As music teachers, we are on a quest to pass on a skill that gives us joy, fulfillment, confidence, and a sense of purpose. But it’s not always easy. Many children today are overworked, overwhelmed, over-scheduled, and time deficient, which often leads them to make practice a low priority and to approach lessons with dread or apathy. We have all had students who are low on motivation at one point or another. It’s not always easy to keep students practicing week after week. One of my students is a high school sophomore who just finished a rigorous football season. I’ve noticed that recently he seems to have lost his excitement about piano lessons, and he has been showing up to lessons with little or no practice during the week. I’ve been thinking of ways to reignite his desire keep music in his life.
Here are some ideas I found for motivating piano students:
(Many of these ideas come from Joy Morin, “9 Ideas for Motivating Piano Students, Color in My Piano blog)
1. Build a good relationship with your students (LOVE them)
This lets them know that you like to be with them and that you care about them. Show interest in your students’ lives outside of piano. Ask questions to get to know them and listen to their answers. Be aware of what is going on in their lives and adjust accordingly. (a rigorous sports season, starting a new school…) Connecting with your students allows you to have greater influence on them, and they will be more motivated to learn.
2. Be sure to give them a good variety of repertoire
Find out what types of music they like. Supplement their method book(s) with new age piano, hymn arrangements, jazz/blues, pop music, soundtrack/music theater music, or whatever is currently popular. Always make sure they are working on something classical too.
3. Be silly (some of the time)
Playing an instrument requires hard work, concentration, and determination, but students won’t engage well if it’s all work. Choose appropriate times to have some fun, high-five, celebrate successes, be animated, and laugh.
4. Start an incentive program
Incentive programs can help to not only give your students a goal to work towards, but also to reward their hard work and good behavior.
5. Try playing more music games in the lesson
Not all students will become concert pianists. For many students, it may be more than enough to become functional pianists who have a strong, life-long appreciation for music. Try giving an extra emphasis on theory or ear training games. This might revive their interest in practicing their pieces.
6. Try doing more creative activities involving improvisation and composition
This helps communicate that creativity is important. Try to help them figure out what the composer of a piece might have been thinking or help them create a mood or story with their playing.
7. Find ways to increase studio camaraderie
Help students make “piano friends” by providing occasions when your students can meet and interact with each other. Assign duets between students, enter them in Cavalcade, or hold group lessons where they can play games and work together in small groups.
8. Provide regular performance opportunities
In addition to your annual or semi-annual recitals, you can also add low-stress performance opportunities such as Halloween/Christmas parties or a recital at a local senior center. You could also have studio performance times during monthly group lessons. Hearing other students play may motivate them to improve their own playing or to someday work on the same repertoire they hear from other students.
9. Have a talk with Mom or Dad
Often the problem is that the student needs to practice more. Ask mom or dad to give the student a gentle reminder each day. Suggest that they make a set routine or practice schedule. Ask the parents to occasionally sit at the bench with the student and ask them about their pieces and what they enjoy about them. Suggest they walk through or sit when the student is practicing and occasionally give praise and compliments to encourage them. This shows the student that practice time is a priority and something worthwhile and even enjoyable.
10. Let your LOVE of music show
Emotion is contagious! Take the opportunity to communicate often about what you love about music and playing the piano. Make sure to draw their attention to a beautiful melody, a catchy rhythm, a unique chord, or exciting passage. Ask them what they like in their pieces. Remind them how lucky they are to have music in their lives. Play for them often and share your favorite pieces with them. Encourage them to listen to all types of music.
#1 and 10 are probably our most important tools to keep our students motivated and LOVING piano lessons. Remember we are teaching students to be life-long musicians. Have a wonderful month and don’t forget to let your LOVE of music show!
DVMTA President 2022-2024
Read the full February 2023 Newsletter