Just before Christmas someone in my village asked me if I would consider teaching her teenage son. When the 16-year old son came round for a trial lesson he told me that he wanted a ‘new challenge’ and something that was a bit different from his academic work.
As I started to think about how to approach his lessons, a member of The Community (our online membership site for piano teachers) popped up with the very same question ‘how do you inspire your teenage starters?’
There are several method books out there that have a structured and sequential approach to them and that, for method books, work well. PianoWorks by Curious Experts Alan and Janet Bullard, Piano Adventures Accelerated All-in-One, Alfred All-in-One and It’s Never Too Late To Play Piano by another Curious Expert Pamela Wedgwood are all worth exploring.
Yet as we know all method books have their limitations and all need supplementing in one way or another – so here are some thoughts from The Community on how you can add to method books or ditch them completely!
#1 EXPLORING SOUNDS
Allow pupils to become ‘sound creators’ and explore the sounds and sonorities of the piano. Helen R. recommended that you ‘experiment with cool sounds’.
This can be done through exploring combinations of notes and chords across the keyboard. Books like June Armstrong’s Safari or Ben Crosland’s Magic Beans will all help to get you and the pupil going with this. Many of these pieces can be learnt by rote; in only his third lesson my teenage pupil is getting immense satisfaction from the beautiful sound world created in African Dawn.
#2 TEACHING NOTATION
Alongside the development of a rich, musical world, notation reading can be gradually and carefully established. This will need to cover the basics such as rhythm reading, staff notation, dynamics and articulation.
Like any other musician the teenage pupil needs to have a firm grasp of rhythm reading and counting. I am using some flashcards and the Sight Reading Cards in the Piano Safari series to give regular, short progressive bursts of rhythm practice.
Another teacher in The Community suggested that Rhythm Cup work, such as created by Wendy Stevens in ComposeCreate is another stimulating way to develop rhythmical security.
A basic understanding of how staff notation works can be developed from any of the rote pieces being learnt. For example, the G and F clef can be named and the direction of shapes and patterns in relation to the keyboard established. To develop more specific note reading establish landmark notes – Treble C and G, Bass C and F and Middle C for example. Using a manuscript book or paper teenagers can write these notes out. Simple, known tunes that move by step such as Ode to Joy or Hot Cross Buns can be played on each of the landmark notes. All these tunes, and more, can be found in Piano by Ear by Curious Expert Lucinda Mackworth-Young. The tunes can lead easily into improvisation and written composition work.
Reading work can be further extended through pieces in method books or downloads from Making Music Fun. Blast Off! from Daniel McFarlane’s Supersonics Piano comes highly recommended by several of our teachers with additional fun of having backing tracks.
FINALLY, UNDERSTANDING THE TEENAGE BRAIN
I hope I have given you some inspiration for how to approach this often tricky starting age. As Christopher Fisher remarks: Adolescence is a volatile period in human development  and teenagers can vary in mood from week to week. So if something doesn’t work one week it might work another week.
The teenage brain is highly malleable and adaptable and really provides us with a fantastic opportunity for being creative in piano lessons and exploring how to inspire our teenage starters.
If you want to find out more about the teenage brain, check out this website How Youth Learn and watch the Ted Talk by Sarah Jayne Blakemore.
Don’t forget to “Like” us on the Curious Piano Teachers Facebook Page to stay informed of the next session of “Sally’s Tuesday Teaching Tips”, a weekly session (11am GMT) where I will be presenting ideas for teaching.
 Teaching Piano in Groups, Christopher Fisher. 2010, p.186
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