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



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?



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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


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.


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.”


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.


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:


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.


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!


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


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.


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!


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.


– 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.



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.


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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6 Reasons to Have a Rehearsal For Your Studio Recital


It’s mid-April, and that means only one thing to music teachers:  Recital Season!

While you finalize your recital plans, work through logistics, and look for ways to make everything flow as smoothly as possible you might be asking yourself if you should have a rehearsal.

That’s a good question to ask.  And in my opinion, the exuberant answer is YES!  A hundred times yes!

I love having recital rehearsals for so many reasons, but here are six reasons why I appreciate rehearsals the most.


1  |  Early Preparation

6 Reasons to Have a Rehearsal for Your Studio Recital | The Music Blog

This one might just be the biggest.

A trying-to-put-the-last-page-hands-together-the-night-before-the-recital approach is never fun.  It’s usually not successful, either.  Early preparation is absolutely invaluable, and no amount of last minute cramming will make up for a lack of it.  If preparation is key, early preparation is a battering ram.

Having a rehearsal 2-3 weekends before your recital date sets a reasonable goal and an effective incentive for your students to have their pieces prepared and ready to perform well before the recital.  It helps them avoid procrastination and allows the few remaining weeks between the rehearsal and recital to be devoted to enhancing presentation, refining artistic details, and building confidence.


2  |  Working Though Logistical Kinks

Does the program flow?  Are there too many slow pieces in a row?  Did Johnny remember how to bow?  Does everyone know what they need to bring?  What time to arrive?

The rehearsal is a great time for you to see what logistical details need to be smoothed out between now and the recital (take notes!) and to make sure that everyone in the studio knows all of the important details for the recital night.  At the rehearsal you can hand the parents and students neatly-printed sheets with all the information pertinent to them or follow up the rehearsal with a concise email.  It’s also a great time to work through reception plans with your studio parents.  Now, THAT’S the fun part!


3  |  Discovering Hidden Weak Spots

Sometimes pieces that appeared solid during lessons suddenly become a bit shaky when performed “cold” for a roomful of people.   Because rehearsals have so many of the same dynamics as recitals (audience, formal performance only one time through, etc.) they help to reveal those hidden weak spots that don’t usually manifest themselves during practice time or regular lessons.

As teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to target those areas during the rehearsal…  And the best part is that you’ll have time to work through those spots with your students in the lessons between the rehearsal and the recital, find solutions, and get those sections in tip-top shape by recital time.


4  |  Confidence  

The rehearsal gives all of the students a chance to get familiar with the program and to practice everything that’s expected of them in an formal, recital setting.  Audience, bowing, applause, smiling, order of pieces, memory, seating arrangement, presentation…  it’s all there.  Repetition builds confidence, and knowing that they have “done this before” will give a huge boost to their confidence on recital night.

The rehearsal also gives your students the chance to find out if there is anything they’re unclear about relating to the recital.  Talking over these things with them (and their parents!) will ease their minds and help to prevent confusion come performance time.

6 Reasons to Have a Recital Rehearsal | The Music Blog
2008 – Some of my students performing their violin ensemble during rehearsal.

5  |  Parental Involvement

Ideally, your studio parents are involved all semester and not just during recital season.  But if not, the recital rehearsal is a perfect time to help them get connected!

For your student, having a parent physically present at the rehearsal can go a long way in making them more focused during preparation and more confident once performing under pressure.  Most parents are excited to come – it’s a great opportunity for them to see how their child is handling preparation for their upcoming performance, and it’s also a perfect time for them to talk with you to find out how they can help their students maintain confidence and overcome weak spots between the rehearsal and the recital night.  Plus, they get a fun sneak peak at the recital program!

Ask that at least one parent per student attend the rehearsal to hear the performances.  Encourage your parents by reminding them how invaluable their verbal encouragement and physical presence really is to their student and to you.


6  |  Camaraderie

Students are usually too preoccupied on recital night to make new friends, but rehearsals lend the perfect atmosphere for them to connect with other students in the studio, mingle, and develop friendships.

Never underestimate this one!  When students relate to each other like they’re “in this together” instead of like fierce competitors trying to see who can come out on top, charming things happen.

I have had so much fun watching friendships develop between my students.  At rehearsals, I hear them chattering about the upcoming recital – what they’re looking forward to, whether or not they’re nervous yet, and a host of other little excitements and woes.  At recitals, I see them huddled on rows together giving each other pep talks, encouraging speeches, and comforting hugs.  Just the sort of thing to make a teacher’s heart melt into pudding.

So actively encourage camaraderie between your students.  Rehearsals are a perfect place to start!

6 Reasons to Have a Recital Rehearsal | The Music Blog.jpg
2013 – Four of my little Texas students having a right jolly time together after rehearsal.


BONUS  |  Group Pictures!

If you’re planning to put a group picture in the printed recital program, the rehearsal is the ideal time to take it!  I usually pick a color theme and request that the students wear it to the rehearsal so everyone is matching.  They love it!

6 Reasons to Have a #Rehearsal for Your #Studio #Recital | The Music Blog.  #music #studio #teaching #piano #tipsIF YOU HAVEN’T had a rehearsal for your recitals before, give it a shot!  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It can just be on a Saturday afternoon in your home or studio – short, sweet, and oh-so-effective!

It lifts a huge amount of pressure from the recital evening and provides a great comfort cushion for both you and your students.

If you decide to try it out, let me know how it goes!

Happy recital planning, friends!


