How many parents have given their children years of music lessons, only to have the child one day say, “I quit!”

It can be heartbreaking for parents, especially given the thousands of dollars they may have invested in lessons and instruments.

But inevitably, years later, the ex-adolescent will say, “I should never have put down the violin (or cello or viola)! I wish my parents had made me stick with that!”

As the principal of a music school for the past ten years and the father of three children (an 8-year-old, a teenager, and a former teen), I’ve seen this kind of thing happen time and time again. So one of my primary missions has been to create an environment that keeps kids in music, from infancy to their teens. Here are some of my most powerful techniques for keeping kids engaged and passionate about their music.

1. Start young – on the piano. I have found that children who start out on the piano and then enter my violin or other stringed instrument class always do better than children who have not had early piano training. The violin and other stringed instruments are difficult because of the many aspects that need to be concentrated on at once. It is also a physical challenge. The piano is much easier for pre-K children to understand. Once the student has a basic understanding of music, including note reading, rhythm, and practice, she has more freedom to focus on the technical challenges of the stringed instrument. I now require young children to take my beginner piano class, and I encourage parents to continue those lessons until they start my violin class.

2. Don’t do it alone! How many parents sign their kids up for private music lessons, only to have them refuse to go because they don’t know anyone? However, the same child will participate in almost any activity if at least one friend is present! Group music classes for beginners can be a lot of fun for the little ones, and particularly ideal for children from 3 and a half to 5 and a half years old, depending on their maturity.

3. Children who play together like to play together! The more opportunities children have to play, the more they will improve. In addition to private lessons, as soon as the child is eligible, we place them in a performance group. At our school, graduates of our beginning violin class will enroll in private lessons and our training orchestra. The most advanced musicians enter our most advanced children’s orchestra. Older students are encouraged to join the regional youth orchestras. Ninety-nine percent of the time, once the initial excitement of playing an instrument has worn off, it’s the group playing that will continue to excite the kids. Children love to be with other children! Participation leads to more practice, especially if the conductor or musical director connects well with the children.

In addition to private lessons and orchestra, many participate in our chamber music program. I started the chamber music program with four kindergarten girls who knew each other from the orchestra. After a few months of playing together, they became self-proclaimed bffs (‘best friends forever’) and have been playing together for 3 years. They have performed for our US Congressman, senior centers, local schools, and even at our local farmers market. What I discovered is that the children in the quartet developed faster and played better, so I set out to form more groups and a chamber music program.

4. Keep them in the spotlight! It’s rare that a child doesn’t thrive on the warm feelings, positive attention, and sense of accomplishment they feel after a performance (not to mention the camaraderie with their fellow performers). Whether it’s performing in a studio recital, a solo competition; or with his youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall, performances are key to keeping children’s interest and improving their playing. The vast majority of kids who only take private lessons and don’t get any chance to perform will eventually lose interest and drop out.

5. Stay positive! When in doubt, don’t yell, berate, belittle, or threaten to quit the lessons. None of the negative stuff works, and it will only lead to more frustration for you and your child. Even when you feel like your child is not meeting your or the teacher’s expectations, stay positive. Your child may be going through a rough patch.

To overcome it, with the little ones, offer small rewards for practicing daily or weekly. It could be a sticker or a trip to the toy store. In your teens, you can relax your practice schedule if it feels like too much of a burden. When my teenage son decided that he wanted to quit the saxophone, his teacher suggested that he just practice five minutes a day. He did this for over a year, continuing to participate in various orchestras and jazz groups. It worked! He continued to play the saxophone in high school and received a large music scholarship to college. Although he has decided not to make music his career, he continues to earn money from his instrument through teaching and performing.

6. Summer and school holidays are a good time to move on! Instead of taking a break from music lessons, the holidays are actually a great time to move on. It is an opportunity for life-changing musical adventures or simply to achieve many things. Sign your child up for a summer music program that offers something different in the form of lessons and orchestra or chamber music. For teenagers, there are many programs outside the home, in beautiful settings in the mountains or in the countryside. The more your child improves, the more he’ll like to play and the more he’ll feel good about himself. It is the child who is left behind who will want to stop practicing or, even worse, quit.

7. Don’t overload yourself. Although we want our children to be well-rounded, it’s better for their psyche if they excel at one thing. And if that one thing is to play a musical instrument, it will have tremendous benefits. Skill with a musical instrument sets them apart from their peers. They will start to identify as musicians, which is great for their self-esteem. Excelling on a musical instrument, especially the strings, will help with applications to schools and arts programs, and eventually colleges! Most colleges have orchestras with plenty of seats to fill. Usually many more violinists, violas, cellos and bassists are needed!

8. Stay engaged. Staying committed to your child’s music education can be the hardest part of raising your child, but I can say from my own experience, it’s worth it! The experiences her son will have as a musician will shape her lives (not to mention their brains) in a way that can’t be duplicated in any other way. Music promotes self-esteem, teamwork and good study habits, and has shaped the lives of many young people in the most profound ways.

By following all of these steps, your child will be much more likely to appreciate his instrument and music for a lifetime.