Trevor and I get a ton of emails from piano teachers about teen retention; how can I keep my teens engaged, how can I keep my teens motivated, how can I keep my teens practicing… and how can I stop my teens from quitting?!
I’ve always found it to be such a travesty when experienced teens quit piano; they’ve invested so much time and effort and heart into the piano for so many years… and then one moody “nah”, when asked if they want to continue lessons… and poof! they’re gone.
This hurts my heart. Because while all students NEED music, teens, perhaps, need it a little bit more.
Over the years of teaching many, many teenage piano students – some who continued on in music, some who quit, some who floundered, some who stuck with it begrudgingly, some who now teach piano themselves… I’ve found that there are seven habits, that can make a huge difference to the piano lesson experience through the teenage years.
We’re sharing these seven habits today so you can keep the teens on your bench happily engaged with music!
Seven Habits of Successful Teenage Piano Students
1. Honesty – This is a two way street and it includes everything from teens being honest about how much practice did or didn’t happen to whether or not they absolutely hate the piece that’s been selected for them.
My teens know they can come in and say “I didn’t even open a book this week” without feeling as though they have to make excuses or feel guilty. And 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.
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.
2. 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 spreading their wings when it comes to musical tastes and 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… and that is beyond the typical “Top 40”.
3. Collaboration– 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 social outlet.
Being a part of a school’s jazz band, accompanying the high school musical, playing in a small band of friends, accompanying singers at the school talent show, and doing duets with same-level friends are all activities that make the piano an indispensable part of teenage 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 keep collaborating with their friends.
October’s Piano Book of The Month from PianoBookClub is the ultimate teen collaboration book. Vamp Battles: where’d duets and duels collide. The 7 dramatic duets in Vamp Battles provide the music you need to engage your teens like never before. Use them as teacher/student duets for in-lesson collaboration and enjoyment, or pair up two of your teenage students and take them to the stage for a unique performance that’s sure to bring the house down!
4. 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.
5. Music In Their Ears – Successful teenage piano students are piano students who are always listening to music… a fairly easy task these days with ever-present iPods and iPhones.
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… and the two of you can really get into some motivating projects.
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 it puts musical ideas and unique sounds in their ears that help with creativity and expression. Plus.. the more they listen to music, the more they want to make music!
6. Creativity – Teenage piano students who have found “freedom on the keys” are the students that you never have to ask to practice. In fact, they just can’t stop!
Encourage composing, improv, and just plain old “noodling” on the keys. Having them “play easy stuff for enjoyment” on the piano 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 mental challenge involved. After all, any time spent on the piano bench is a good thing.
7. A Challenge – 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 are completely capable of meeting that challenge, then you actually increase their commitment to the piano (not decrease it as I was afraid would happen).
Giving teens accessible music so they don’t have to work too hard 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 “Number One Cheerleader” along the way.
What Works For Your Teens?…
Wouldn’t the world be a lovely place if every teenager who had quit piano had instead continued on to play through 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.
We want to hear from you? What works for you with your teenage students? If you’re rockin’ the teen retention share your tips in the comments below.