For the first time in my piano teaching career I’m seeing a new breed of piano students come through my studio door. No, these kids haven’t grown any extra fingers, but they are coming to piano lessons with a new set of expectations. Meet GenZ, the digital student.
One teen came to her lesson last week and after eight lessons she decided she didn’t need her books anymore – she just wanted to learn how to “sit down at the piano and play.” Another student performed a Taylor Swift piece she learned from a YouTube tutorial followed by one of her own compositions, complete with vocals – a vast improvement over her performance of her assigned lesson material. Another boy worked on his Halloween improv and asked for ways to make it more “scary.”
These students are typical of the new generation. They’ve never known a world without the Internet, instant messaging, and email. They believe everyone has a shot at fame in a world where TV is “reality TV” and one YouTube video can bring instant “stardom.” They are easily bored because they are accustomed to what Mark Prensky refers to as the “twitch-speed” of video games and its instant rewards. They have no patience for lectures. They know exactly what they want to learn and tune out anything they feel is irrelevant. In fact, the bottom line is that their brains are different than ours. Studies in neuro-plasticity show that students of the digital generation have become parallel processors rather than linear processors.
I’ve learned that if I want to keep my roster of students, I’ve got to be quick-thinking, flexible and open-minded. Czerny and Hanon have been shelved for now. My finger exercises are simple patterns using the first five notes of the major and minor scales. Polishing repertoire has been replaced by an emphasis on sight-reading. Free improvisation has replaced written composition. Ear training and music theory are more important than ever. And lessons have become collaborations between student and mentor where the goal is for the students to be able to teach themselves, become musically independent, and ultimately, confident creative musicians.