How to Teach Strong-Willed Students

How to Teach Strong-Willed Students

Do you have any strong-willed students in your music studio?  

Any who seem determined to frustrate your every teaching attempt?  

Any who make you want to tear your hair out (in the most professional way possible, of course)?  

I have certainly had some more, shall we say, challenging students in my studio. Some of the problem behaviors I’ve encountered with students include:

  • Refusing to play notes and/or pieces they don’t like
  • Arguing when they think something I’ve said isn’t accurate
  • Criticizing various aspects of my appearance
  • Face-planting into the keyboard to avoid playing a repeat

I’m sure you have your own experiences you could add to that list!

So how can we best manage these student behaviors?

Here are my tips for teaching strong-willed students…without losing your mind!

Set Some Ground Rules

Our student can’t follow our studio rules if they don’t know what those rules are.

This sounds obvious at first, but if you think about it, we as teachers often assume that our students know certain things.

For example, “You may not hang off the piano bench while I’m talking” might seem like a very obvious, unspoken rule to us. But that doesn’t mean the student won’t give it a try!

Take a few minutes to come up with a basic set of rules for your studio.

You don’t have to address every single potential problem. General principles like kindness, attentiveness, and respect for studio property should cover most of it.

You can always add to or change things as needed.

Once your rules are in place, post them in your studio somewhere and go over them with your students so they are all aware.

Of course, some of your students will challenge the rules even after you make them clear. (See below for some suggestions on how to manage those scenarios).

But setting some clear rules for your studio is the first step towards getting the behavior you want from your pupils.

Focus on One Challenge at a Time

Sometimes a student will present you with multiple behavioral challenges.

Attempting to tackle them all at once will likely be overwhelming for both of you.

I would suggest writing a list of the behavioral challenges and prioritizing which one needs to be addressed first.

Once you’ve made some progress with that, you can move on to the second most important behavior, then the third, etc.

Remember that the student is not likely to change overnight, and try instead to make reasonable progress at a steady rate.

Set Up a Reward System

This is one of the oldest teacher tricks in the book, and for good reason: it’s often very effective.

Rewarding good behavior during music lessons is a good way to motivate students to exhibit that behavior.

The rewards don’t have to cost you anything, either. After all, handing out candy or stickers at every lesson might get expensive!

You could reward your students by letting them play a favorite review game or other activity.

Maybe ten gold stars on their behavior chart will earn them a special piece to learn or a lesson themed around their favorite movie.

You can be as creative as you want to be with this. The possibilities are endless!

Vary Your Lesson Activities

If you can keep a student’s attention throughout the lesson you’re on the right track.

The more engaged your student is in whatever they’re learning, the less time they’ll have to be stubborn or defiant.

Try introducing a new composing project, or reviewing note names with LEGOs, or planning a themed lesson that you know they will enjoy.

Variety is your friend when it comes to keeping students interested and (hopefully) preventing any acting out that stems from boredom.

It’s certainly worth a shot!

Involve the Parents

Remember that at the end of the day you’re the music teacher, not the parent, nanny, or behavioral psychologist.

It’s great to try to reach your strong-willed students and make every effort to work with them. But if you don’t get anywhere, leave it in the parents’ hands.

It’s ultimately their job to manage their child’s behavior, not yours.

Keeping that in mind will free you up to focus on your job: teaching kids to make music!

How do you manage strong-willed students? Let us know in the comments!

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