Uninspired Teen Piano Student? Garageband to the Rescue!

Does this sound like a familiar scene? A teenage student comes into a lesson having not practiced – not a stitch. You know this teen has a lot going on; big exams at school, hockey finals imminent, or maybe a part-time job after school.

What do you do?

You could reiterate the importance of regular practice, give a big speech about commitments and following through blah, blah, blah…but that would most likely fall on deaf ears.

You could use the lesson time to do some guided practice. Running through all the same assignments that you already covered last week. Not very inspiring though.

OR you could use this opportunity for some functional music theory – Garageband style!

Garageband lesson plans

Start with a Chord Progression

I have the major and minor circle of fifths at the top of my teen assignment sheet so I start there.

I ask my student to choose a key signature, any key signature! Let’s say they chose F major. Highlight F, the keys either side of it, and the relative minors of those keys.

choosing chords from COF

Now you have the 6 chords to choose from to create your chord progression. Allow your student to choose freely from these chords – they’ll all sound good! Just have them experiment with different orders and combinations until they’ve settled on their favourite.

Add a Dash of Rhythm

Now they’ve settled on their chords, play around with some nice rhythms. Have your teen play the root note in their left hand and chords in their right hand and just mess around with some beats.

If they’re having trouble make some suggestions but don’t get too involved. They need to keep ownership of the music.

Record it!

Open the Garageband iPad app. Start a new file and select the audio recorder.

garageband screenshot

Set the number of bars and the tempo you want. I find 4 bar loops work very well but you can do as many as you like depending on the chord progression your student has designed.

Record your student’s chord progression.

You can undo and record again until your student is happy with it.

Smart Instruments

Now for the really fun part! This is the part that will really bring the cool factor for your teen students.

Press the button with lots of rectangles (not the one with three squares) at the top left of the screen.

garageband screenshot2

Now you’re in the track view. Add another track using the plus sign in the bottom left corner.

garageband screenshot3

Ask your student which smart instrument they would like to add. They’re all awesome, so it doesn’t matter which one they choose. Drums or bass is often a good place to start.

garageband screenshot4

Play around with all the cool features together. When you’ve experimented enough you can record this part (just like you did with the live piano).

Layer it up

Keep adding smart instruments until your student is satisfied with their track. You can tweak the volume of each track on the track screen by pressing the third button from the top right corner when the track is selected.

garageband screenshot5

You can stop here or you can take it one step further…

Jamming Time

Use the newly composed track as backing music for your teen to improvise over.

This is not only awesome and super fun, but it reinforces the importance of solid scale knowledge. Teens won’t follow you blindly like most kids do, they need activities like this that give them a reason to learn what they’re learning.

What’s your favourite “no practice” lesson plan?

Have I inspired you to give Garageband a try with your next reluctant teen student?

Do you have a different approach to using the Garageband app?

Do you have any questions about how to use the app? I’m certainly not an expert but I’ll be happy to help out if I can!

5 thoughts on “Uninspired Teen Piano Student? Garageband to the Rescue!”

  1. Another great post! Thank you for your wonderful ideas. I will definitely be using this with my students. I use garage band to give my students the ability to play duets with themselves (using multiple tracks) and I want to offer them the option of playing duets with other students who aren’t present at their lesson but have pre-recorded their part.
    The smart instruments and improvising opens up some new possibilities! Thank you!

    • Love that idea Kirstie! How fun for them to have a piano buddy that they can share duets with! Someday I might even try a garageband “pass the parcel” between lots of students in one on one lessons. They could each add one layer and then pass it on until a finished track was made. 😉

  2. Such a beautiful idea to let students get out of rut with normal lesson. playing duets and sharing after then can motivate their creation and interraction with the others. garageband s good and fun instrument!


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