I’ve spent a lot of time teaching piano to teenagers. Many of whom would slink through the door, sit hunched on the bench, shrug at my suggestions of new repertoire and really not show any interest in being at lessons at all! Usually this stage (with me at least) is short-lived. The key is in connecting with your teens in a way that makes them feel understood and valued.
It’s a simple concept, but for many of these teens it’s also a foreign concept. At a time in their lives when many other adults have dismissed them as “going through a stage” or simply being difficult, you have the opportunity to be the one person who can get through the prickles and really give them a gift that will get them through that tough teen stage – the gift of music in their lives.
Here are some simple ideas for connecting with those difficult teens:
1. Understand that friendships are their number one priority at this point in their life. Practising may or may not happen regularly. If you play the heavy they’ll always choose friends and you risk losing them as a student. Usually, however, if you implement these other ideas for teaching piano to teenagers, practising will happen in mass quantities as they are at a time in their lives where they throw themselves into what they are passionate about.
2. Connect with them by showing them you understand their world. Start off their lesson with the phrase “Hey, I found a really cool piece for us to try today.” Do your homework and choose something that is relevant and currently on the radio. They’ll be instantly impressed that you knew enough to choose music for them. Don’t just ask, “What would you like to play?” Do your research yourself and surprise them.
3. Praise them just as much as you would a younger student, but be genuine. Teens smell a fake a mile away. However, take any and every opportunity to recognize achievements no matter how small.
4. Choose repertoire that gives them two things 1) instant gratification – difficult teens usually do not have the attention span to work on a piece over weeks or months and 2) the coolness factor. If they can play something impressive for their friends (and I don’t mean Sonatina in G) then you’re helping them develop an identity as a musician.
5. Find performance opportunities for them that are unique and relevant. Often teens will opt out of traditional recitals and you need to find an alternative for them that keeps them motivated and gives them a goal.
It’s worth it to both of you to put in the extra effort. Teaching piano to teenagers is not always easy, but the benefits are far-reaching. Teens do two things very well: show off and talk. If they’re showing off their piano skills and talking about you then you’ll reap the rewards.
Want more great piano teaching tips? Check out our piano teaching guide, “Piano Hands Shouldn’t Flip Burgers”.