Helping Students Ages 11-14 When Progress Has Stopped

I recently received another GREAT question about teaching piano students ages 11-14. Let me share it with you (summarized):

I am struggling with a small group of my students and wanted your opinion. These students are 11 – 14 years old. They have all reached level 2B in Piano Adventures. They do not practice, or read notes very well, and have reached this level with hardly ever practicing  …they’re progress has stopped. I give them lots of supplemental music, I arrange the pop music they listen to for them, I practice each and every piece with them, and do not expect perfection. I’m stuck. I have run out of ideas. Do I have them continue to go over these songs for weeks and weeks without finishing them ?

Also… When do you move your students out of the Method books and into regular repertoire, and which repertoire books do you use?

Wow, well I think we’ve all run into this trap before! In this video, I attempt to answer it with some useful tips. Also, below is a summary of what I wrote on the board, along with some additional information. Hope it helps!

Note: Also below are links to the three repertoire books I mention in the video.

  • Attention and Interest = Progress. This means, at this age group, I move my thinking to “keep their interest peaked and attention there” instead of younger students, who do tend to just advance linearly through method books.
  • Try ANYTHING. Be willing to go very out of your comfort zone to try anything and everything. Singing, drumming, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, country… try it all!
  • Review the basics – If you can keep their attention and interest, check in on the basics of note and rhythm reading.
  • SURPRISE them – I LOVE this one.  Grab some 2 Part Bach Inventions, easy Mozart.  Tell them its their next song and they’re going to learn it.  Watch the reaction. Some kids that age love a challenge, and love feeling like you’re telling them they are good enough to try it.
  • Deadlines – Work in some kind of deadline where they have to learn something, either for a recital or recording.  Many kids that age will rise to the occasion.
  • Technology – Grab their attention with note reading games on an iPhone (more on that to come later) or notation software or electronic keyboards.
  • Social Encouragement – I love this one too. Hold a duets session where they have to play music with another peer. Or have them accountable to playing music for another peer. Maybe they could write a song with another piano student.
  • Creative – Jazz, theory, chords, improvisation – some students start to gravitate more towards this type of music.
  • PREVENTION – With all younger piano students, be thinking about the day when they arrive at age 11, 12 etc.  And prepare them for that time, with a strong foundation in note reading and rhythm reading.

Books Mentioned

- Piano Bench of Classical Music
- Piano Bench of EASY Classical Piano
- The Joy of First Piano Classics

Finally, to the person who asked the question, I do not think you’re alone here at all.  And to answer you question specifically, I think its OK to a degree to put a song aside for a while if its not going anywhere: but always go back and review it at a later time.  And tell the student you will be doing so, so its expected.  If I’m “passing” kids on songs they really shouldn’t be passing on, I am doing something else to go back and cover that material: whether it be an additional method book, or performance book, or a review later.

And one last thing of note, with piano students this age, especially early teens.  I find they might not practice for WEEKS, literally.  But somehow if they get 30 minutes of practice in sometime, their progress from that one practice session is enormous.  (I think I got into college for piano from only 6 months of practice, seriously.)

So yes, certainly don’t beat yourself up about it – its common for that age, keep doing what you’re doing and try some of the ideas above!

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2 Responses to “Helping Students Ages 11-14 When Progress Has Stopped”

  1. Catherine Shefski Says:

    Great post! From a teacher’s point of view, I find these students the most interesting to teach. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just ask the student what they want to play. It’s surprising how many students spend their practice time working on music they like but they’d never bring into their teacher. Once they know the teacher is willing to listen to their choice of music, then they seem more receptive to hearing what their teacher has to say about interpretation, practice techniques, theory, etc.

    • Dan Says:

      Hi Cathy!

      Thanks for adding some input again :-) I agree completely. So many students think they’re not allowed to bring forth music they like. The funny thing is too, sometimes I’d rather play their music than method book music! I also find, if its hard to drag this info out of them, I ask them to tell me what’s on their iPod. Or I ask what movies/TV shows etc they like. Or I just crank up iTunes (or Spotify, heard of it?) and start playing stuff. You’re right too, when they know you’re receptive to them, they’ll be more receptive to you, for sure.

      Thanks!
      -Dan