Should I Give My Student A Piece He Doesn’t Like?

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I’d always been a student who was really passionate about the music I liked.

And I liked drama. Fast. Loud. Minor keys, plush chords, extravagant bass octaves, quadruple fortissimos, sweeping arpeggios. I loved Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy.

I was also really passionate about the music I didn’t like.

And I didn’t like Bach. I mean, he was okay… too busy, too frilly, too cold. Not enough emotion. Chopin was monotonous. Too slow. Too many “oom-cha-cha“s.

But Mozart? He was the worst. OH. I HATED HIM. What a horrid jumble of frilly, trilly, bouncy, sissy nonsense! yuck. Where was the passion? I couldn’t stand to listen to him, much less play him.

That was 8 years ago. Today I love Bach. Chopin is glorious. And Mozart? I adore him.

So what happened?

MY TEACHER MADE ME PLAY THREE PIECES I DIDN’T LIKE.

 

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Should I Give My Student A Piece He Doesn’t Really Like?

As music teachers, we’ve all labored over this question. And there are times when the answer is no. Very much no. We’ll talk about those further down.

But I think there are also times when the answer is yes. Very much yes.

Not to be cruel, not to be insensitive, not to make our students hate music.

Then why?

 

Why It’s Important to Give Your Students Pieces They Don’t Necessarily Like

BROADENING MUSICAL TASTE.

Our students aren’t going to love everything. And you know what? That’s okay. No one person is going to like every style or composer, and everyone will have a one or two that they love more than all the rest. It’s called personality, and it’s a good thing. Loving everything isn’t necessary, and it’s not the goal.

But a well-rounded appreciation for a variety of musical styles is important. Very important. And it is the goal.

Every once in a while, we’ll get a student who loves everything they hear. But much more often we find ourselves with a student who only likes one or two styles – fast, slow, soft, loud, major, minor, showy, waltz-y, Baroque, Romantic, Beethoven, Scarlatti, or Cage

Okay. Maybe not Cage.

Still.

When a student does have one or two favorite styles, it often means they don’t like all the rest. Or worse, they just plain detest the rest. Fiercely.

So when we do find ourselves with a student who has narrow musical taste, it’s up to us to nurture an appreciation for a broader range of style. Sometimes that means just listening to new composers with them and explaining what makes them unique from others. Other times it actually means giving them new styles to learn, even if they don’t like them up-front.

Sometimes students like new styles as soon as they hear them; other times it takes a while to see fruit. But even if it does, don’t get discouraged.

It took me two years of actively studying Bach’s music and style to learn to love him. I learned his Italian Concerto and disliked it every bit as much when I was done as when I started. So I left it. Then I came back to it a year and a half later, and you know? I loved it! And once I did, the whole world of Bach was opened up to me. Now he is the single composer into whom I have invested the most time. And, you know, it was well worth the countless hours of practice when I “didn’t like that bothersome piece.”

WELL-ROUNDED MUSICAL EXPERIENCE.

Musical taste, musical experience… they go hand-in-hand. Why? Because only by experiencing new music can our student’s taste be broadened.

Experiencing a variety of composers is important because it gives musicians a better understanding and appreciation for music context, stylization, and history. Our students need exposure to a lot of music… Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Impressionistic, Renaissance, and even a little modern. Sometimes exposure all that’s needed for a formerly “picky” student to discover that he loves other styles, after all.

Every single one of us has to be stretched before we can grown, and as teachers, it’s up to us to make sure our students enjoy the richness of that experience.

LEARNING NECESSARY TECHNIQUE.

It’s also up to us to make sure our students have well-rounded technique. And let’s face it… some kids just don’t like certain techniques. Arpeggios, left hand melodies, octaves, rubato, runs, triplets, various key signatures and chords… They’re all challenging in their own unique way, and some students want nothing to do with them.

But if we’re wise, we will make sure our students can play all of these things and play them well, whether it’s in a waltz, etude, programmatic piece, fugue, sonata, polonaise, minuet, scherzo, or even an occasional rag-time tune.

