Let’s face it, most teens can always find something to do instead of practise piano.
With pressures from school, sports and other activities alongside the always-on social networking aspect of their lives, encouraging teens to engage in a solitary activity that requires serious focus and effort can be a hard sell.
That’s where this post comes in: I’m going to discuss some ideas to get teens fully engaged in their piano practice by getting them to do something else entirely.
Yes! We all know that teens are not some homogeneous group for which just one magical method will work. One approach may not always work even on the same teen!
We need a wide variety of methods in our teacher’s toolkit to engage and motivate our students. The ideas in this post are to help you with students who love being online and who enjoy messing around on their phones, tablets and laptops (I think that’s every teen isn’t it?!! -Ed).
The premise: choose an idea that fits what your student already loves doing (aside from playing the piano!) and soon you should find yourself motivating them to practise!
For the teen that also has a talent for writing, setting them up with a blog writing challenge can provide structure and motivation for their practice.
Students could document their struggles and successes with learning particular pieces, record their explorations of different recordings of said pieces, research historical or biographical information about the composer or artist and even log their practice for technical exercises.
Direct benefits for your students include:
Piano Practice Blog Handout is a handy worksheet I give to my teens to get them started on blogging. Having a structure with prompts to think about can help them get past that overwhelming blank space in a new blog post. As this is aimed at students who are already keen writers, I haven’t included any sentence starters, but this is something else you could add for the right student.
Whilst many teens are probably blogging in ways and on sites that we haven’t even heard of yet, some of your students may need a suggestion. WordPress is an ever-popular platform and allows you to set up a free blog. Here is a video you could share with your students if they need some help getting started on WordPress:
An alternative and simpler approach would be to get your students to set up a Facebook page to serve as a blog for their piano practice adventures.
Once you have a teen or two producing blog posts you could ask them to share it with the other students in your studio. This would be so motivating for both the bloggers and the readers. It’s great to see that other students also have to work hard and to learn from them how they overcome challenges.
I love getting students to reflect and feedback on their learning. They invariably offer up some really charming comments and often share insights into areas I’d not even considered. I really believe you can always learn a lot from your students! This can even provide great feedback for you on your teaching.
A variation on the idea of blogging – but this is video blogging, that is, filming videos rather than writing posts. This idea of vlogging would be great for students who love to film the action in their lives, whether on their phones, digital camera or video camera.
There are two main options that I would ask students to choose from:
Encourage your students to plan what they will say as this will be more likely to lead to a watchable video.
For this practice motivator, students could set up their own channel on You Tube or again, make use of Facebook, setting up a page on which to post their videos.
As a variation on the theme of blogging, many of the benefits of vlogging are identical to those for blogging. There is, however, the additional advantage of getting students to produce recordings of their playing. Being able to see how they look when they are playing can, where necessary, help them to improve their posture and hand position.
Regularly listening to their own playing will really help students to develop good listening skills and to understand what they are actually playing and thereby, how to improve their performance. Further, students who tackle the technique videos should learn a great deal about their chosen areas.
Teaching others is one of the best ways to ensure that you properly understand something.
I’ve had students who videoed their piano practice find they are really quite shocked at their posture, having had no idea what they looked like when playing the piano. I’ve also had students make great progress on tricky passagework once they had to record and listen to themselves regularly.
I do like to encourage students to record their practice every week anyway, using a voice recorder app on their phones, but by undertaking a vlogging project students actually make the recordings and, crucially, have to listen to what they were playing too whilst going through the editing process.
If you’ve got students who are photo-philes, set them a project of taking pictures of tricky passages, awkward hand positions, impressive sounding chords… in fact anything to do with learning the piano that catches their eye. They can upload to Instagram or Flickr or even Facebook straight from their phones, building an interesting record of their piano practice.
These sites again provide great social networking opportunities so do encourage them to share with the other students in your studio. It is really rewarding and encouraging for students to get “likes”, shares and comments on their work.
Not sure about these sites and how they work? Just google them for more information.
Life online sadly isn’t always friendly. Here is a great site from Australia about staying safe online and here is a similar one from the UK. I would strongly recommend sharing these with your students (you can suggest they make their posts private) as well as talking to your students’ parents about what you are asking them to do.
I hope that you have found an idea or two here that you can use with your students. Admittedly, not all teens are interested in technology but for those that are, I like the way that these strategies tap into both their interests in technology and social networking.
As they share their progress online with other students they can get positive feedback and reinforcement, encouraging them to continue practising.
For more ideas on working with teens take a look at this free toolkit or some of the many excellent articles found here.
Do you think this would work in your studio? I would love to hear how you get on – please let me know in the comments below and of course, please share if you have any further ideas for motivating teens to practise.