The Real Reason Teens are Quitting Piano – Part 1

The Real Reason Teens are Quitting Piano – Part 1

Are Your Teens Quitting Piano? Here’s how to motivate them:

Is it just me or is it getting harder to stop teens quitting piano lessons?

No one has any time, every after-school minute is jam-packed with activities, and despite the costs and logistics of piano lessons, practice always takes a back seat to everything else that’s going on.

Teacher: “So how did your practice go this week, Luke?”

Luke: “I didn’t really get any time” (cue: sheepish look)

Teacher: “Really? Not even 30 minutes on the weekend?”

Luke: “Well I had to play basketball for school on Saturday morning and then on Sunday it was football with my local club and then my grandparents were down from the country and we had to do things with them all afternoon and then my best friend came over and…”

You get the idea.

The real issue for students like Luke is motivation. If our students are really motivated to play, they’ll make the time for it. Won’t they?

So how do you motivate teens?

Is it about the music? Is it about how you teach? Or is it about the connection they have with you? Is it about keeping it relevant? Or is it just about helping them play pop music? It is about having fun and sharing some jokes? Is it about being the “cool” teacher?

The Real Reason Teens are Quitting Piano – Part 1

In my experience, it’s a subtle combination of all the above, but with a focus on three key issues that that really stand-out if you’re wondering about teens quitting piano and how to avoid that:

  1. You aren’t teaching them music they want to play,
  2. You aren’t making music relevant,
  3. You aren’t keeping up with technology.

This blog series will focus on each of these factors in more depth, giving you a number of quick tips that you can immediately use in your studio to improve your connection with teen students.

Part 1: Teaching students the music they want to play

Here are my Top 3 Tips for this week:

1. Ask your student what he/she would like to play and be open to teaching it.

Even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Listen to the music your students like together and work out an approach for learning it. Yes, you can use lesson time! I get really excited when students bring in new music that I’ve never heard of before. If you don’t let teenagers play at least a few pieces they want to learn, you’ll lose them very quickly. If they bring in a piece that’s way too hard for them, help them to simplify it. Even if they only learn the chord structure or the melody, they’ll re-engage in their learning and practice.

2. Make sure you have LOTS of cool repertoire up your sleeve.

Even if they choose a piece they want to play, you’ll need other options to keep them engaged in the middle-longer term. Teenagers love choice. You may need to play/demonstrate/show on YouTube a number of pieces before they find one that clicks with them. Search YouTube for ‘piano tutorials’ – these are normally the most popular pieces, but you’ll need to stay current. I’ll soon be releasing a blog article about how to find epic repertoire for your teens online – stay tuned at my blog for more info (links below).

3. Admit that you don’t know everything!

The days of teachers being wise ‘know-it-alls’ and students being empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge are long gone! Share the learning journey with them as a facilitator.You’ll gain much more respect from students and a deeper connection with them and their music. In the process, you’ll grow as a teacher and isn’t that what effective teaching should be all about?

PS. I’ve found that some teens who start out wanting to play pop music often lose interest in it after a while when they realise that great piano solos and classical music can be much more fulfilling to play. Use pop music as your “in” while you slowly introduce great piano solos into the mix. You’ll have them hooked!

Of course, there are many factors that can impact the relationship you have with your teen students and next week in Part 2, I’ll give you my top tips for developing better connections with your teens by helping make their lessons more relevant:

  • Using YouTube more effectively
  • How sport can enhance music practice
  • Giving teens the skills they need to play for life
  • How to think like a video-game maker when setting goals

If you’re looking for more ideas on motivating teenage students, to stop teens quitting piano lessons and can’t wait for Part 2, you can also check out my free eBook: Teen Teaching Toolkit.

If you’re having success with your teens, I’d love for you to share some of your tricks and tips with other readers – please leave a comment below with your thoughts. Have you got some great repertoire ideas? Got a favourite teaching app to inspire teenagers? Know how to engage teen beginners in their first lessons?

To be continued…

Click here for The Real Reason Teens Are Quitting Your Studio – Part 2

Click here for The Real Reason Teens Are Quitting Your Studio – Part 3: Technology

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, 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.

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The Real Reason Teens are Quitting Piano – Part 1
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  1. Takes me back to my days learning the keyboard as a child. I’d regularly go the whole week without practising and just wing it in my lesson. I guess it helped my sight reading at least! Haha.

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