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How to Motivate Kids to Practice Piano When They Are in a Slump

Doniell is a musician/composer and runs her own Piano Studio and Sheet Music Publishing company from home. She has a B.A. in humanities.

Learn how to break out of your  piano lesson slump with these easy tips.

Learn how to break out of your piano lesson slump with these easy tips.

Fixing the Piano Slump

What is the "slump" and how do I identify it? The slump is what happens when students (particularly young children to young adults) hit a plateau in their craft. They are getting tired of repeating pieces, tired of extra worksheets, tired of flashcards, etc. These kids become difficult to motivate, and often stop desiring to be at lessons. They are quieter, somewhat depressed or irritated, and get frustrated easily. Often, conversation is difficult. The kids respond curtly or simply go silent. So, what can we do about this?

How to Motive Young Piano Students

  1. Come up with a list of goals.
  2. Give students a speed challenge/goal.
  3. Celebrate small successes.
  4. Start a reward program.
  5. Include music history in the lesson.
  6. Incorporate games in to your lessons.
  7. Let the student pick out a piece.
  8. Let the student talk to you at the beginning of the lesson.
  9. Let students occasionally quit a song.
  10. Maintain a high level of diversity in the music.

1. Come Up With a List of Goals.

Come up with a list of goals you want the student to reach each week. Make them clear, and completely achievable. An example would be learning the entire R.H. (right hand) part of a 2 page piece. This should include articulations, phrasing, and dynamics.

2. Give Students a Speed Challenge/Goal.

Give students a speed challenge/goal. Write a desired BPM at the top of each piece, and give them detailed instructions on how to build up to it. An example of this would be playing Yankee Doodle at 120 BPM. Start them slow and steady at 76, then tell them to slowly increase speed each day by 3-5 ticks until they are close to (or over) 120.

3. Celebrate Small Successes.

Celebrate small successes. If a student struggles with dynamics, ignore all the mistakes and pat them on the back for their attention to the tone of the piece. Next, set a goal that includes the success they just achieved, such as playing all the correct dynamics, and fixing all F#s.

4. Start a Reward Program.

Start a reward program. Give stickers each lesson, assign the stickers different values, then have the students trade them in for a prize, an activity of their choice, or for a week off from Theory assignments.

5. Include Music History in the Lesson.

Include music history in the lesson. Talk about the music, where it comes from, why it's important, and what they can do to set the scene. Using Ode to Joy as an example, talk about the massive choir at the end of Beethoven's 9th Symphony and how loud and smooth they sing their joyful news.

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6. Incorporate Games in Your Lessons.

Incorporate games in your lessons. Personally, I like spelling words with the music alphabet on the piano (forwards and backwards). I also enjoy playing Call & Response (where you clap or play a rhythm/notes, and the student repeats) and Interval Frogs. Occasionally, I use the Joy Tunes app Dust Buster as a special treat game.

7. Let the Student Pick Out a Piece.

Let the student pick out one piece every other month, or every six weeks. It should be something they are excited about. Just make sure that it's appropriate for a piano lesson. For example, I have lots of Hamilton lovers. Even though the kids love it, I have to nix the songs that offer no piano value.

8. Let the Student Talk to You at the Beginning of the Lesson.

Let the student talk to you for five minutes at the beginning of the lesson. Ask them questions and be interested in their life for those moments. This develops trust and communication that are critical to knowing how to react to their struggles on the piano. A snapshot of their day can make all the difference.

9. Let Students Occasionally Quit a Song.

Let students occasionally quit a song. Make sure they give it a good college try (I usually require five weeks on the song) before saying, "Okay, let's set this aside for now. We may come back to it later, but let's try something that suits you better."

10. Maintain a High Level of Diversity in the Music.

Maintain a high level of diversity in the music you teach. Let them explore and discover what they like, what they are good at, and who they are as a musician.

Fixing the Slump

We all know that music is challenging at times, and that the learning process is different for every student. Stay vigilant and diligent. We can overcome the slump with determination to find a way to break through to the student, dedication to listening and understanding that student, and praising any and all success.

No matter the struggle, remember, we have been there too. Think of what worked best for you, or what you would have liked from your teacher. Use these memories to motivate your own passion and never let the student fall through the cracks. Keep them afloat with pleasantries, kindness, thoughtfulness, and endless patience.

Once something works, make sure you chat with your student about how thankful you are to have them and how grateful you are for their individuality. It takes strength and stamina to get through a crappy lesson as a kid. Some may spend tears and anger over it, but we need to be honest with them. Tell them how supporting them through the rough patch makes them your shining star pupil, and reward them for that. Showing our joy and excitement is so important to budding musicians of any level. We need to show them the way through our words and actions as we often only have a fragment of their week. The time you spend with them, does affect them.

Finally, keeping up with an ever-changing curriculum is a great way to stay successful with students. They are going to want to play everything from Telemann to Ravel to John Williams and Imagine Dragons. Make music an enjoyable experience for everyone by refreshing studio materials often, and never letting their curiosity become too limited. Make adjustments as you grow. Remember, your experience could always have been better. Make it better for your students each week!

© 2019 Doniell Cushman

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