 

Is It Always Necessary?

No. Some students just love music and are literally ecstatic to play anything in sight.

Remember, the goal is to help our students experience and appreciate a variety of good music. If they already do, then the goal is already accomplished. Don’t go scouring for a piece they don’t like just for the sake of it.

 

When NOT to Give Your Student a Piece He Doesn’t Like

There are definitely situations when we shouldn’t give our students less-than-loved pieces. Here are a few of those times to keep in mind:

FOR A PERFORMANCE.

Performances are your student’s chance to share his musical passions, technical strengths, and artistic maturity with his audience. If he is emotionally disconnected with his piece – or worse, emotionally hostile toward his piece – he will struggle to do all of these. (Even more so for competitions.) Instead, give your student a performance piece he will be excited about, will enjoy practicing, and can perform with an enthusiasm that’s contagious.

IF IT’S ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT PIECES HE’S PLAYED.

Launching into your most difficult piece takes an extra measure of stamina, even if you love it.  Giving a student a really hard piece that he doesn’t like is asking for trouble. Slump Alert!

IF HE’S ALREADY IN A SLUMP. 

Goodness me, if your student is already struggling to hang in there, please don’t give him a piece he doesn’t like. It will seal his doom. Instead, give him lots of encouragement and a piece or two he really, really loves.

 

When, What, & How to Do it Right


WHEN TO DO IT

Between performances is usually the best time to give students a less-than-loved piece. It gives them the opportunity to focus on mastering it without distracting them from more pressing performance repertoire.

Immediately after a successful performance is ideal because the student is on a high note and ready to take on anything. When unlocking new music to our more skeptical students, timing is definitely key.

WHAT TO GIVE THEM

When introducing a composer or style your student doesn’t like, keep it a level or two below his current repertoire capabilities. Start with something short and sweet, especially for young students. Remember, the goal is to stretch them musically, not to make them panic!

HOW TO DO IT RIGHT

My teacher made me play stuff I didn’t like, but she was never mean about it. She never spoke harshly to me or ignored my thoughts or told me that I was ignorant and didn’t know what was good for me. She was kind. She respected my struggles. She was even sympathetic. But she was firm. And by firm, I mean SHE DIDN’T BUDGE. And I benefited because she didn’t.

Remember, we’re doing this to help our students. We are their music teachers. It’s our responsibility and privilege to help them cultivate a well-rounded appreciation for good music, and hopefully, they will learn to know and love music better in the process.

So how do we do this well?

To start, here are a few things NOT to do:

– Never be forceful.

– Never disregard their feelings.

– Never treat them like they are ignorant or need to be enlightened.

Instead,

– Be gentle. Be patient. Be sensitive. Be kind.

– Listen to their woes. Be understanding. Make sure they know you aren’t ignoring their feelings or don’t care what they think.

– Explain to them why it’s important. Help them understand the goal. Keep communication open and work with them as a team, not a taskmaster.

If we can do all of these things, we’re well on the road to doing it well.

 

SUMMARY: WHAT’S THE GOAL?


We’ve got to keep this question at the forefront. Remember, the goal isn’t to get them to love every piece ever written or every composers who ever lived.

THE GOALS ARE THESE:

1) A Well-Rounded Musical Experience
2) A Well-Rounded Musical Appreciation

I still don’t love Prokofiev. And I’m not that crazy about Haydn or Brahms. It’s just personality. But you know what? I recognize the significance of their lives and work, and when I do play them I want to play them well.

Once our students are willing to try and appreciate composers who aren’t their favorites they’ll really start to grow. Why? Because they’ll better understand musical context, style, and history. They’ll have the complete musical picture instead of just their favorite fragments.

So, if we can do it well, then yes – let’s give our students pieces that will stretch their taste. Their musical experience will be far richer and deeper than it ever could be if we don’t.

 

Have any thoughts? Share them in the comments below!
 

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