In getting to know a new piano student, I’ve always made a point to ask them what type of music they like. This helps me assign them the pieces that I know they’ll practice. And, of course, if they practice they will improve their technical and note-reading skills, and in turn will improve their confidence and ability to play more difficult works. When I ask them about their taste in music they respond in several ways:
Some students shrug their shoulders as if they don’t care one way or the other. And they really don’t. Others need a little prodding but then they reveal that they like jazz, oldies, pop, ragtime….perhaps a family member plays jazz piano, or their dad keeps the radio tuned to the oldies station in the car….but I can count on one hand the number of students who’ve told me they like classical music.
However the most enthusiastic responses come from students who’ve heard their peers perform. These are the students that come in to their lesson knowing exactly what they want to learn. They are inspired by the performances of their fellow students.
We all know that practicing piano is a lonely chore for many young students. And preparing for the one big end-of-year recital just doesn’t give students a lot of incentive. If we engage our piano students in regular informal performance opportunities throughout the school year, give them a chance to hear the pieces their friends are working on, and expose them to many composers and musical styles, they will come to their lesson with a list of pieces they want to learn. Who cares if they all want to play Clair de Lune, Fur Elise (or even Lady Gaga) all of a sudden! The point is that they are fired up to play the piano.
What does this mean?
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about how kids don’t listen to classical music. They find it boring, too slow, too difficult. Even those students who regularly practice classical music listen to popular music during their downtime, and rarely download a symphony or sonata to their iPod.
Let’s face it. If we want to get our students enthused about playing piece from the classical piano repertoire we have to let other students “sell” it.
Here’s how it works. The teens perform in a casual setting for the younger students. They play a classical recital, with some jazz and pop thrown in. They’re having fun. There’s no struggle. No judges or grading. They can dress however they want to. They laugh and talk with their friends between pieces. The audience is composed of friends from school as well as family members. The mood is set. The younger students want to be part of that community.
I guarantee there will be at least one student who attended that performance who will come into his next lesson and ask to learn a piece he heard one of the other students play.
Stay tuned to find out how young classical musicians are building their own groundswell through community.