Let the students choose what they want to play…

I know that sounds a little extreme, and I don’t mean the students choose all of the music they will play. What I began doing a few years ago is to ask the students what they want to play and then let them play that music in addition to the music that we are already working on. We both have a say in what they play!

This does not mean you need to forgo the planned workbooks, method books, theory exercises, or repertoire you are currently using in your studio or recommending as a parent or guardian. Don’t change what you are doing as a teacher or what you are encouraging them to play as a parent or family member. That needs to remain the same. What does change is allowing the student the opportunity to select additional music they want to play and work on because they choose to do so. One does not take the place of another, but I have found that allowing and encouraging students to select music of their own actually helps inspire and motivate them with the music we are working on together.

My wife plays the violin beautifully and it was not until she was in her 20’s taking advanced violin lessons from a member of the Utah Symphony that she was “allowed” or given the option to select her own music. When she met with her new violin instructor he asked my wife what she wanted to play. My wife was actually shocked because it was the first time in her entire life – both in taking violin lessons and also piano lessons – that she was asked what she wanted to play. My wife said something like, “You mean I can select music that I want to play?” Her new teacher nodded his head in agreement and responded with something like, “You are the one playing the music…you may as well choose something you like and will enjoy playing.” In all the years my wife had taken lessons no teacher had ever asked her what she wanted to play. They had selected the music books, the repertoire, sometimes they would select a few pieces and let her choose something from the selected pieces they had already chosen that they thought she would like to play – which is very good, but no one had ever asked her to choose music on her own without their help. Her new teacher said she could select anything. It was her choice. If you are not already doing this in your studio, how would that be for the piano students to have a say in what they play? I am not recommending that the student plays their own music in their own free time, but rather, that the music is incorporated into their weekly lessons and worked on with their teacher.

What I do is have the students write down their TOP 10 list of the songs they want to learn during the year and then we work on and pass off one of their selected songs every month in addition to the music we are already working on from their workbooks, method books, and repertoire pieces. This way they have a say in what they want to play and I am also able to direct them and suggest pieces or songs that would help them learn practical theory concepts, strengthen their playing/performing ability, help them improve their sight reading, better understand how learn, practice, play, and perform their music, and overall help them continually improve as a musician. We are always working on our Hymn Challenge and also our Compose Like Crazy Challenge (my personal favorite). In addition, I help the students learn how to improvise, arrange, and use their understanding of music theory to change keys or play the same piece 100 different ways. We can still have the students play everything from classical to new age, jazz, blues, pop, country, rock, ballads, modern music, hymns, show tunes, and everything in between and beyond. What changes is that the students have a say in what they play. We show the students that their music matters to us and we want them to learn the latest pop piece because that is music and the creative process to create that music was just as important a process as was used by great classical masters of old. I also encourage the students to learn how to compose music of their own, notate it, and orchestrate it. We often spend lessons away from the piano and at the computer with my midi-controllers working on notating their music in Finale, adding instrumentation and orchestration to it in Logic Pro, or even creating and filming their own music video and editing everything in Final Cut. It is fun for the students to see how the process of creating their own music and recording it all comes together. I have found that having students play music they have selected encourages and excites them to eventually create music of their own and have a more meaningful musical experience as they connect with music on a much deeper and more personal level playing music they have selected and sharing their music with others.

Click on the image below to download the Student’s Top 10 Songs to Play This Year! PDF I have all of my students fill out. Make copies and share it with your piano students.

Student's Top 10 List (of songs they would like to learn)

Click on the image below to download FREE piano music and theory resources I have created to help piano students learn music theory the fun way by putting FUN back into piano FUNdamentals. I hope you enjoy this!

Image for FREE Piano Resources - for the Music Motivation website (Jerald Simon)

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