How to motivate young piano students to play the piano…

Piano students all have different wants and needs – not only according to their skill level, their musical interests, likes, dislikes, and unique personalities, but also according to their age. How you motivate children ages 3-8 will vary completely from how you would motivate a teenage piano student. The same goes for adult students. Every student is different and must be treated as an individual. The best way to find out what motivates anyone of any age is to ask them point blank what their likes and dislikes are, what they enjoy and do not enjoy, and what they personally would like to do or not to do as the case may be. Sometimes as teachers we think we know best since we have taught hundreds or even thousands of students for many, many years. That may or may not be the case and is not always helpful. More often than not, what worked for one student in the past, does not necessarily work for current students. This is because as times change, so do the overall interests of society and individuals. The students of today have different wants and needs than the students did only a few years ago. The same will be true for future generations. That, with the own individual identity and personality of each unique student, makes it difficult to teach any student the same way. Some students are visual learners and others can be auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, verbal, logical, social, or solitary in how they learn.

With that being said, however, there are several continuing motivators that inspire and motivate piano students according to their age. Some will work better with boys than girls, and vice versa, but here is a short list of ideas you can use to motivate younger children ages 3-8. Some of these may work with children who are a little older, but once children turn 8 or 9, they begin needing and wanting to be treated like an older, more capable individual. This is natural because they are learning and growing. As they improve and discover more about their strengths, weaknesses, and their own personal identity, I have found that these motivational techniques are not as effective as the students get older. Some of these techniques do work with older students and are just as effective in motivating students of all ages.

The Path to Enlightenment by Jerald Simon - Music Motivation - musicmotivation.com

Here is a short list of ideas and ways to motivate children ages 3-8:

  • Praising, encouraging, complimenting, high five’s, cheering, applauding, hooting, hollering, letting them know they are awesome rockstars!
  • Playing what their friends like.
  • Stickers. Lots and lots of colorful stickers of all shapes and sizes.
  • Music Games (especially involving technology).
  • Clapping rhythms (snapping fingers, clapping hands, tapping toes, slapping knees, using clave’s, wood blocks, percussion instruments, and stomping out rhythms with their feet, etc.).
  • Placing toys or objects on piano keys (especially to identify notes).
  • Mix n’ Match card games and board games to identify notes chords, scales, etc.
  • Having students draw a picture of their piano piece they are playing (what would it look like if they drew the music out pictorially?).
  • Candy/treats/snacks/drinks/and prizes involving food or parties with goodies. Really, anything with candy or food is fun!
  • Piano music with pictures (especially in color).
  • Piano themed coloring books.
  • The title of the music in fun unique or exciting fonts and sizes with pictures on the pages of the music.
  • Funny and silly song/repertoire titles (e.g. “The Gigabyte Guru”, “The Unicorn that Got Away”, or “Pogo Stick Punch Out” are some from my “Cool Songs for Cool Kids Series” that young children love.
  • Using toys and objects to demonstrate piano concepts (puppets, Lego® pieces, building blocks, etc.).
  • A calm, patient, and sweet (and positive) piano teacher who is fun and has a larger than life personality.
  • Playing musical games with the teacher like “Simon Says” (my own personal favorite game), or “copy what you see me do on the piano” (follow the leader).
  • Using technology (music apps, accompanying music backing tracks, iPhone, iPad, any education game that allows them to learn music theory or music terminology and concepts the fun way).
  • Interactive (responsive) software that teaches them with colors, lights, sounds, and is similar to video games.
  • Having their parents work with them on learning their pieces (by about 8 this is almost impossible to do, especially in the teen years when the teens are becoming or wanting to be more independent).

This is a short list to get you started. I will be coming out with a series of blog posts on tips and ideas to help motivate piano students of various ages where I give suggestions and ideas that piano teachers and parents can try to inspire their own piano students. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. There are so many wonderful ways to motivate and inspire others to play the piano and have fun learning as much as they can.

Please leave a comment or email me with ideas or suggestions you have that have worked for you in your piano studio. We’d love to know what works for specific age categories.

Thanks so much!

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