As teachers, we love watching our students get excited about music. It’s so rewarding to watch their eyes light up when they’re excited about a new skill or a fun piece they’re working on.
Sometimes, though, kids see music lessons as more of a chore than a joy. And we would like to change that, but it can be hard to know where to start.
There are many things you can do to get your students excited about music!
Here are ten of the best ideas.
10. Talk About the Benefits of Music
Studies and research have proved the benefits of music education again and again.
Kids who study music are more likely to develop better math and language skills, increase their fine motor abilities, and perform better on standardized tests.
Of course, putting that to your students in such “adult” terms might not motivate them that much.
But what if you told them that the things they are learning in music lessons and the discipline of persistent practice will help them as they grow?
That the feeling of accomplishing something at the piano or on the clarinet will help them feel more confident and ready to tackle other challenges?
That they will be able to apply those life lessons to school, to sports, to friendships, to so many things?
That might be quite a motivator indeed!
9. Get to Know Their Personalities and Interests
As a teacher, I often have a laser focus on music when I’m around my students.
I give music lessons, we discuss music, we make corny musical jokes (okay…maybe it’s just me who does that), and we brainstorm musical solutions to musical problems.
Don’t get me wrong, those are all very important parts of our jobs as teachers (except the jokes, I guess), but sometimes I find that kids enjoy taking a break from music-related things to talk about something else.
I don’t mean during the actual lesson of course, when your focus should be on the task(s) at hand!
But maybe when you’re writing down their assignment for the week you could ask them what their weekend plans are, or how soccer practice has been going.
If they mention something about a hobby they’re interested in, see if you can follow up with that the following week.
Not only will you get to know your students better, but you might find out something that you can incorporate during lessons to pique the student’s interest.
If you have a baseball enthusiast, you might let them know that Babe Ruth played the piano too. Maybe you can use more animal-based stories and word pictures if your student is an animal lover.
Associating music with something else they love is a great way to get your students more excited about lessons.
8. Bring On the Silliness
Playing music is serious business, but the lesson doesn’t always have to be.
Some kids will love trading knock-knock jokes with you or making up really bad composer puns (I see you’re Bach for more. I’m going Chopin, be Bach later. If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it. Okay, I’ll show myself out now).
Maybe they’ll enjoy giving names to the people and animals featured on the pages of their method book or bouncing a stuffed animal along with the metronome to get the feel of the beat.
Kids will be kids, and letting them embrace their silly side (within reason!) during lessons will make it more enjoyable for everyone.
7. Emphasize Growth, Not Perfection
Learning to play music is all about growth. It’s a process that resembles a marathon much more than a sprint. But some of your students will undoubtedly be perfectionists who stress easily if they aren’t perfect.
And sometimes as teachers we can stress, too. We worry that we’re not teaching them enough of the right things in the right way, or that we might be using the wrong method books, or maybe we should spend more time on ear training and a little less on rhythm.
Our students often can pick up on our anxiety. It can introduce a new problem for a naturally laid-back student, or make a more stressed-out perfectionist student put even more pressure on themselves.
Stop stressing about every little thing! Easier said than done, I know.
But remember that the confidence (or lack thereof) you have in teaching will probably carry over to your students in their playing.
Of course there is a time and place for reevaluating your teaching methods and studio development plan, but remember that as a teacher you are also learning and you will never be perfect. Neither will your students.
And while we should do the best we can for them and expect their best effort in return, I still hold to one general rule: If our students are growing, then we’re doing something right.
Focus on nurturing growth and making progress during lessons instead of stressing out about what’s not quite there yet. That will lift a burden off your shoulders and your student’s shoulders, too.
6. Teach Music History
Kids love stories, and what is music history but a fascinating story of men, women, and events that shaped the music they are playing right now?
Tell them your students about the courageous J.S. Bach, who wrote an entire series of organ preludes while sitting in prison!
