Are all your teenage students quitting when the going gets tough? Friends, school and other hobbies pull teens in so many different directions. Let’s find a way to keep them in lessons so they don’t turn into the adult who wished they hadn’t quit!
- Creating Piano Practice Pros Part 3: What to do when you’ve tried it all
- How to teach pop music to piano students
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You’re listening to Episode 52 of the vibrant music teaching podcast. I’m Nick Cantan. And today we’re taking on teen motivation.
Hey beautiful teachers. If you’ve been teaching for any time at all you’ve probably come across this problem of teens tending to quit lessons once they reach maybe high school maybe middle school. It can be really hard really challenging to keep them in music lessons even though they’ve invested so many years and got up to a certain standard. They then want to throw in the towel and the reason this happens. Well there’s really three parts to this three main reasons. Either they have a conflict with sports or some other hobby that’s taking over. They have a conflict with their studies and schoolwork is just too demanding to keep a piano or an instrument at the same time or it’s their friends. They just don’t have enough time to hang out with their buddies and that’s kind of what teenagers are designed to do. Kids are designed to play. Teenagers are designed to socialize. They’re all about hanging out with friends and getting in with their peers. And when they feel like everyone around them is getting to go to these parties and do all this fun stuff and everyday they say oh I have to go home and practice or their parent is calling them nagging them because they haven’t done it or they just feel like they’re getting nowhere in their studies because they’re not practicing because they’re spending time with their friends. It can really weigh on them and they end up just quitting to saying well that’s it.
And we all know that when we meet people and about and they ask what we do when we saw a music teacher or do they say oh I wish I’d never quit. That’s what adults say. But the teens are still quitting and then they turn into the adults who maybe they come back to music studies and that’s great. Or maybe they just wish they hadn’t quit forever. So what can we do about it. How can we help the situation. Well I think all of this really starts throughout the child’s studies so there’s a few things that can set them up for success as a teen in lessons. I mean that they don’t quit later on down the track. So we’re playing a bit of a long game here. The first thing is that consistently you introduce them to a broad range of music even the child who seems fairly satisfied with classical pieces and is progressing just fine and seems to enjoy them.
That’s great. But if they never get to explore anything else they may feel like their music lessons are not a place where they can have music that their peers find cool. So before you even get a chance later on to go yeah we can learn pop they might just up and quit because I think it’s not for them. So I think it’s really important that even for students who don’t seem all that bothered that we at least include some different styles of music I believe that’s part of our job is to introduce students to a broad range of music. Yes classical music but also pop also pieces of Latin styles and jazz and whatever else just so that they’re open to it and they know that their music lessons are a place where they can explore all sorts of things if their interests change.
The other thing we need to do is to give them great skills and you probably thinking yeah that’s obvious. I’m a music teacher that’s my whole job. Yes but you need to give them great skills in every area that they might need to use. If your students can only read you’re closing them off to a whole area of music studies and that might have been the area that kept them going when they were a teen. So I believe we need to teach our students to read music but also to improvise and to play by ear so that when maybe they come across a situation where their friends are playing the guitar and the bass and they’re playing piano and they can’t play without sheet music in front of them so they don’t fit in. That could be the reason that they quit. It’s also really important that throughout their studies they create music they don’t just play it because they need ownership of their music. They need to improvise it and compose it themselves so that they feel like they are a musician they know what it’s about and they’ve been inside it. They’re not just replicating what other people have done. That they actually own it. No I had to create it from scratch. So those are the things that I think are the keys to keeping teens in lessons that you can do throughout their studies to prepare them.
The other thing that you need to do and need to do more and more as they approach teenage hood is to ramp up the listening. You need to listen more not to music to their opinions. You need to take them seriously. They’re becoming young adults. And if they feel like you’re always talking down to them or disregarding their opinions in whatever small way that you didn’t mean to show that if they feel like you don’t treat them as someone you actually want to talk to and spend time with and someone who has valid opinions then that’s going to turn them off from music lessons. You need to cultivate a relationship where they feel comfortable telling you that they’re having a hard time practicing or telling you that they want to learn a different style of music that they feel confident approaching you and saying that actually they’re into punk now or whatever reggae whatever happens. They need to be able to say that to you without judgment. And they need to know that your lesson and taken on board when you’re planning their lessons. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room though because I just mentioned it the practice problem. One of the big problems with teen students is that they just don’t have time to practice and so practice falls off a cliff unless they’re highly competitive teen students and those are the ones that do stick in lessons.
