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How Do You Teach Music Lessons to Teenagers?

Teaching teens is challenging, but if you do a few simple things it can become an incredibly rewarding experience.

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By Holli Archer

Oh no. It’s that student’s lesson time again and it’s the same old story. The blank stare. They didn’t practice. Is that a little hostility I’m sensing? They only reply with a *shrug* or an “I don’t know” when you ask them what they want to work on. They are checking their phone every 20 seconds. 

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I didn’t set out to only teach teens, but they really are my favorite. It’s such a challenge to be their music coach when you’re competing with everything else that’s going on in their world. But if you do a few things, you can create structure, expectations, and momentum to get them that next win. The confidence, creativity, and character they build in music can’t be built anywhere else. I want to share with you some tips I’ve found helpful throughout teaching and growing a teen-centered music studio. 

Tip 1: Don’t Suck

Yeah, we know. “Kids these days.” But here’s my thing: we can sit there and try to stick these emotionally intelligent, talented, and socially awkward kids in the same box our piano teachers were trying to fit us in 30 years ago while we were complaining about them, OR we can grow as teachers and as humans. Learn about different learning styles and abilities; implement YouTube and technology; record a TikTok with them; and meet them where they’re at to make a connection with them. That’s what they’re going to remember anyway. Not the 2-octave parallel D-minor diminished scale played at 120bpm. Maybe they’ll remember that, too. But, human connection first. 

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Tip 2: Let Them Lead

It doesn’t have to be their whole lesson, but there should be a time that your student is in charge – of the song, the style, the instrument, the purpose. Usually, they have a great reason for needing to learn “Running up that Hill” while sitting backwards at the piano and singing. Ask them, then let them lead. That’s where connection to the music happens. 

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Tip 3: Give Them An Identity

One of my favorite things in my studio is that as soon as you walk in, you’re now a musician. We use labels like “artist, musician, instrumentalist, performer” for all our clients. Not “they’re taking singing lessons” or “they are figuring out Ableton to record their own songs.” NO! They are a singer. They are a songwriter and producer. They may not be a professional yet, but creating that piece of their identity can carry them through when the work gets tough. 

Tip 4: Pivot Often

Be ready to move! Most musicians working in the industry want and need to be multi-faceted, so you need to be ready to pivot with them. Have other instruments, recording equipment, and basic tutorials available so they can explore their current interests within the safety of your music studio. You can help them critically think through that YouTube tutorial and point them in the direction of their next interest. You can stay as the foundation to their musical goals while allowing them to explore other avenues of expression. 

Happy Teaching!

Holli Archer

About the Author: Holli Archer is a vocal coach, studio owner, and small-business coach for other music schools. She started teaching piano at 16 out of her traveling studio (Jeep), and has grown to a multi-teacher studio in Draper, UT serving teens and young adults who want to get on stage and share their music. Check them out at archerartsacademy.com or on Instagram @archerartsacademy. She also works closely with @VocalizeU, an Artist Event that gets amateur artists professional resources in Los Angeles and all over the globe. 

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