Treat Your Teen Piano Students to a Musical Escape

Think back to when YOU were a teenager. What was it like? How did it feel? Did you find it stressful?

This article was originally published in April 2017, and updated in November 2022.

I’m technically a millennial by most definitions, but I don’t think I’m what most people imagine when they hear that word. I got a cell phone when I was thirteen…but it was a Nokia 3310. It had Snake (anyone remember Snake?) and texting; that was pretty much it.

Teenagers these days have it very differently, and I have a lot of sympathy for them. Their lives are on display online, and I think it’s harder than ever for them to have really strong connections and confide in their peers.

Maybe that’s just a sign I’m getting old.

Nevertheless, I do think being a teen is hard. It certainly can be, anyway. And playing a musical instrument can provide a wonderful escape from tests, peer pressure and social media overload.

Playing the piano has certainly given me a respite from the world when I needed it.

I like to think about how I can promote the piano as a safe haven for my students. What can we do as teachers to help our teenage students see music as an escape from stress, rather than as another one to add to the list?

Ease Up

It’s absolutely OK to move laterally, even tread water, for some of those tricky teen years. Of course, we want our teen piano students to make progress. But they won’t make any progress at all if they quit, will they?

I know I’ve been guilty of pushing students a little too hard sometimes. We all want our students to achieve their potential – and occasionally this clouds our vision.

It’s OK to push students, but we need to recognise when we’re simply pushing them away.

Maybe they don’t need to do that next exam. Maybe they’d be better off with another level 8 book, rather than going straight up to level 9.

If you have a teen piano student who seems stressed or like they’re losing interest, think about what you could do to ease up a little and cut them some slack.

Lead by Example

Do you use music as an escape from your own day-to-day struggles and stresses?

If not, try setting aside 5 minutes each day to play something you enjoy. Not with a mind towards learning a difficult piece, thinking about which student might love that song, or anything else remotely goal-oriented.

Play something simply for the sake of losing yourself in the music.

Then talk to your teen about what the experience is like for you, and encourage them to try something similar. You could even consider letting your teen play anything they want for the first 3 minutes of each lesson so they get the hang of what it means to “use music as an escape.”

Theory Alternatives

We still want our teens to be learning and exploring theory concepts, but it doesn’t have to be an intense, adding-yet-one-another-thing situation.

Colouring can be a great stress reliever, even for teens and adults (or, perhaps, especially for teens and adults!) So why not use colouring as a low-key way to reinforce musical concepts?

The abstract colour-by-music adventures in my Musical Hues colouring book are especially well-suited for teens. Enter your info below and I’ll send a sample from the book straight to your inbox.

Colouring sheets for music students

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Musical Identities

Teenagers are finding out who they are. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

And “a musician” could be a part of that identity. But (and I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear this) that’s much less likely to happen if you rigidly stick to a classical-only curriculum. Even less likely if you don’t let your teen piano students select any of their repertoire themselves.

I happened to find myself in Beethoven and Chopin. If you’re reading this article, you probably did too. But how many of today’s students who started at our age still find themselves playing? How many more still would be if they’d been allowed to have a little more say over what they were learning?

I’m guessing a great deal more.

Let your students learn their music. Get them involved in shaping their goals and the progression of pieces they’re learning. I’m not saying give them a license to play all pop, but give them an opportunity to shape their musical identity.

In short, listen to them. Treat their musical opinions as valid. I promise they’ll be more likely to return the favour and be more open to what you want them to learn too.

Do your teens see music lessons as a way to escape stress?

What do you do to help foster that in your students? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

For more resources on teaching teens and adults, check out the “older students” section of my Planning Lessons hub page.

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