Music teaching with rebellious children
March 4, 2013 9:37 AM   Subscribe

You are a music teacher who knows how to make lessons fun and involving for a young person in a rebellious frame of mind.

I visit a brother/sister pair every week to teach them piano for half an hour each.

Their mother approached me at a gig of one of my bands. They were looking for a piano teacher who gets kids to "have fun with music" instead of "just practising scales" (parents' music teachers would hit their fingers when they played scales wrong, I guess this explains their unconventional approach). I do have a formal music education if not any teaching education, but it went great for about six months.

The girl, 14, had some difficulty with fundamentals of music, but seems glad to have a teacher. She could maybe spend a little more time than five minutes a day but she started making it a positive habit for herself, and really took to it every day.

The boy, 10, can play and sing by ear and has a totally natural pulse, but he's also indifferent about having a teacher.
What worked well so far were ear training games, rhythm games; bringing in diverse instruments; recording (unlisted) clips on youtube. Anything involving the laptop really, as we are extremely into computers.

But what to do when a talented kid has no patience for practising anything he can't play right away? When he feels like it he'll suddenly play with a strong beat, even doing mad syncopation. I do manage to level with him sort of from person to person but not often enough.

Recently he's been entirely listless. The parents of the boy say he currently "sabotages" many of his activities by acting super dispassionate, which is all part of a natural rebellious phase at this age. I get that, because I was exactly the same as a kid, and rebelled so successfully that it took me until adult life to make music my own thing. But maybe there is something I could do to help this little guy realise the opportunity he has now, with his available talent.

I and the parents need to get our act together in goal setting and logging, as at the moment all he's learning is getting things to slide. Is there something such as "memrise" but for music? So far I have a text file with his "repertoire" and lesson log on dropbox. Attempts to get him to keep papers with repertoire and lesson logs (disguised as games) failed.

I need help on structuring lessons, being more engaging, and repertoire that'll interest kids. What kind of songs do 10 year olds really go for? Tunes from "The Singing Sherlock"? Are there books with CD's or online playback which the boy and the mother could practice together?

Apologies for length. Thanks very much for any insights from more experienced Mefi music teachers.
posted by yoHighness to Education (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I only teach on an irregular basis, and it tends to be adults these days, but here are some things I thought of whilst reading your question, I hope they're helpful in some way.

- When I was the boy's age, I wanted to play stuff I heard on the radio. Can you get him to write down two or three songs each week that he'd like to learn to play, and you can pick one and plan the lesson around it, or a part of it, for the next week?

- If he's into computers, music programming might be really up his street. I did crude multitracking with my walkman and tape recorder when I was about that age. When someone gave me real music software to play with, it BLEW MY MIND. Is there any way of getting him set up on garageband or something similar? I taught young teens protools for a while and goddamn, they picked it up so freaking quick it was embarrassing.

- Let him find his own way toward music. At that age, a person hasn't learnt the self-discipline which adults employ to become skilled at a non-essential thing. The best way for him to learn is to find the way to it that excites him. So if that's using a keyboard to play midi notes to build an electronic song, instead of playing chopin, let him do that, if you can.

- Lastly, are any of your gigs kid-friendly? I wonder if he was able to come to one, whether that would help him to respect your craft and want more to learn from you.

Hope this helps! Feel free to memail me, although I'm not exactly a fountain of wisdom :)
posted by greenish at 10:11 AM on March 4, 2013

Best answer: Let him find his own way toward music. At that age, a person hasn't learnt the self-discipline which adults employ to become skilled at a non-essential thing. The best way for him to learn is to find the way to it that excites him

I'm no music teacher but I was a very musical kid with a strong ear, a rebellious streak, no self-discipline, and low tolerance for anything I didn't pick up quickly. I loved being encouraged. I hated feeling pushed.

I think what greenish is suggesting would have worked very well with me. And come to think of it some people were able to engage with me in that way and it just now hit me that they were actively trying to help me grow and learn. I just thought we were making music together.
posted by bunderful at 10:20 AM on March 4, 2013

Best answer: I used to teach a ten year old boy piano, and he was very averse to standard practice stuff. That stuff is still way important so I had to incentivize him, which I did by offering to teach him how to "write" his own music.

Basically if he did well on the lesson material for that week, we'd take the last five or ten minutes and close all the piano books and I would show him little improv tricks on the piano, little sets of patterns that he could mix and match to make his own music at will. He thought that was really cool, and lessons were easier after we started doing that.

Basically I think he just needed to see that music could be an expression of his own thoughts, even while he was still slogging through the hard technique stuff.

Here is a very condensed example of the kinds of tips I was giving him.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:23 AM on March 4, 2013

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