Teaching Teenagers

Teaching teenagers - is it a joy or is it a frustration?


In my experience, it is either one or the other :) Some of my absolute favorite students I have taught have been teenagers. I just love getting into the really "fun" repertoire, seeing my students really progress musically and really grow to love the piano (independently of their parents wanting them to take lessons), and I love the challenge of teaching more difficult (and more rewarding) repertoire. When teenagers are motivated, hard-working and make piano a priority, they can be a definite joy to teach! (I loved Mariel's comment on my last post where she shared some ideas to help our students realize the importance of music and to help make piano a priority in their lives!)


On the other hand, some of my very most challenging and frustrating students have also been teenagers. It can be so challenging when they are so busy with school and other extracurricular activities that they don't make piano practice a priority. Picking repertoire is a definite challenge - for if the student hates their pieces, they will hate practicing and hate coming to lessons (and by extension you sometimes feel like they hate you!! not good!).

So what can we do as teachers to motivate our teenage students?

I decided that to really get into this topic, it would be helpful to actually talk to someone who has much more recently been a teenage piano student and get their perspective. So, I interviewed my little brother, Josh.

Josh Gibbons is an awesome guy, an amazing pianist and is a piano teacher, as well! Josh is 18 and just began college; he took piano lessons for many years. He recently performed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with his high school orchestra for Concerto Night. He absolutely loves to play the piano and it is a big part of his life.

Is it true you almost quit piano lessons at one point during high school?
Yes, it was more in early junior high though. There was a point where I just totally stopped practicing and didn't care for it too much.

What was it about piano lessons that made you want to quit?
I was never really good at practicing, and I would easily get frustrated while learning a song. I felt overwhelmed sometimes with all of the songs I had and that it was taking a long time to learn them. I guess I just wasn't patient enough.

Why did you continue your piano study?
First of all, I realized that my friends and everyone else liked it when I played the piano. But also, around that time, I changed how I played the songs. I realized how much you can change each song to how you want it, through the dynamics. I loved having the freedom to change the tempo how I wanted, making the song my own.I then started loving the songs I was playing and enjoyed piano a lot more.

Are you glad you kept taking piano lessons?
I'm very glad that I kept taking lessons. I definitely would regret it now if I had quit. I love having the opportunity to serve in my church through music and I'm sure it'll be wonderful to have this skill when I serve my mission for my church. Also, the better I got, the more I enjoyed playing. If I had quit, I would be missing out on something that is a huge part of my life now. Looking back now, I have a great feeling of accomplishment that I kept taking lessons all these years.

What opportunities would you have missed out on if you had quit?
If I had quit, I wouldn't have been able to learn the great pieces I've learned in the past couple of years, and I wouldn't have played in Concerto Night. Playing in Concerto Night was definitely one of the biggest highlights from my high school experience. Also, I wouldn't have been able to play with my church choir as the accompanist, which has made me even better. I probably wouldn't have any friends either because who doesn't like it when someone can play the piano?

What things about piano lessons made you want to keep playing?
My teacher definitely made a difference for me. I can't recall one piano lesson that I went into, that I didn't leave with a smile on my face. Even after a week of little practicing, my teacher was very encouraging. She taught me great lessons on how to be a better pianist but also lessons on how to be a better person. The piano lesson was a great way to start off the week.

What are some things you would suggest to teachers of teenagers to help keep other teenagers interested in lessons?
I would suggest to teachers to make a great connection between themselves and the student. I was a piano teacher myself, and I think I could have done a much better job of really connecting with the student so they could trust me and they would trust my advice. Also, don't just teach straight piano. Let them know that you care about their life and what they are doing, and give them advice to help them in their life. Once the student knows that you really care about them becoming a better pianist, and just a better person in general, they will want to practice more for you. Also, make sure the student knows HOW to practice. Even today, I still feel like I'm not the best at practicing. It's different for every student, however. For me, it was hard to practice straight for a long period of time. Try to help them find the best way for them to practice.

Josh and his teacher
Thank you Josh, for some wonderful insights! I think there are some great ideas he gave us that we can all work on to improve our teenage students' experience with piano lessons. He said some interesting things - which lead to some great questions we can all ask ourselves about our teenage students:

What insights and ideas do you have to share? I'd love your comments!

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