Why You Should Let Your Kid Quit Their Musical Instrument

Parents who don’t force musical instruments on their children deny them the profound pleasure of quitting

Daniel Williams
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readSep 14, 2019

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Illustrations courtesy of the author

“We have a surprise for you,” Mom and Dad say.

You’re eight years old, so you think it might be a new bike, or a tiger. You’re overjoyed. You can ride either one. You put out your hands and close your eyes.

Then they place something in your hands, something metal and cold, or wooden and hollow. Whatever it is, it feels nothing like a bike or tiger. You open your eyes and see a violin, a flute, a mandolin, or a bassoon. You’ve had worse surprises. Poison ivy, for example. Or that week when all your burps turned to vomit. But this surprise isn’t like those. This one, you have a feeling, won’t go away after a little while. This one might hang around for a long, long time.

Dad’s eyes say, “You’re going to play this or die.”

Or maybe when you close your eyes and hold out your hands, your parents lead you into the garage where you see a piano brooding in the back of dad’s truck. This is worse than a violin, flute, mandolin, or bassoon, because those things fit in garbage cans — but pianos fit nowhere, and they last. The only things left after the apocalypse will be cockroaches, skulls, and pianos.

“Surprise!” Mom and Dad shout. “You’re going to learn to play this!”

You look at the instrument. You look at Mom and Dad. Mom is atomic with happiness. Dad is pissed. He spent a lot, apparently, and you don’t seem to know what money means. It means, “Jump up and down with excitement right now, damn it.”

Mom’s eyes say, “You’re going to learn to play this and win the heart of the world with your beautiful music.”

Dad’s eyes say, “You’re going to play this or die.”

“Thank you,” you say.

Mom weeps. She imagines you happily winning the world’s heart.

Dad doesn’t see what happiness has to do with it. He sees Carnegie Hall. He dreams of lurking in the audience, gnashing his teeth with pride.

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Daniel Williams
Human Parts

A poverty-stricken, soft Batman by night. Illustrator and writing teacher by day. Previously: McSweeney’s, Slackjaw.