Budding 10-year-old flutists Beline Francisque, left, and Amber Torres, fourth-graders at Methuen’s Tenney Grammar School, preform in front of thousands of people at the jamboree. Songs from “Grease,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Beauty and the Beast” were performed under the direction of Thomas Walters, the high school fine arts director.

METHUEN — Don’t rush to that saxophone so fast, little one. Put down the drumsticks, you can wait one more year.

That’s the scenario now being played out in Methuen grammar schools, where starting this fall instrument lessons will no longer be offered to fourth-graders.

Tom Walters, fine arts director for Methuen schools, said fourth-graders just aren’t hanging with the program after getting past the excitement of starting a new instrument.

As much as 40 percent of fourth-graders drop out of lessons during the year. Another 10 percent to 20 percent don’t return to play an instrument in fifth grade, Walters said.

“We’re starting with right about 200, and usually by the start of fifth grade, about 100 are still in,” Walters said.

Infrequency of lessons — once every six days — and having to skip out on academic classes is likely the cause of the high dropout rate, Walters said.

Facing those numbers, the school district has decided to focus on older students, giving them more frequent practice and attention.

“Playing a musical instrument is physical conditioning and reflex training as much as it is academic learning,” Walters wrote in a letter to parents of third-graders this week. “Frequency and consistency are the real keys to success here.”

Walters also said some fourth-grade students are not physically developed enough to play some instruments, including the saxophone.

“For example, a clarinet where the (child’s) fingers aren’t physically large enough to close the hole,” he said.

Nancy Clover, whose 9-year-old daughter Teri is in third grade at Marsh Grammar School, said she can wait one more year for music lessons.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to have music in the schools, but for one more year, it’s not a bad thing,” Clover said. Clover’s son, now a student at Methuen High School, once played drums in school only to drop the instrument later. And Clover also said not playing an instrument will take pressure off students as they learn to deal with more homework each year.

Patricia Cormier, whose granddaughter Gabby Salarno, 9, was considering an instrument, said dropping the fourth-grade program is unfair to students who would stick with an instrument.

“It should be available to kids if they want it,” Cormier said. Salarno is a third-grader at Comprehensive Grammar School.

Superintendent Jeanne Whitten said the decision to drop fourth-grade band was about teaching, not money.

“It’s not because of the budget,” she said. “It’s because we’re making it as an educational decision.”

Waiting for later years to start instrument lessons is not uncommon in area schools. Haverhill begins offering lessons in fifth grade. North Andover students don’t have the option until sixth grade.

Fourth-grade students in Methuen right now have only lessons, once every six school days. The first time they play in a band is during the annual spring jamboree at Methuen High School.

In fifth grade, students have a dedicated period for band practice.

Walters said the fine arts department will give guidance on private lesson teachers and purchasing an instrument to the parents of incoming fourth-graders who want their children to begin playing an instrument.

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