This is the time when many kids lose interest in music lessons. When I come up against an adolescent who’s had it with practising and prefers to hang with their friends, I get very creative!
Here’s what’s worked in the past:
Chording to Play Pop Songs
Very early in a child’s musical education I start teaching scales and triads. This is so they develop good technique and acquire a solid understanding of the keyboard, but it is also in preparation for teaching them how to chord along to music (pop, rock, musical theatre, etc.). When the pre-teen years hit they have acquired enough knowledge of triads to start applying them to pop tunes. This is HUGELY freeing for kids and often makes or breaks their relationship with their lessons. From there, the kids can choose the music they want to play and accompany themselves while they sing. It’s both empowering and fun. This doesn’t have to be in place of more formal training (though sometimes it is), but can work in conjunction with Royal Conservatory repertoire.
At one point I was teaching two teens who were really good friends. Both were losing interest and wondering if they should continue lessons. I suggested that they start a vocal group and do lessons together. They found another friend to join them and continued lessons for another three years as “The Trio.” The Trio performed music they chose, arranged the tunes with their own harmonies and took turns accompanying each other on piano. They made their final concert a show for family and friends. It turned out to be a remarkable experience for the three of them, and for me! Since then I have duplicated it with different students. This approach empowers kids and keeps them engaged. They make the decisions and I am the facilitator.
As kids move into adolescence it becomes increasingly more important for me to be flexible and open, giving them lots of room to design the look and feel of their lessons. With a number of my teens, we put together two collections of music. One is for the days when they have lots of energy and the other is for those days when life is a drag and energy is non-existent. I always check in with them when they arrive to see where they are at, energy-wise, and we go from there. We still get the work done, but I find that this approach gets better results.
Some kids do leave and that’s okay. Usually I have developed a strong enough relationship with a young person that they know they can go without regrets and will always be welcomed back. Kids need to be well rounded, and sometimes soccer (or dance, or hockey or down time) is just more important to them.
I have worked with many kids from elementary school through to high-school graduation, and I feel honoured to have shared their lives with them up to that point. My goal is to create solid musicians who LOVE music. When those piano and voice pieces come together it is a magical moment for both of us! I am happy to say that I have had many, many magical moments with my students.