The ones that are driving themselves forward from exam to exam or competitions that’ll normally pull them forward and they’ll dedicate their practice time because they’re motivated to do it. But for those teens who are not in that situation and that’s the majority really who are not that competitive and motivated by these types of achievements practice will tend to drop off it’ll tend to go through peaks and valleys maybe or just be a little bit more inconsistent at least and maybe it’ll stop existing at all. So what do you do. Well you can give them something to work towards that does help. And whether that’s an exam or festival or more formal opportunity or studio recitals or projects that they’re working on like composing their own piece or preparing a movie soundtrack for something that you’re going to put together on YouTube they need something to work towards. But that won’t always do it is what I mean. That’s not going to do it for every student every time because they are busy. So yeah we can say all but they do have time. Yeah. But it’s not always gonna be their top priority. You know not every student we have is going to put music first. That doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to some music and that they shouldn’t have it as part of their lives as part of an overall mix.
So what do you do during those periods when they won’t practice. Well I think the biggest thing you can do is adjust your expectations. A lot of the time the reason they’re quitting is because we expect them to practice and everything is structured around the fact that they are going to practice and then they don’t. So they feel like a failure. They feel like they’re not achieving anything not getting anywhere. You’re grumpy when you see them even if you don’t think it shows it shows and they don’t feel good about going to music lessons so they quit. If you just adjust your expectations and how you plan your lessons it is possible to teach students without them practicing yes they won’t achieve nearly as much as they could but they will achieve more than if they quit one day they’ll get to have music in their lives even though they can’t practice as much as you think is ideal. You can’t have the ideal with every student. So a lot of the time the real problem is just that we have set everything up so that they have to practice to make this work and then they can’t practice or they don’t practice at least for a period of time. And so they feel like well there’s no point something I can do about this I’m just not good enough I just can’t do it.
So don’t try to go at your students. Not that you would but even in a mild way it does precisely nothing. Whenever I have given out two or nagged students about practicing or stressed the importance and giving them a mini lecture about it it has done exactly nothing. It achieves nothing. So stop whenever you’re tempted to have. But oh well if you just practice you if you get this piece done and then we’ll be on cooler stuff it’s not going to work like that. So adjust your expectations and plan lessons that makes sense for no practice. And going back to listening to them and treating them as a young adult which they are. Tell them about it. Let them in on what’s happening. Don’t just secretly adjust everything. Tell them “Listen you’ve obviously not been getting much time for practice lately. If you do get time and you do want to get back into practicing that’s great. I’m here to support you. But for now I think we just take the pressure off and we’re going to do X Y Z. In the meantime so that we can have fun each week because there’s no point setting something up for practice.” It’s not not able to happen right? So what do you do during that time if they’re not practicing or even if they are.
What do you do with teens? I’m sure what you were expecting from this podcast at least most of you was a bunch of suggestions of books because that seems to be the go to it’s like oh we just find the right piece we just find this. But I think the previous things that I’ve mentioned are more important. I will make a few book suggestions though because it is important to find the right repertoire. So if your student is interested in learning POP There’s two sites that I recommend for really good pop arrangements and that’s no VA score and F.M. sheet music F.M. sheet music is actually Jennifer Ecklund of piano pronto. It’s a separate site where she brings together all her pop arrangements from different sheet music sites. So those are both fantastic for really good arrangements that actually work. You can of course go to sheet music plus or somewhere else broader. But the thing I would say is just be cautious about them because the arrangements aren’t always amazing. You know there’s a huge amount of selection and that means that the quality isn’t always there. I’m not saying the quality is bad just saying it’s going to be hit or miss and you have to really pay attention to what it is. Listen to it a few times make sure it really sounds satisfying and is at a good level for your student.
