I’ll never forget the first music therapy session I led with a group of teen clients.

I’d worked with young children for a few years prior and felt confident I knew just what to do to build a connection with these teens.

Children are pretty easy to warm up, however I quickly realized it would take some special steps to gain the trust of the new group of teens with whom I was working.

I’ve now worked with teen clients for more than 14 years. I’ve learned a few things about how to build rapport and build it quickly, so you can start working on therapeutic goals.

Here are 5 ways to quickly build rapport with teen clients and students (do these in the first session!):

1. Show interest in their music

One of the first questions I ask when I meet a new teen for individual or group music therapy is “What kind of music are you into?” Even if I haven’t heard of the singer or group they mention, I let them know I’m going to look that singer or group up when I get home. When you do this, it shows you’re interested in what’s important to them and that you care – the first step in building rapport.

2.Share a little of yourself 

Tell the teens about music you like and some of your interests. Find connections. Maybe they like country music but have never heard of Garth Brooks. Tell them about the Dave Matthews concert you went to and ask if they’ve ever been to a concert too. Share with them that you’ve never listened to metal, but would be open to giving it a try if they have some suggestions for good artists and songs. Sharing your interests let’s teens know that the relationship-building process is a two-way street.

3.Be vulnerable

Do what you’re asking the teens to do in the session. Are you asking them to stand up in front of the group and perform an original rap? Then write a rap alongside them and perform yours. I did this and was taken aback by how uncomfortable I felt (more on that HERE). It’s important as music therapists that we do what we’re asking our clients to do. This allows us to see how it feels and shows our clients that we’re willing to do the hard work too!

4.Use humor and a bit of self-deprecation

Music therapy can be frustrating when we’re asking teens to do things that are challenging or out of their comfort zone. Music lessons can be frustrating (especially at the beginning) for a variety of reasons too. I try as much as possible to bring a light-hearted attitude and a little bit of humor. This seems to go a long way in helping me build a connection with my teen clients and students.

5.Ask for their suggestions or opinion 

Ask what types of musical experiences they’d like to do in music therapy. You can ask casually or do a music survey (find the template for the one I use HERE). Ask their opinion about whether they enjoyed a musical experience you brought in. Did they think the Music BINGO game went well or should we try something different next time? Did they like singing Phil Phillips during the instrument jam or would they like to do a different song next week? Make them the leader or teacher. I often do ear training exercises in my adapted lessons (for example – I’ll play two intervals and ask the student whether they sound consonant or dissonant). After I’m the “teacher” and the student answers, we switch places and the student plays the intervals and I answer the questions. I think this goes a long way in building a mutual respect for each other.

These are just a few ideas I have. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

And if you want more ideas for how to connect with your teen clients and students, I’d love for you to check out the E-Course Tune In To Teens. It’s filled with more ideas for how to build rapport with your clients and connect with them about the music that’s important to them. It’s also packed with creative session ideas that you can implement right away: