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.
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.
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.
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
…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.
Leave your thoughts below.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.