So if you want good arrangements Nova’s score F.M. sheet music. The other thing to consider is something in a pop style like Jennifer Echlin spotlights solos. Those are available on her main site piano pronto dot com and there’s other pop style music there. I love the piano Brando’s eye particularly for teens because you can listen to everything so you can send your teen a bunch of links to different books and say listen pick one of these whichever one you like the sander. It saves you time. I definitely say saves you lessen time if you don’t go into play through different samples it also means you don’t have to order a bunch of different music just to test it when they might not have enjoyed it anyway because it’s very hard to know even if they say they like pop like that’s not very specific or they want modern things or they might say they like jazz but you don’t really know those words aren’t specific enough and sending them virtually to a page where they can listen to it is the sure fire way to do it. So I’ll just go on piano pronto look up a few different books that I think they might like at the right level and the right level if they’re not practicing is a lot easier than you might expect. Right. Because you’re not going to push them forward.
You are going to move laterally for a while and that’s fine. So send them to be on a Brando or another site where you can listen to everything and let them choose and make sure they’re enthusiastic about the choice. The other thing to do with teen student is incorporate more project based learning especially with the ones who are low to no practice style students. So maybe you explore garage band together and they create a whole track with layers and all the smart instruments and they play piano directly into it and you use that for a project based opportunity for them. You could also do a similar thing with them composing their own pieces maybe the soundtrack for a film idea appeals to them find something that they want to do that if they can’t get to any of it midweek you’ll just pick up where you left off at the next lesson and if they do get it great you’ll get through it faster but stuff like these projects and also improvisation means that they don’t have to feel bad or feel like you can’t go anywhere or can’t do anything and you don’t feel stuck when they show up having not practiced. The other thing I wanted to mention about teens that is really good for them is to be with other students. I’ve talked about the fact that their peers are so important to them.
So if you can at all facilitate getting your teens together either an occasional basis or regularly for their lessons that could be an invaluable opportunity for them teen students to get into. Playing with other musicians playing in a band playing in an orchestra are way more likely to stick to it because then it’s not something that drags them away from their friends. It’s another place to have friends. It’s another group to be part of and to identify with. So whether you can do buddy lessons whether you can do a duet week or two every semester or you can do group workshops for your teens or just encourage your teen students to find other musicians. Other teens that their friends that play music and let them know that you’re happy to help them figure out how to play with them. Bryant figured out how to use lead sheets or something so they can play with their guitarist friends. OK so those are my tips for keeping teens in lessons. Let’s run through them quickly again. We’ve got the setup throughout their studies so that they can be successful in their teens giving them a broad range of music making sure they have great skills in sight reading improv and playing by ear as well as being able to create their own music. We make sure that they know that we listen to them that we take on board their opinions and that they are valuable to us.
We solve the practice problem possibly by fixing it or possibly by just accepting it and structuring our lessons around that fact and we give them great music that they really are excited to learn. That’s not too hard if they’re not practicing and opportunities to play with other musicians. I hope this has been helpful for you and that it helps you improve your teen retention rates. Next week we’re going to be talking about moving out of method book because this is another area when it comes to slightly older students that teachers wonder about. What do I do when they’re needing to move out of method books or they finish the whole series where do I go next how do I plan it. Well we’ll talk about that next week. Finally I just wanted to quickly mention that next week from the twenty third I’ll be over near Chicago at the NCKP The National Conference on keyboard pedagogy. I’m speaking there on Friday and I’m there for the fall conference. So if you happen to be a listener who is attending the conference I would love to meet you. Please come up to me and say hi. I promise I’d never bite and I’d love to chat to any listeners of the podcast.
That’s it for this week. I’ll see you back again next week for another episode of the vibrant music teaching podcast. Bye for now. If you want to give your students that skills that they need to continue into their teens. with improvisation sight reading. games creative composing activities and more then you need to check out vibrant music teaching. Go to VMT.ninja to sign up today.
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