a crescendo is similar to foreshadowing in a story.

Whether or not your students love metaphors and similes, most will appreciate the connection between the two seemingly unrelated activities.

3.) Don’t make them choose.

You will lose. There is room in their lives for both.

Your student can be both an athlete and a musician. At least at the beginning levels. Regardless, they can love both.

Sometimes, their coaches really do mean that they cannot play in the championship game if they miss practice.

Their instructors may really mean that they cannot dance in the annual performance of The Nutcracker if they miss the first rehearsal.

Making them feel guilty for missing a recital or other performance is only going to tarnish their love for music.

Tell them you understand that life is full of tough choices and you are just sad they miss the opportunity, but there will be others.

4. Help them manage their time.

I’ve noticed in my years of teaching that the students in all advanced classes with sports or ballet every day after school managed their time better than other students.

Necessity is the key to learning to manage time.

Younger students will need your guidance. Try not to over-program their practice time.

Give them quality exercises that address their immediate needs rather than multiple assignments that barely scratch the surface.

Keep the exercises short: just a few measures for younger students and thirty seconds or less for older students.

5. Suggest a time to practice.

This is not a new concept at all, but it is worth re-stating.

After they brush their teeth, before they eat their snack, immediately following math homework, all are very specific and memorable times to practice.

Remind them that it takes forty days to create a new habit.

Providing some sort of visual chart or sticker can help with the process, but keep it simple.

6. Develop relationships with both students and parents.

By really knowing your parents, you can understand more fully where music lies in the list of priorities.

One parent may have it at the top of the list, while the other could not care less about music.

As you talk to each, you can subtly draw connections between their top priority and your top priority.

7. Support the other endeavors.

Make the time to go to the game. Show up to the dance recital.

You have no idea how these small actions impact your students. You may also be surprised at how seeing your student in different light impacts you.

You’ll be able to see shadows of musical ability in your students’ performances.

8. Remember why you teach.

We teach because we believe it makes us a well-rounded person. It smoothes the rough edges and enhances creativity.

Someone taught you to love music. Someone helped you choose music over all else. Be that for your student.

Then, all the other things are just the other things.

Happy teaching!


About the Author: April O’Keefe is co-founder and current Associate Director of SoliMusica Academy.  She graduated from Georgia State University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Music Performance with a focus on cello performance.  She taught at East Cobb Middle School from 2004 until 2014.

While teaching at East Cobb Middle School, the orchestra program grew from 120 students to over 275 students.  Under her direction, the orchestras consistently received superior ratings at local and regional Large Group Performance Evaluations.  Many of her students participated in select ensembles such as the Cobb County Middle School Honor Orchestra, Georgia All-State Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Mrs. O’Keefe has been actively involved in the Georgia Music Educators Association serving as District Twelve Honor Orchestra Chair and District Twelve All-State Audition Chair.  She also actively serves and clinician and adjudicator throughout the metro-Atlanta area.

Since 2008, April O’Keefe has served as music education assistant for Kennesaw United Methodist Church.  While in this position, she has worked with and organized children’s choir, children’s handbells, and various summer camps.  She also created a barbershop ensemble, taught an adult violin class, and served as interim Music Minister directing adult choirs and adult handbell groups.

Mrs. O’Keefe lives in Kennesaw with her husband, Paul, five-year-old Carson, and two-year-old twins, Logan and Molly.  Paul is a violinist, Carson is just beginning his musical journey on violin, and the twins are enjoying watching – for now.

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6 Replies to “Balancing Music and All the Other Things”

  1. Very wise advice. And encouragement for those of us dealing with busy busy families. I already do must of these but will continue to make efforts to do better!

  2. I agree with all of this. I always take a couple of minutes at the start of my lessons to chat about what is going on in my student’s lives and they enjoy this and want to tell me things. I also like to emphasize to them that however busy their day might seem, they can decide to fit in five minutes on the piano as long as it is effective, quality time and they will make some improvement.

    1. I think it’s great that you allocate a small portion of the lesson to “check in” with your students. It’s important on so many levels! Not to mention it helps foster a meaningful and genuine relationship. Thanks for sharing, Janet!!

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