Tell them about Amy Beach’s perseverance while composing her piano concerto, even though women weren’t thought to be capable of that at the time.
Thrill them with the account of the riot that broke out when Igor Stravinsky premiered The Rite of Spring.
Regal them with tales of Erik Satie’s brilliant eccentricity, or take them back in time to the Siege of Leningrad, when Dmitri Shostakovich’s seventh symphony gave hope and strength to an entire city that was fighting for survival.
Let them know that music is worth learning, worth practicing, worth fighting for, and that for centuries people have done just that.
5. Learn Their Learning Style
Not every student learns in the same way. I found that out right away as a teacher.
The visual learners learn by seeing. They love graphs, pictures, illustrations, and watching you play so they can model it.
Auditory learners learn by hearing. They enjoy stories, ear-training games, clapping along with rhythms, and listening to you play so they can match what they hear.
Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They love trying new things on the instrument to see how it feels. Any kind of hands-on game or exercise will be a hit with them, and will probably help them retain the information better than demonstrations or verbal instruction ever could.
If you can get to know your student’s learning style and incorporate it into the lesson, they’re much more likely to both remember what you taught them and be enthusiastic about it.
4. Work Toward Some Goals
It can be hard for both teacher and student to stay motivated and engaged if it feels like each lesson is the same, but with different pieces.
Once great way to get your students excited about music is to set goals for them and work together to meet them.
For even better results, have your student help you set some of the goals.
Is there a piece they really want to learn? Make a step-by-step plan to work up to it.
If your student loves jazz music, find a jazz method book and go to town! Maybe you can work towards playing one of the pieces at an upcoming recital.
Does your student love music from the Romantic period? Set a goal for them to learn one piece by every major Romantic composer.
Setting goals and working towards them will increase your student’s feeling of accomplishment and get them excited about music all over again.
3. Play Familiar Songs
I’m all for broadening a student’s musical horizons with new pieces that they haven’t heard of, but the fact remains that most kids love playing songs they already know.
There’s a reason why Jingle Bells and Old MacDonald have been popular among children for so long. They are easy to play, fun to sing, and just goofy enough to hold a child’s attention.
I’m not suggesting that we abandon our etude books and sonata collections – those are important for students too! But including a fun, familiar tune in the lesson plan here and there will give your students an extra boost of morale.
Auditory learners especially love playing music that they’ve heard before, and there is an additional benefit to playing familiar songs: it helps kids understand what the music they already know by heart looks like on paper. That might give their rhythm and note-reading comprehension a boost.
It also might motivate them to practice more, and what teacher doesn’t love that?
2. Make It a Challenge
Most kids love a good challenge. They will likely be more excited about learning something new if you make it sound like a obstacle to be overcome instead of a duty to be fulfilled.
If they’re struggling with something (or just feeling particularly unmotivated to learn it), try making it into a challenge for them.
Maybe they have to learn to play ten pieces at tempo with the metronome by the end of the year.
Maybe you can hold a studio-wide note-reading competition, or have them try to beat their own best time when identifying notes on a staff.
Get as creative as you’d like, and see if your students are up to the challenge!
1. Be Excited About Music
I’ve saved the best for last. In order to get your students excited about music, you have to be excited too!
Children are smart, and they can tell if we are really eager to be there teaching them all these wonderful things or if we are just going through the motions.
Of course, sometimes it can be easy to go through the motions without even realizing it because we give so many lessons that it just becomes routine for us. Try to be intentional about letting your students know that you’re enthusiastic about both teaching music and teaching them.
Try playing your favorite piece for them sometime, and tell them why you love it. Point out your favorite part.
Let them know that the D major scale they’re learning is your favorite scale, or that you love pieces with lots of staccato notes, or that it’s a lot of fun to play fortissimo.
Never underestimate the power of a positive influence. If you can show how much you love playing music, you might intrigue them and make them want to do what you do.
Remember, enthusiasm is contagious!
What is your favorite way to get your students excited about music? Let me know in the comments!