By Juan Rezzuto
Teenage piano students
The teens are certainly the most challenging age range to deal with for us piano teachers. Children go through a lot of changes, and they are making the transition into young adulthood. Interests shift, and sometimes music drifts out of the priority list.
The building up of an identity
The teens are in a constant process of self-building up. What do they build up? Their personality. They are up to find models, in living people, in history, in artists.
If the characters embedded in their musical studies fail to become attractive role models, then it is highly probable that the student falls out of love with music.
Learning how to play the piano is undoubtedly a very challenging task; therefore, teens need to see a tangible result coming out of their efforts.
The personality of the musician
Luckily, musicians, current and from the past, are some of the most characterful individuals in the artistic world. We should profit from this and use information and history as our most important ally. Pianists have come a long way in what respects to the care they take of their image and iconographic impact.
Role models – some examples
For instance, for a lady teen, who can be more inspiring than Khatia Buniatishvili? This dashing Georgian pianist doesn’t stop to surprise the crowds with her masterful performances of the most famous piano masterpieces. She always wears designer clothes and deploys fantastic stage productions.
We shouldn’t forget Yuja Wang, the magnificent Chinese performer, who has maybe even started herself this new tendency, amongst pianists, of paying a lot of attention to the personal appearance. I believe she deploys this attitude in an attempt to create an appealing iconographic symbol that can summon people to her concerts.
In other words, we should show teenagers that becoming a professional piano player can be actually “cool.” Teenagers have the difficult task of creating an appealing personality to society; we cannot expect them to follow us if we show them role models from 1950 who were not even interested in being or becoming attractive.
True self-employment potential of the career
Becoming a pianist is also a gateway into an independent lifestyle. Our job allows us to luxuries like being able to start a student portfolio in any culturally developed country. Also, the social relationships arising from our mere activities can lead to concert programming and music project management. In other words, the career of a pianist is designed to be flexible, dynamic and quickly adjusting to almost anyone’s profile.
When we teach, we should always insist on the importance of creating a consistent professional profile. The latter being the best way to consolidate a successful approach to the musical career.
Classical music – one of the most effective social trampolines
Classical music has historically been the easiest way to approach the challenge of “social-transitioning”. Since forever, musicians of every social background have been able to relate and consolidate positions within the highest spheres of society. Classical music is a high expression of art, and it is sought after by the highest levels of our community. Being able to make classical music translates into being able to meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. In addition to the latter, the fact that music connects with emotions and sensitivity, allows the musician to also reach people from a very different angle in comparison to business, for example. People admire the ability musicians have to create and perform music so much than any other background characteristic of their personalities falls out of importance.
I believe that if we want to address the challenge of keeping teenagers interested in developing their piano skills, we need to acknowledge their worries and concerns. I could mention many educational strategies we use at WKMT London that could help with maintaining teenagers engaged with their piano studies.
With advanced students who start showing a clear interest in pop or rock music, I suggest to encourage them to produce pianistic arrangements of those pieces.
You can start by listening to the songs together and trying to address the idiomatic conversions. For example, a climax or intense section in the song could be emulated by a big chord or a singer’s scream with a cluster. This exercise could prove to be extremely useful for those teenage piano students who are lingering for a more creative and up to date approach to their studies.
Piano inserts to existing song arrangements
Another way we can help our teenagers explore edifying possibilities that to integrate their piano skills and the music they listen to nowadays could be the improvisation.
They can try and create virtuosic passages that can work well when juxtaposed to their favourite songs. We could use this strategy to review their knowledge of harmony and composition.
By asking them to work on these “passages”, we check their knowledge about music density, harmony, counterpoint and orchestration.
Still, I honestly think the most vital objective to achieve is to keep them spiritually engaged with the activity.
It is useful to watch videos of exciting pianists during the lessons. These videos should show passages or even technical subjects exemplified by these inspiring pianists we have chosen as potential role models.
We should try and work hard before each lesson. Mainly on trying to find good examples which can bind together our experiences with successful individuals and artists of nowadays. Don’t give your back to light musicians like Ludovico Enaudi or Arvo Part, for example. They might not be the most respected artists of our specific “piano world”, but there are certainly professionals who have found a niche in the market.
Our teenagers think in terms of opportunities and popularity. We should keep our eyes open to spot model cases which specifically showcase the relationship that studying how to learn the piano has with success. We should show interest in and understanding of those things that our students are interested in.
As in any other negotiation, compromise plays a fundamental role. If our teenage piano students see us in tune with their needs, we will hold a much bigger chance of tempting them into the marvellous world of music we love so much.