Motivating Piano Students through Repertoire Options – Piano Music
This article provides insights on how teachers can motivate students by letting them have control over certain portions of their weekly and long-term assignments.
For private piano teachers, one of the challenges we meet, especially with students who are working through the first several years of a traditional piano method, is how to keep students motivated while they are learning the basics. Method books are an important part of the weekly lessons, but even the most engaging materials are not shared favorites of each student. Though many students do not yet know how to describe the type of music they like, piano teachers can still “spice up” lessons by introducing options and choices for students to incorporate each week and letting them pick what they study.
Why are Repertoire “Choices” Important for the Student?
Every person who has studied piano has run across songs and exercises they like and ones they don’t. Unfortunately, students can’t avoid the necessary parts of working through a curriculum as a part of piano study, but inversely, teachers should not expect a student to stay motivated if they are not working on repertoire that interests them.
Because it is especially difficult for beginner through intermediate level students to play every song they enjoy, presenting repertoire options for students to choose between is an excellent way to give the student some say over what they work on while the teacher is able to monitor the selections. This process has been quite successful for me as a piano teacher, because students like to feel that they have some control over the songs they play, and we have the advantage of knowing which option out of a group was their favorite and caught their attention.
How to Introduce Repertoire Choices to a Student?
My process is very simple. It starts by opening a dialogue with the student about the type of music they listen to and like. A lot of times, students will describe songs they’ve heard in movies, shows, and on the radio, and sometimes will mention popular classical piano pieces they’ve heard. However, sometimes a student’s response is a simple “I don’t know”. I’m never discouraged by that answer—in fact, I see it as an opportunity to help them define their musical interests.
The next step is determining level appropriate materials and gathering ideas. I love supplemental songbooks, or books that have a defined level, but are not method books. Some examples are those that have a style also defined, like a level 2 Jazz and Blues book, or primer level popular songs. I get one or two of these that fit with the conversation I had with the student, and in their next lesson, I play 3 or 4 pieces for them. At that time, the student can choose their favorite and work on that piece.
If lessons feel demotivated before this process begins, a lot of times, I’ll put one of the method books on hold while the student works on the piece they selected.
How Does the Selected Repertoire Motivate a Student?
I think some students feel relieved if they are able to work on something they enjoy and feel they are taking a break from the usual assignments. As teachers, we know this is not really the case, and progress is being made through a different avenue. The most important aspect as an educator is to keep the student interested and practicing, and a student is more likely to practice if there is a song that they enjoy. Also, if a student has selected an option out of 3 or 4 fun pieces, odds are that they saw something in the selection that was special or captivating to them, and they are more likely to have a strong attachment to the selection. Being able to choose also empowers the student to feel that music study is not just a process, but something that is expressive and fun—possibly realizing the future potential to play more pieces they enjoy.
How Does the Process of Student Repertoire Selection Help Piano Teachers?
After a few pieces that were selected by the student have been worked on, a piano teacher will certainly gain new insight into what that particular student enjoys. Maybe you realize that the student loves pop ballades, or fast oldies rock pieces. Whatever the case, you can draw out what a student likes by seeing what they routinely pick. It’s as though you now have data about the student’s interests that you can continue to develop throughout their study.
Another important aspect of this process is that it helps the relationship between the student and teacher. The teacher has turned over a bit of control to the student to define their goals, and the student feels that their teacher cares about their opinions and individual style.
Piano Music To Enjoy
In my own studio, I feel that the bond between my students and me has grown as a result of using this technique, and student motivation is the triumphant outcome of the whole process. When you have the opportunity to show a student what they can achieve, and it is something they enjoy, they feel more compelled to work towards the weekly songs and exercises from method books, because they now know what they are working towards. It’s inspiring to see the change in some students, and it’s a process that takes our insight as piano teachers, but also as people, to help our students realize why they are taking lessons and what “joy of music” really means.