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How To Stop Them Quitting
So how can you avoid this – especially with teenagers, who feel they are already under too much pressure from school and other commitments? I wish I knew! I certainly don’t have a definitive answer but I can offer a few suggestions.
Sometimes it helps to give pupils smaller goals to aim for each week. Many are genuinely bogged down with school work and there’s no point telling them to do a thorough practise each day when you know they don’t consider that’s possible (although in reality it probably would be if they spent less time on their mobiles, tablets and computers).
Pick on something very specific to perfect – maybe one line in a piece of music – or even two specific bars – which they should play over and over again ensuring that a specific finger is used on one particular note. This, tell them, is the priority for the week and there’s no excuse for not succeeding when the task is so small; anything they manage to improve on top of this is a bonus.
Sometimes it’s better to offer the learner a choice in what exactly he should work on: a pupil who is given some responsibility may start showing a more mature approach towards practising. For instance, I might say: “Choose three scales to perfect and tell me next week which ones you did.” (I would add to this that, as it’s only three scales I do mean perfect).
If you’re struggling to motivate teenagers learning piano, you may have to allow them to veer away from classical music for a while and learn to play chart hits by their favourite singers or bands. If you type the artist and name of a song into the search box at the online site Musicroom.com, you will find there is plenty of reasonably-priced sheet music available. (I typed in ‘Your Song by Elton John’ but you may prefer to search for something more contemporary). One of the best things about buying sheet music for piano from this site is that you can print it out in whichever key you choose and – if you want to – can print out the same song for different instruments as well. You could suggest that teenagers choose a specific song to play, or buy a compilation book such as chart hits. (See also Between Exams for suggestions of pieces to inspire your pupil).
Too Many Distractions
The reason for giving up piano sometimes appears to be gender-specific. With girls, it tends to be what they refer to as ‘schoolwork’: in some cases this is true, while in others the real causes are boyfriends, social networking and other distractions.
Boys are more likely to claim they’ve just ‘gone off it’. Many (including my husband in his youth, as I mentioned earlier) have felt pressure from their peers to give up more artistic or pastimes in favour of sport.
If a male pupil has actually made the decision to give up without consulting me, it’s probably too late to change his mind. However, if he’s just showing small signs of wanting to quit, I might subtly mention the names of a few hugely successful male pop-stars – many of whom will have taken music lessons in childhood.
I might also add that the majority of well-known composers and pianists seem to be male (this isn’t intended to be sexist but – although the situation is changing – most of us can name more top male musicians than female).
Reasons to Carry On
For both male and female pupils, I sometimes mention the following points (not in any order) in an attempt to encourage them to carry on:
If, despite your best efforts, your pupil still decides to give up – don’t be too disheartened – many of them do come back a few years later (I’ve had several who’ve done this) and, in any case, there will always be plenty of others wanting to start.
The other thing to consider is that most pupils who quit piano lessons, generally hold on to their piano or keyboard – and even if they don’t start lessons again themselves, they may well have a younger brother or sister (or even a parent) who’s keen to try (again, I’ve experienced this) … so, make sure you stay on good terms with the family!
Keeping on good terms with people is not always as easy as it sounds: as a piano-teacher, you will experience many frustrations: parents not paying on time, pupils not practising, not listening while you explain something, forgetting their books or even not turning up for lessons. Sometimes it’s hard, but you need to keep developing your interpersonal skills as you develop your piano-playing and teaching ability.