Keeping teens engaged
Found in: Teen Students
Nancy B., Kansas
I have several teens in my very small studio. I recently lost 2. I do think we are all needing more inspiration in lessons. Do you have insight as to how to keep these busy folks engaged? One of their moms suggested sitting down with them to see about doing more of what they would like in lessons, and I am open to that but want to strike a good balance of everything. My own two kids are part of this equation too. They actually don’t have a group left. So my questions are:
1) how to engage teens more fully and inspiringly in the learning, and
2) how to apply that to my own teens, keeping our relationship from going down the tubes!
Cheri S., Utah
I’ve lost several teens too. It seems like very few teens stay in piano lessons, no matter what the method is. So I’m starting to view it as a privilege to teach the ones who do stay.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1) Definitely find ways to incorporate music they love. Of course for readers, sheet music makes this easy, and before that lead sheets are great. But I also now have YouTube student choice as an occasional assignment for everyone. I guide them through choosing a good tutorial, looking for patterns, knowing how to create an ending if the tutorial gets too long or hard. There’s an added benefit–lots of variety at recitals.
2) Be flexible. After we finish the Reading Notes program, I let them drop songs from their playlist, still keeping at least 30 total. I figure they’ve experienced lots of styles and all the SM streams for a few years, and they have a pretty good idea what they’re really going to keep for the rest of their lives. I also give them more choice on how to balance all the streams–e.g., let them focus more on accompaniment and less on comp/improv, or vice versa–spending more time with streams they love more.
3) Google Tim Topham and read his articles on keeping teens in lessons.
Felicity E., Australia
It’s a tough one! Most of my students are teens. I read on a very successful piano teachers blog that students over 15 should pick their own repertoire. Obviously this is a generalization and they still need to work through the SM program, but as Cheri mentioned, they really need music they love. They want to be cool. Accompaniment is a great way to get them playing music they love from the radio and to teach accompaniment variations and left hand patterns like 1,5,8 (notes in the LH like in Night Storm arrangement) makes it fun.
Composition can be liberating too. Quite a few I’m teaching/have taught love the contemporary romantic piano composers who wrote a lot of pattern-based pieces. I often jam with my students on my guitar or drums (great for improving timing on the blues pieces) and voice, but then that’s only once a week.
Leeanne I., Australia
It’s really important to give them access to playing the music they like ASAP. I let all my students pick a piece they want to learn in addition to the SM program at the end of each level, kind of like a reward. Even at the end of Level 1, students can play anything accompaniment style in the key of C. Ensemble playing too; I’m sure most teens are still fantasizing about playing in a rock band! Given that, teenage years are tough so it’s even more important to keep the long-term relationship conversation going at every lesson, so you can help them through the valleys.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
1) Do an accompaniment workshop – there’s been discussion about that recently. It’s always fun to jam with a group of musicians.
2) If they’re reading, find a common movie or genre interest and look for a book for reading projects. For example, I have a group of four teens who all like Harry Potter, and I found a great soundtrack book that we’ve worked from quite a bit. These four teens have stayed together a LONG time – currently in Level 16. So it can happen!
3) Definitely do some ensemble stuff – I recommend blues duets. Combining any two blues song usually works great. Or try Elizabeth Gaikwad’s Foundation Duets.
Heidi M., Canada
I only have one teen aged student. He is just starting F2 and is very diligent and self-motivated. I agree with finding out what interests your students. But I am a bit concerned that when I ask this student (on more than one occasion) what are his favorite kinds of music, he says he doesn’t know. (He is a bit of an introvert). But he seems quite close to his dad, who knows how to play a bit of guitar. I am going to ask his father to bring his guitar some time and get them to play something (i.e. accompaniment or blues songs that use chords) together. It will add another dimension to his piano experience if they can do that regularly.
Patti P., Hawaii
Many teens quit for one reason or the other. I think that letting them choose a lot of their own music is really key. Use pop songs they love for accompaniment projects, let them try pieces that are too difficult but they want to play (I let them know with these pieces that we will work on them as long as they want to and no longer – it’s fine to start something difficult, then take a break and come back to it later). Teen years are hard for many reasons, and often the school load and other activities take up too much time to allow for progress in piano unless it is one of their big priorities. I always remind myself that having a student in my studio is always temporary, and with teens I really like them to be comfortable with accompanying and composing and improvising so not matter when they stop, they can keep playing and creating, even if they never read music (if they haven’t gotten that far) or take another lesson.
Sandy B., California
I get out my bass and play with them, or drum tracks, and I have shakers and other rhythm things..then someone plays the piano and the rest of us act like rock stars.