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Who Remains Committed to Music Lessons?

Curiosity and conscientiousness are associated with continued music study.

Key points

  • Adults and adolescents who are conscientious tend to remain committed to music study.
  • Adults who are open minded tend to encourage their children to study music.
  • Children who are agreeable are most likely to remain committed to music study.
  • Most children require parental guidance to remain committed to music study.
Pexels/Yan Krukal
Youngster playing piano.
Pexels/Yan Krukal

The Russian-born, American composer, Igor Stravinsky, was known to be critical of the American parent's attitude toward music lessons as a leisure activity or hobby. In many cultures outside of the United States, the attitude toward music study is similar to the attitude toward studying math, reading, or writing; it is taken for granted as an essential part of education. Children of professional musicians not only make up a high representation of conservatory students but are also brought up in an atmosphere that takes music literacy to be as essential as language literacy.

A recent study in Frontiers of Psychology (Corrigall and Schellenberg, 2015), identified the characteristics most likely to predict parents who encourage music study in their children, and the characteristics most likely to predict children who stick with music study.

Using the Big Five Personality Inventory, the researchers found that parents who score high on the openness scale are most likely to encourage their children to study music. Openness is defined as being curious, creative, intelligent, and interested in novel ideas. Although openness also predicts children who tend to want to study music, it is not an essential quality. Openness becomes a more important factor as the child becomes an adolescent, and chooses to continue music study without parental guidance.

For children, the most important quality for sticking with music study is agreeableness. Cooperation, altruism, sympathy, and modesty are all characteristics of agreeableness. The essential factor in children remaining committed to music lessons is the parent's level of commitment. The Big Five factor that correlates highest with the parents' likelihood of remaining committed to their children's music study is conscientiousness.

As children become adolescents, continuing music lessons shifts away from the parents' level of commitment and towards the child's own level of commitment. In adolescence, the quality that best predicts sticking with music study becomes conscientiousness, rather than agreeableness.

We can take from this the valuable insight that in the earliest years, the most important factor of long-term music study is the parent's willingness to insist on the child's commitment to continuing lessons. In other words, encouragement and expectation that the child will not quit when the novelty of lessons has passed and the necessity of practice and work is expected. We also note that the parents who are most likely to encourage their children to study music are themselves lifelong learners. This study also shows that children who are most likely to remain in music lessons are agreeable and willing to learn. It is not until adolescence that curiosity and conscientiousness become the two characteristics that most people have who continue studying music.


Corrigall KA, Schellenberg EG. Predicting who takes music lessons: parent and child characteristics. Front Psychol. 2015 Mar 24;6:282. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00282. PMID: 25852601; PMCID: PMC4371583.

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