This is a two way street and it includes everything from teens being honest about how much they did or didn’t practice to whether or not they absolutely hate the piece that’s been chosen for them.
My teens know they can come in and say “I didn’t crack open a book this week”
without feeling as though they have to lie to me. Not practicing only hurts the student at the end of the day and they know they will have to step it up to remain in my studio. I know I can say “Yes, that piece is great, but you’re not quite ready for it.” without feeling as though I’m going to hurt their feelings or discourage them. I do not want to set my students up for failure.
Why is honesty so important? Because it keeps everyone on the same page. I know exactly what my teens are thinking and they can usually read my mind too. Our goals then become aligned, realistic and free from anything that could cause frustration.
A Say In What They Play
Finding a true balance between what you’d like your teens to play versus what they would like to play is key to a teenagers long-term enjoyment of piano lessons.
Many teachers, worried about teen retention, assume that piano lessons should be all about pop music all of the time. But this is certainly not the case!
For teens to feel as though they are progressing and becoming more proficient at the piano, they need to be challenged. And learning new genres and gaining new experiences is the challenge they need. However, this challenge doesn’t always have to come from you! Encourage your teens to seek out material that they find interesting and motivating beyond “Top 40” music
Teens are motivated by relationships with their peers. Teen students who stick with piano lessons long-term have typically found a way to also turn their piano proficiency into a way to connect with their peers.
Being a part of a school’s jazz band,
accompanying the high school musical, playing in a small band, accompanying singers at the school talent show, and doing duets with same-level friends are all activities that make the piano an important part of everyday life (and that make practice something that is not a chore).
These are also activities that make teens’ piano skills immediately applicable and relevant… meaning they will be more invested in practice and more committed to lessons in order to continue playing with their friends or not embarrass themselves when performing in front of others.
An Eye on The Prize
I make a point of finding something that my teens can be working towards that makes their piano lessons immediately applicable.
Are they interested in making money in the summer playing for weddings? Do they want to audition at their university? Do they have dreams of teaching piano themselves? Do they want to play in their church? Do they have a YouTube channel where they share their original compositions or covers of favorite songs?
Having a very real reason for taking piano lessons is important. Sometimes piano students come up with these goals on their own, but often they need a little nudge… and it’s often up to me to provide that inspiration. Offer up some suggestions that they could use their skills for.
Music In Their Ears
Successful teenage piano students are piano students who are always listening to music… a fairly easy task these days with iPods and iPhones. Music is everywhere!
However, it is important to encourage teens to listen to a wide variety of music, instead of simply their typical listening tastes. And… as their piano teacher make sure you are also always listening to music too! Be “in the know” about the latest YouTube piano-playing sensations, what songs are on the charts, what genre of music is trending so you and your students can connect with something they care about.
Why is listening to music so important? It helps your teen make repertoire selections that mean something to them, it provides exposure to a wide variety of styles and genres, and it puts musical ideas and unique sounds in their ears that help with creativity and expression or even composing. Plus, the more they listen to music, the more they want to make music!
Teenage piano students who have found their outlet on the piano are the students that you never have to ask to practice. In fact, they usually can’t stop.
Encourage composing and improv on the keys. Having them play easier music just for fun is also really important. In fact, I often will write PES on my students’ weekly assignment page (“Play Easy Stuff”). It’s an invitation to just sit at the piano and enjoy playing without any hard thinking involved. After all, any time spent on the piano bench is a good thing.
I used to be concerned that I would lose my teen students if I pushed them too hard, or if I gave them music that was challenging and required a lot of work… or if I insisted on something being perfected to performance standards.
I was worried that, being teenagers, they wouldn’t want to do any of these things and would quit. I’ve learned now that this is far from the truth. In fact, if your teen students are given a challenge, and if you show them that you believe they can do it, then you actually increase their commitment to the piano.
Giving teens easier music in the hopes they like you more and don’t throw in the towel actually does the opposite of what many assume will be achieved. Instead, inspire teens with great music, empower them with the skills they need to make it happen and be their cheerleader along the way.
Wouldn’t the world be a lovely place if every teenager who had quit piano had instead continued to play their entire life… if every child that started piano lessons still had the piano as a part of their daily lives?
Obviously this is not realistic, but it is absolutely my goal when working with my teenage students. If my teens are still playing piano when they’re 60, 70, 80+… then I believe I’ve done something truly meaningful and left some sort of musical legacy.