Choosing the right pieces for your students can often be a trickier task than you would think. The pieces you pick for your students can sometimes determine their attitude towards the instrument.
Pick the wrong one, and it might put them off playing for several years. But if you continuously pick pieces that are right for them, you will nurture their passion for the instrument. And that’s one of your main goals for your students, isn’t it?
An important question you have to ask yourself is – should you choose a challenging piece that stretches their technical abilities, or is it better to choose a piece that they will easily be able to play?
That’s what we will answer in this short article.
The answer to the questions above is ultimately derived from your judgement based on these circumstances:
– What level your student is currently at.
– What music do they like? Try to choose pieces that they enjoy. They will progress faster and get a lot more out of the lessons if they play something they enjoy. The enjoyment factor should sometimes be considered with more weight than the “correct” piece for their current level.
– How musical is your student? Some people understand rhythm better and are more musically inclined than others. People also react differently to musical styles.
– How do they learn the best? Everyone has a different learning style. Some people thrive on challenges while others can only stay inspired if something is really simple.
Whether you should pick a challenging piece or an easy piece completely depends on your student and on your own assessment of your student’s learning styles after you have considered the above factors. In my opinion, you should choose a piece that best accompanies your student’s learning style.
It also depends on what activates their curiosity and interests.
A lot of teachers say that you shouldn’t play a piece which is right at the threshold of your technical capabilities. The main reason for this is that it will take too long to learn, and you are likely to give up. This is especially true for impatient students.
I agree with this to an extent. But there are actually some cases where it’s better to choose a challenging piece. For example – if there is a piece that your student is really itching to play, but it’s just a bit more technically challenging than what they “should be” playing at their level, it might still be worth considering playing this.
The fact that they’re excited about playing the piece will make them overcome the technical difficulties.
And most importantly, they will be playing something they truly enjoy. This is in my experience the most powerful factor for learning. The enjoyment of the subject overpowers everything else. I believe that the number one priority for teachers should be to make sure that their students enjoy what they learn. A mind that enjoys the subjects is emotionally connected to it, and when you’re in a happy state, what you learn tends to stick much better to your memory.
My own experience confirms this, and it has also been approved by science a number of times.
However, there are some studies that say that happiness and learning don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Even though I’m a strong believer in the enjoyment of learning, I don’t want to dismiss opposing arguments. That would be narrow-minded of me, and I would knowingly ignore important research.
What we can learn from these opposing views is that learning doesn’t always have a straightforward formula. It depends on each individual person, which is why it’s important that the teachers are open-minded enough to tailor their approach to each of their students.
Still, I want to advance an argument for why I think enjoyment in the subject is particularly important when taking music lessons.
Unlike math and English, music is viewed as an extra-curricular activity. Music lessons are not something students are forced to do to complete their education. It’s optional. No one cares if you hate math – not even your parents, and definitely not your teachers. You have to do it no matter what.
Music lessons, on the other hand, is largely dictated by the student’s enjoyment of the subject. If they don’t enjoy it, it is only a matter of time before they or their parents give up the lessons.
This is why I think it’s vital that people enjoy their lessons. Because this is ultimately what will make them continue learning the subject.
There is another reason why it’s sometimes worth choosing a demanding piece over an easy one. When your students are playing something difficult which is right at the edge of what they are capable of, they will accelerate their technical capabilities. But please bear in mind that this will only work if they are enjoying the process. If they are not enjoying it, the fact that it’s difficult or demanding will just put them off.
A good teacher should be able to judge what is best for their student.
I have experienced the power of combining enjoyment with something demanding with my own students. I have suggested pieces to my students that according to a lot of other teachers are too difficult for their level. But because my students really enjoyed those pieces, they learnt it really well, and they experienced an acceleration in the progress of their technical abilities.
I want to emphasise that choosing difficult pieces is not as common as choosing easy pieces. What I explained above mostly happens in exceptional circumstances.
The truth is that most of the time, it will make sense to choose a piece which can be learnt without too much effort.
The majority of people enjoy learning an instrument when they manage to play a piece with ease (no rhyming intended).
Most people don’t have the patience to spend weeks mastering a piece. And most people won’t be THAT passionate about a piece so that the patience they need to learn it will simply fall into their lap.
If you choose a demanding piece for a student who doesn’t like challenges, you risk putting them off learning the instrument altogether.
I hope I have given you enough insight into what you need to take into account when choosing pieces for your students.
Here is a checklist for you that summarises the main points:
Choose a demanding piece if your student…
– thrives on challenges
– likes to practise, is driven or doesn’t mind practising
– is really eager to start the piece
Choose an easier piece if your student…
– gets easily bored by practising
– easily gives up
– is really young or a complete beginner
– has some kind of learning difficulties
– has a short attention span
– doesn’t naturally like challenges
– enjoys playing something they can easily master