Student Burnout

Previously I blogged about Teacher Burnout, the signs, what we can do to get through it, etc…  This post I would like to talk about student burnout and what we can do as teachers to help our students when they experience burnout with their lessons.  This is important because when students burn out, teachers can burn out and it can become a vicious cycle.

I have a few students that are going through the burnout stage.  All 3 of them are Junior High ages 6th, 7th and 8th grade.  The family of the 6th grader actually gave me notice last month that September would be their last month, the student had started band and was experiencing the stress of practicing two instruments.  In addition, their family was also was going through some challenges at home that also could have led to this student burning out as her mom has told me that her attitude has been pretty poor with everything that she is doing. However, there was one little problem, I had to remind mom that the student was “stuck” with me until December because my new policy for this year states that a semester commitment is required.  I did this because I decided to add music to my tuition.  The mom had no problem with this and even said she was secretly happy because she really didn’t want to see her daughter quit.  I suggested to the mom, to make lessons more “bearable” for the student I would be happy to change the focus of lessons.  I knew the student was very creative and liked to compose and improvise her own pieces.  So I mentioned that if she was interested we could concentrate on just composing and improvising for the next few months.  Her at home assignments would be to work on these pieces that she was creating.  I figured by doing this, she is still learning theory, she is still playing, and so on.  We have been doing this for 3 weeks now and the mom has reported several times that she is having a hard time getting her daughter off the piano and she is loving this new focus!  I was very happy to hear this and who knows maybe by December she won’t want to quit after all.

My 7th grade student that is in her burnout stage is actually a transfer student.  This one was a hard one.  I guess she didn’t like her first lesson because it was too structured (this can be a post in itself) so again because she was “stuck” with me for a few months I had to come up with something that I felt I could live with but would allow her to ease into my teaching style.  I should mention that I do have a fun teaching style so her complaint actually came to me as a surprise.  So I told her mom that we can go a more recreational route for a few months to ease her into the studio and help her feel comfortable.  Her background with her last teacher was a mesh mash of a binder full of copied music.  It was really hard for me to figure out where exactly she was.  So I decided to put her in Piano Pronto.  Well, the structure of the leveled books freaked her out at that first lesson so I decided to transfer her to the “Greatest Hits” book which is basically a lot of the same pieces in the leveled books but doesn’t “look” as structured.  She seemed to like that change a lot better.  Her mom reported to me that she enjoyed her second lesson.  I have also added some “popular” supplemental pieces for her to work on.

My 8th grade student was feeling like she wanted to quit, she was feeling that she was getting too “old” for lessons.  I do quarterly group lessons and that was one of her concerns.  In the past I had mix ages/levels in my group lessons but was starting to sense that my older kids didn’t have the patience that was required for some of my younger students.  So because her mom mentioned this was one of her concerns I decided it was time to start having my Jr. High/High School students have their group lessons separately from my other students.  We had our first group lesson the week of Labor Day and I loved this new change and from what I can tell my older students did too!  I also changed this student to Piano Pronto as she was struggling a bit in the method she was in and wanted more pieces that she would recognize.  I felt like Piano Pronto fit the bill nicely.  In addition, I am giving her more “popular pieces” to learn and play.  This seems to be working well.

So 3 students saved at least for now.  I think it is important to recognize when our students are in their burnout stage and understand that it is okay to change things up a little to get over the hump.  And at the same time it’s important for parents to understand that the burnout stage is completely normal.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to quit, it might just mean that a change is in order.

I recently came across this blog post on The 6 Stages of Piano Students: Why and When Piano Students Quit Lessons.  She made a visual graph of each stage.  Do you find that your studio struggles at stage 5 as well?  I think this is fairly accurate which leads me to believe that we as teachers need to be more open and creative with our tweens/teens so we could help them get past that “I want to quit” stage and want to continue so they can get to stage 6 which is the best one!

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as to what you do in your studio when you notice a student in the burnout stage.

6 thoughts on “Student Burnout

    • Hi Becky, For my first one I mostly did the same activities but was able to move faster and allow for more difficulty. At the end I gave them a copy of a Cold Play lead sheet of Clocks just to send them home with something they might like for fun and spent a few minutes going through that with them. For future groups I would like to see more collaboration through sharing what they have been working on, ensemble playing, composition, improvisation, etc… Then following up with a game or two.

  1. Great ideas! I have an 8th grade student with some burnout feelings. Recently I had each of my students fill out a student questionnaire during lab time. From this It was helpful to find out some of the popular songs she was excited to play and I started supplementing with some of them right away to get her excited to practice. For one song, I had a version that was fairly simple for her, so I made it a “fake book” exercise. The chord symbols were written above each measure so I taught her several bass chord patterns (Blocked, Broken, Alberti Bass, etc.) and let her come up with her favorite variation.

    • Having students fill out a questionnaire is a great way to see what they would enjoy. It’s can be an eye opener as well. 😉 The fake book idea is a wonderful way for some of the more popular pieces to be more “doable” for students that want to play them but aren’t quite ready for them. I did a class this summer on reading lead sheets. It was a good start but something that I would like to follow up with throughout the year. Thanks for sharing Heidi!

  2. The piano burn out – oh so common! Work with students to keep their music exciting so they do not burn out. Give students pieces that they adore to keep them moving forward in their learning. Give them some popular pop song, or movie theme to keep kids excited. Integrating these pieces into our weekly lesson work of classical and lesson books help to keep children excited.

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