The Art of Conning Kids (Coldplay Vs. Contrasting Motion Scales)

I recently inherited a piano student from another teacher. A few days before my first lesson with the kid, the teacher met with me to discuss what the student had been working on in the last few months. “He can now do the C major scale in contrasting motion,” she said, “and he’s working through a Bastien book.”

Now, I’ve been teaching this same boy guitar lessons for almost a year and I was having a difficult time imagining that he was impassioned, excited and motivated by his piano lessons, given the aforementioned scenario.

My first piano lesson with him proved this assumption right. I started by asking him what he was working on in lessons—he rolled his eyes. Then, he pretended that he was working from a different book than the one the teacher spoke of. Next, he played me something he had invented (which actually had a decent melody).

This is where I intervened.

“Do you like Coldplay?” I said.

“Who?” he replied

(Which might surprise you, but most of my students have never heard of Coldplay or John Mayer or even newer acts like Neon Trees or Muse or… the list is infinite).

I play a little bit of “Clocks” and he sits up— a spark ignites!

He has, in fact, heard this song… and he thinks it’s interesting. Suddenly he really wants to learn it AND he’s excited! I have him right where I want him.

I proceed to teach him how to find any major chord. I draw attention to the patterns in the song—the sections that get repeated. In one lesson, he’s learned most of the song—which is in Eb major, much more difficult for a kid than C major.

When I show up for lesson 2, “Clocks” is almost perfect. He’s been playing it for everyone and his parents say he’s practicing piano all the time—like never before.

On to round 2, I say, “you know, if you got really comfortable with these other scales, you could pick up these other pop/rock songs easily—no sweat! Look at how all of the chords we learned last week fit into this scale…”

The boy is hooked. Scales suddenly have a purpose. Chords make sense. In just a couple of weeks he’s playing songs far more difficult than all of the songs he’s played in the last few years. My con has succeeded.

Kids naturally love music but they get sick of lessons from tired teachers just bidding time. They detest working through books and suffering through scales with a metronome, if that’s all that lessons include. They lose interest and join soccer because it’s more fun to run around with their friends than it is to sit at a piano—unless they’ve got the tools to create and explore. Piano lessons (or guitar, violin, etc) don’t need to be Coldplay vs. contrasting motion scales.

Kids need to hear “let’s learn some Coldplay… and, by the way, LOOK! Knowing this scale and these chords makes “Coldplay” and “Fur Elise” and “Linus and Lucy”… and anything else you may want to learn- easier!”

What do you think? What do you love or hate about music lessons?

10 thoughts on “The Art of Conning Kids (Coldplay Vs. Contrasting Motion Scales)

  1. Hi Amaryah, interesting blog. 🙂 Will be interested to see what else you share. Question per your side bar: Is Musicsorri related to Montessori?

    I may not be a music teacher, but I grew up with one (my mother taught suzuki violin, and consequently I learned to play at age 2 or 3) so I’m interested in this sort of discussion. I also enjoy alternative education ideas of any kind, as I plan programs for kids. Looking forward to hearing more about how you make learning music fun 🙂

  2. Thanks for reading Amber! Musicsorri is the name for the early childhood music class at my school. It’s geared toward 1-3 year olds. I’m amazed how much music theory kids (even that young) can learn… expect a blog on it at some point! 🙂

  3. If I had a piano teacher like Amaryah when I was a kid, I would be a pro by now… need more teachers with creative lesson plans like you that make kids want to learn, without realizing how much they’re really learning!

  4. The hardest con to pull off… trying to trick an 11 year old boy into singing. So far I’ve been unsuccessful despite my promises that singing is popular with the ladies (they still think girls have cooties, I guess).

  5. I completely agree! I teach my students the same way! find out what they are most passionate about! Of course we gotta do some of the not so fun stuff but they’ll do it if they have something to look forward to! I’ve been doing lots of research myself on private lessons and i gotta admit, their methods are snooze fests. Unless you’re teaching a very disciplined student or another chopin things have gotta chnge! I’m just sayin!

  6. Katie knows! BTW, if you are in the Chicago area and want voice lessons I highly recommend her– she’s great. I have a guitar student that takes voice lessons with Katie & her vocal chops are amazing (and the student’s what? 14!? I think.)!

  7. oh…i miss your guitar lessons:( i wish i could start taking them again, but the whole toddler running around nonstop thing kinda puts a damper on any chances i guess. you are probably a breath of fresh air to those kids!!!

  8. Amaryah, I absolutely love this post! Most people want to play the piano so they can play their favorite songs. Tapping in to this desire is the key to great teaching of any musical instrument.
    You might enjoy this post on my blog about the time the brother of one of my students stole her sheet music -

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