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Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student

Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student | Tips for Music Teachers on The Music Blog

As recital season comes to a close, most of us find ourselves in the middle of one of the most exciting and challenging parts of teaching: choosing new repertoire for our students.

Choosing the right piece for the right student is one of the most crucial parts of productive, successful teaching. Getting this part right can be the difference in making our students average musicians or winners.

But it doesn’t have to be daunting, and it doesn’t have to be excessively time-consuming.   It can actually be really fun when you have an effective, organized way to approach it. Here are four practical steps that help me keep choosing repertoire simple and the approximate amount of time it takes me to get each step done.


1. Evaluate Your Student.  

Approx. 10-15 MINUTES

This is definitely the first step and may even be the most vital for choosing the right piece for your student!   Before you can even start to pick the right piece, you have to know the things that most important for your student to learn right now.  Here’s a good place to start:

♦  List the biggest technical weaknesses he needs to master.
♦  List the technical strengths you want to help him develop further.
♦  List the music styles/forms he has played most & the ones he’s not played at all.

Our goal is to develop our student into a well-rounded musician, and that means having the ability to play a variety of musical forms, styles [Romantic, Baroque, etc.], and techniques.  Students, and even teachers, naturally drift towards pieces that exhibit their musical strengths, so make sure you’re not consistently neglecting composers and styles that aren’t your student’s strengths.

Balance is key!

[box style=”white” ]TIMING TIP:  Recitals are the ideal times to give our students pieces that really showcase their musical and technical strengths.   Pieces that focus primarily on their weaknesses are best to work on in between recitals.[/box]


2. Gather 3-4 Potential Pieces. 

Time Varies*

There are countless wonderful compositions to choose from.  But most of them simply will not be beneficial for your student right now.  As teachers, our job is to eliminate all of the good pieces and find the right piece.

So, as you look through your repertoire books, only set aside pieces that emphasize the specific techniques and styles you listed earlier.  This will help you quickly narrow your options to three or four of the best potential pieces.

[box style=”white” ]KEEP in MIND…  You may find a variety of pieces that match the specifics on your list – for example, a Classical Sonatina, a Baroque Minuet, and a Romantic Waltz that are all in minor keys and full of trills.   That’s fine!   You don’t have to find three of the exact same kinds of pieces to find the musical elements you are looking for.  Many composers will teach the same techniques with their own unique flair, so look through a lot of repertoire books and try a variety of pieces.[/box]

*The timing on this one really varies depending on the level of your student.   I can usually find repertoire for beginner-intermediate students in about 20 minutes, but music for an advanced student may take me an hour or more…  Simply because it takes longer to play through Beethoven Sonatas than Bach Minuets.


3. Analyze the Potential Pieces.  

Goal: 20 MINUTES

ALWAYS play through the piece.

Finding a piece is a hands-on project, and flipping through the pages simply won’t get the job done.  Pieces are often harder (or easier!) than they look on paper and have a lot of hidden details tucked away that only your fingers can catch.  You need to be acquainted with the intricate details of the piece, including its difficult passages and musical nuances, and playing through the piece is the only way you will be able to evaluate it accurately.

A few things to consider when analyzing a piece:

♦  What new skills will this piece teach?  Our students need to be learning new physical skills and musical concepts constantly, so they will never have a moment when they’re not growing musically.  Shoot for each new piece to introduce 2-4 new techniques.  (More than 4 new skills at once will be overwhelming for most students.)

♦  What old skills will this piece reinforce?  This is vital.  If we don’t make sure our students are reviewing recently-acquired skills, they will lose them!  Always try to give your student pieces that are well-balanced between introducing new skills and reinforcing old ones.

♦  How does the difficulty of this piece compare with his last piece?  Is it too hard?  Too easy?  The difficulty of a piece is dependent on a lot more than just the amount of black on the page!  Here are some of the basic elements to took for when evaluating a piece’s difficulty:

      • New Rhythms
      • New Key Signatures / More Accidentals
      • New Articulations (staccatos, slurs, leggiero, pulling, etc.)
      • Complex Dynamics (crescendos, sforzandos, etc.)
      • Complex Musical Phrasings (multiple voices, LH melody, etc.)
      • Faster or More Interpretive Tempos (rubato, ritardandos, etc.)
      • Ornaments (trills, turns, grace notes, etc.)
      • Pedaling Techniques
      • Difficult Finger Passages
      • Bigger Stretches & Interval Jumps Between Notes
      • More Interaction Between Hands
      • Length of Piece
      • Estimated Time it Will Take to Learn the Piece

Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student | Tips for Music Teachers on The Music Blog

4. Select the Best Piece

Goal: 10 MINUTES

As you’re analyzing those 3-4 pieces, one of them will probably match more of the qualifications on your list and stand out as the obvious choice above the others.   If so, you’re done!

But if more than one of the potential pieces will be equally beneficial to the student, don’t stress – have fun!  When this is the case, I usually play the remaining 2-3 options for my student and let him choose his favorite.  This can be a great way to involve your student in the process musically and emotionally without sacrificing his technique or quality.

The right pieces can work wonders in a child, because it’s through their pieces that students are stretched and developed into mature musicians.  So have fun!

[box style=”white” ]REMEMBER…  Once you settle on a piece, keep playing it!   Familiarize yourself with the phrases, develop the musical nuances, and work through fingerings, before you give the piece to your student.[/box]


Any tips you’d like to add on choosing pieces for students?  Leave them in the comments!