When it comes to teaching piano in 2018, we as instructors must understand our audience and how they learn best. While the music we sometimes teach is hundreds of years old, the approach we take with our students can’t be the same as it was then.
In fact, even the way we learned to play the piano during our youth is antiquated.
So where do we start? How do we begin learning about our students?
Who are your students?
Begin by finding out the average age of your current students. If you’re anything like me, the majority of your students are 18 years of age and younger. Social scientists have a name for this group. They call them Generation Z.
Unlike the millennials (b. 1983 – 2000) who have had the unfortunate privilege of receiving a good deal of press about their negative qualities, much of the reporting on Generation Z seems positive. Perhaps this is because they are all still kids!
Nevertheless, if we are going to be effective teachers, we must teach in a way that our students understand. Here are 3 qualities of Gen Z and some tips on how to effectively teach them to play the piano.
1. Generation Z are digital natives.
They are the first generation who can’t remember when the world did not have the Internet.
Technology is a huge part of their everyday life. A study by Millennial Branding and Randstad found that a vast majority (77%) of Generation Z likes to work with technology to help them accomplish their goals.
Generation Z spends about 41% of their time outside school on computers and mobile devices. This is just about double the percentage of millennials at the same time in their lives.
YouTube is a popular site for Generation Z. In fact, they often learn to do things by watching YouTube videos. Generation Z doesn’t need a teacher sitting across from them to progress in their knowledge and skills.
When it comes to getting better, apps are a popular choice for them. A while back, I discovered an app called Piano Notes Fun. It has worked very well for my students. You can read more about the app in my post called How to Boost Your Sight Reading Ability With the Best App.
Another creative use of technology is the addition of backtracks to enhance the simple songs that beginner students play. Australian piano teacher and blogger, Tim Topham, has a great post called Fun First Piano Lesson: 12 Bar Blues [Videos And Lesson Plans] that illustrates a cool way to use them.
Kids and phones
According to TechCrunch.com, “The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years old. Tablets have surged from 26% to 55% usage as kids’ device of choice during car rides. Smartphones trail at 45% (up from 39% in 2012).”
I have been teaching piano for over 20 years. Recently, I faced a health crisis and I had to take a break from my day job. As I researched Generation Z it only made sense to begin teaching online.
I had just moved back home to the Carolinas and it was the perfect opportunity. I made the decision to primarily teach piano lessons online.
Making a Connection
So far, it has been a really effective way to teach. I have students as far away as Thailand and Bangladesh. My online piano studio is steadily growing.
I believe this is because my method of teaching matches the learning style of my audience. At some point, I will write a series of posts about everything I have learned. I’m still learning new things almost every day.
I have no doubt that my students are actually better off taking with me online because of all the tools that are available to me. Every one of their lessons is recorded.
Soon after their lesson, they can go to their designated shared folder and watch their lesson. As you can imagine, this helps them remember what we talked about.
Through Skype, I can share my screen with them, send them files and links, and also chat back and forth, all for free. This spring we will be doing our first online recital. I’m excited about the possibilities of this new platform.
Amazingly, when I announced that we will be doing an online recital, not one student questioned it. This is just another way to do things in their globally connected world.
Teaching online opens up the options for students as well. Think about it. There are many people around the world who live in remote places where they do not have access to a good piano teacher.
As more and more teachers segue into online teaching, it will only benefit the students in these types of situations.
2. Generation Z has access to a myriad of information.
What is it that you are giving your students that they can’t get anywhere else? This was the question one of my business consultants posed to me as I was thinking about teaching piano online.
Remember, Generation Z has the world at their fingertips. They can pull up a myriad of websites where they can learn how to play the piano by watching videos or getting lessons over the Internet from some very qualified people.
The big question
Now, take a minute and ponder this question. If you are unable to think of anything, it’s time to start brainstorming about some things you can do to set yourself apart.
You may have a background in a certain style of music that makes you unique. If so, you can pass that on to your students. Perhaps you have spent hours in a studio helping artists record their albums. This is something that sets you apart and it would be wise of you to somehow work this in as something you can offer your students.
For me, what sets me apart is my ability to teach classical and modern piano. If you’ve ever taken some time to search for a teacher, you will find that most teachers teach classical piano. It’s unusual to find someone who can teach both of them well.
Teaching students how to play chords and chord progressions is a big draw because the songs they hear every day are written this way. When it comes to teaching chords, I give my students first choice as to what songs they want to learn.
Sight Reading Factory
Recently, I ran across a unique website. It’s called Sight Reading Factory. Sight Reading Factory is a site dedicated to helping musicians improve their sight-reading skills. You begin by setting a number of different parameters, to name a few: key signature, time signature, level, and the number of measures.
The computer then creates a sight-reading exercise that is completely original. Once you play through it, you hit the button and it pops out another original exercise. As you practice, you can change the parameters at any time.
Sight Reading Factory also has a feature for teachers that allows them to purchase accounts for their students at discounted rates. I highly recommend Sight Reading Factory for anyone serious about improving their sight reading.
3. Generation Z are used to getting things quickly.
According to the Publicis, the average attention span of Generation Z is 8 seconds. Long before I learned of this statistic, I experienced it first-hand when talking to my 17-year-old son about a couple of my favorite Mahler symphonies.
His response was, “They are just too long.” That was it! Anyone who knows my son knows he normally has a lot of words! For him, it didn’t matter that these symphonies were brilliantly written and that some of the greatest musicians on the planet get together to perform them. They were just…too long.
This reality has affected the way that I structure my piano lessons. Instead of spending a long period of time on one thing, I break their lessons up into smaller parts. I’ve found that this helps to keep them more engaged.
I continually do my best to show my students the results of their practicing, reminding them that just a few months or weeks back they were not able to do what they do now. I do this because I know they are “results driven”.
I try to make sure that my students understand that learning to play the piano is not like learning to ride a bike. Instead, it takes discipline and years of hard work and dedication.
It’s important that we are honest with our students so that they know what to expect. Unlike many other things in their lives, learning the piano will not happen overnight.
Are you willing to change?
As you can see, generally speaking, Generation Z is a unique generation. It falls upon us as piano teachers to work on changing our approach in order to reach them. If we are unwilling to change, our potential students will bypass us on their way to finding a teacher who is more relevant to their lives.
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