How to Teach Free-Spirited Students

How to Teach Free-Spirited Students

Have you ever had a student who marched to the beat of their own drum (figuratively, or literally if you’re a band teacher)?  

Maybe you have one of those in your studio right now. How do you embrace and nurture their unique personality…while still managing to actually teach them something?

Here are five techniques that have helped me the most in my studio.

Give Them a Chance to Create

Embrace your students individuality by giving them a chance to put their imagination to work.

Have them compose a song based on their favorite book or movie characters.

Use their name or birthday as the rhythm for improvisation.

Ask them to draw a picture or build a LEGO creation to use as composing inspiration.

Or let them help you brainstorm some themes for the upcoming recital.

The free spirits in your studio will be more excited (and productive!) during lessons if they can see it as a creative outlet instead of a boring half-hour of playing correct notes and rhythms.

Explain the “Why?” Behind the Rules

Although there are a lot of ways to nurture free-spirited creativity, sometimes our students are going to have to learn to just play what’s written. A major scale is still a major scale, and note-reading and rhythmic accuracy are still important!

I like to explain the reason behind music theory concepts for my students.

For example, who does this whole note need to be held for four beats? Because there are four beats in each measure, and if we cut the whole note short we’ll cut the measure short.

Why does each measure need to have four beats? Because of we change it to three beats, or two, or six, we’ll change the sound of the piece.

Explaining the logic behind the rules of music might help your more imaginative students understand them better.

Hopefully they’ll come to look at musical accuracy as the foundation for creativity, and not their enemy!

Focus on Artistry and Interpretation

Creative students love the expression in music…but they might need help knowing how to find it!

Focus on the effects created by dynamics and paint a word picture for them (“Forte is loud, like a waterfall! When you see a pianissimo sign, play gently like you’re trying to put a baby to sleep”).

Show them the different effects that can be achieved by adding the pedal, or the soft pedal, or not using any pedal at all.

What if they play it in a higher octave? What if they try transposing it to a different key? Can they create a modulation to move from one key to another?

Free-spirited students are normally very high-achieving if the objective seems like a creative challenge!

Use a Lot of Color

Most free-spirited kids aren’t going to be thrilled with staring at black and white sheet music for the whole lesson.

I like to add some color to our time together by bringing in bright props, dry erase markers, stickers, etc. Method books that were written for kids and use colorful illustrations are also very helpful.

My students love getting to pick a highlighter for me to use on their assignment sheet each week.

I also mark the right hand and left hand notes with two different colors for beginning piano students.

This helps them remember when to change hands until they get more familiar with reading treble and bass clef notes. It also makes them more enthusiastic about learning new songs, since they get to add some color to the pages!

Inspire Their Imagination

Imagination is a wonderful gift. If your student has been blessed with an abundance of it, take full advantage of that!

Tell them engaging stories about famous composers and the pieces they wrote.

Ask them to describe their pieces to you. Does this section sound more like a gentle rainfall or a thunderstorm? What makes it sound like that (a forte sign, a flowing melody, etc.)?

Music is a science in many ways, but it’s also an art. Work to bring the inner artist out of your free-spirited student!

What approaches do you take with free-spirited students? Let me know in the comments!

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