Most of my career has focussed on all-boys education. I believe there are many merits to single-sex schooling, especially when it comes to the arts. However, this is not a post about co-ed versus single sex schooling, rather it’s about repertoire that I have found resonates really well when teaching boys.
In my experience, boys feel a greater need than girls to study pieces which resonate with them early on and which will sound and look good when performed in front of people. Boys love nothing more than being able to show-off to friends by playing cool stuff that other people recognise – the opening chords of a pop song, the piano riff from a cool dance track or a famous movie theme.
Although I’m generalising, I feel that girls are more content playing pieces recommended by their teachers and they don’t have the same concern about how their playing will be perceived by others (i.e. whether it’s ‘cool’ or not). Hence, I believe that finding repertoire for girls is probably a little easier than for boys on the whole.
Now this post won’t be all that relevant if the boys you teach already practice four hours a day and are doing their Diploma at age eight. Rather, it is about engaging those students who are already in three sports teams, do karate and study another language on the weekend; i.e. those kids who love the piano but don’t necessarily have hours to devote to it and who may well quit if they don’t get a chance to play at least some music of interest to them.
What works with boys?
Now to the music. I still find it fascinating how an engaging title can really capture (or a bad title can ruin!) a boy’s imagination, even if the music isn’t all that brilliant! Call a piece “Funnel-web spider”, “Train Crash” or “The Chase” and you have roped many boys in before they’ve even heard how it sounds!
On the flip-side, I generally avoid giving boys pieces with titles to do with roses, tea parties and flower dances. Call it sexist, but it’s an important factor in my experience. The music might be brilliant, but an unappealing title may have a subconsciously negative effect.
I’m not sure it’s true to say that most boys like the “Indian Drums” kinds of pieces with lots of 5ths in the LH (although many do) or pieces that are just loud and rambunctious. Sometimes it’s quite the contrary.
I have noticed however, that many teen boys like rhythmic, arpeggiated music especially if it has unexpected and unusual changes of harmonies, even if the pieces themselves are quite repetitive. Pieces that look harder than they are, are always a winner too. Film music is great too – see my post Creating a Buzz with Piano Film Music.
Recommended pieces for teaching boys
With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some composers, pieces and books that I’ve found really successful with boys, in the hope that this may be of interest to other teachers. I know how easy it is to get stuck in a rut of just teaching the same old pieces over and over (or, heaven forbid, only teaching from the same exam books year after year!!).
Just click the link to see where to find the music online.
- Supersonics Piano – by Daniel McFarlane. Heaps of options in here. Brilliant, fun music with exciting titles! Seriously – don’t skip this one!
Check out my video demonstrating some of Daniel’s great music. For links, head to my blog post: 15 of the Best Pieces for Boys by Daniel McFarlane
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- Wild Rest, Sea Grotto, Night Ride, Quick as a Flash, A Little Latin, Sad Farmer from P-Plate Piano (ed Elissa Milne)
- Diabelli Duets (see my other post about these gems!)
- Indian Rain Dance, The Swinging Sioux, Summertime Blues from Accent on Solos 1-3 (William Gillock). See also his books: Solo Repertoire for the Young pianist Books 1-4
- The Rock Island Line (duet) – from Together at the Piano FJH music ed. Edwin McLean
- Fur Elise, Turkey in the Straw, Beethoven’s 5th, various carols, folk tunes (arr G Benedetti – free online)
- Funeral March (Chopin) – makingmusicfun.net – lots more goodies here
- Footprints (Vandall)
- Various pieces by Melody Bober from Piano for Busy Teens (Alfreds) – good series to check out
- Hot Potato Boogie, Turkey in the Straw, American Patrol (from Me and My Teacher by David Carr Glover) for 2 pianos
- Dennis Alexander’s Book Especially for Boys and The Best of Dennis Alexander has a number of great pieces including Big Chief Running Bear, Frogs and Snakes, Cinnamon Popcorn!, Sour Lemons, Space Invaders and lots more
- From Little Peppers (Milne), my boys like Square-O, Flaneur (duet), Cockatoo, Slumber Song, Crackerjack, Twilight, The Lone Echidna and Starlight so far!
- Freight Train Boogie, Slave Ship (Carr Glover)
- Motor Horns, Indian Snake Charmer (Dulcie Holland)
- James Bond Theme (arr Faber)
- The Good the Bad the Ugly (arr Milne)
- When the Saints go Marching In (good as a duet)
- Boogie No 1 from Joy of Boogie and the Blues
- Various Music from Jo Kotchie. Check out these demonstrations of some of my favourites:
- Whatever (Janet Bullard)
- Boogie Woogie Rock (Mike Springer) – from the great series Not Just Another Scale Book – highly recommended
- Famous and Fun Pop for Adults Books 2+3, Famous and Fun Classics books 4+5 (Carol Matz) are all excellent sources of intermediate pieces for boys. Also check out Piano Time Classics and More Piano Time Classics (Pauline Hall)
- Face in the Crowd, Habanera, Foot Tapper, Fax Blues, Misty Day, Struttin, Tut-Tuttin’, Take Your Time, Blues No 1, (Norton). In fact, just about anything by Christopher Norton!!
- POP: Blue (Da be dee), Forever Young, Memories feat Kid Cudi, Fireflies, Riders on the Storm, Cat’s in the Cradle, Mad World, Coldplay (just about anything – check out the It’s Easy to Play and Really Easy Piano series).
- Movies: John Dunbar Theme, In Dreams (arr Dan Coates) from Lord of the Rings, James Bond Theme, Superman, Star Wars (check out Dan Coates arrangements), Raiders March, Going Home (Knopfler), Schindler’s List (Williams), Mission Impossible, He’s a Pirate(Pirates of the Carribean), Simpsons Theme, Addams Family.
- Toccata Ritmico (Alfreds Premier Course Lesson 6)
- River Flows in You (Yiruma) from Twilight
- Entertainer, Maple Leaf Rag (Joplin)
- Comptine d’un autre ete : l’apres-midi (Yann Tiersen) from the movie Amelie
- The Heart Asks Pleasure First (Nyman) from The Piano
- Glassworks – Opening (Philip Glass)
- Forcing the Pace (Norton)
- Someone like you (Adele)
- The Sea is Angry (William Alwyn)
- A Drop in the Ocean (Ron Pope)
- Dreaming with a Broken Heart (John Mayer)
- Broken Hearted Girl (Beyonce Knowles)
- Apologize (One Republic)
- Better Together (Jack Johnson)
- Where I Stood (Missy Higgins)
- Dead and Gone (Justin Timberlake)
- Don’t Stop Believing (Journey)
- Roses (Outkast)
- Where the Story Ends (The Fray)
- Pastels, Tarantella, Toccata Vivo, Genesis, Jazz Extraordinaire (Mier)
- Disco Kid, Morning Song, Groove Time, Miss Miles, Left Hand Drive (Jazzin’ Around – Bailey)
…and, of course, plenty more!
Also make sure you check out my comprehensive Teaching Boys Piano resources page with research, links and more help if you teach boys in your studio.
What are your favourite pieces for boys?
Leave your thoughts below.