I used to teach a bunch of instruments (even though I was only any good at a few of them!) at a summer camp, and I always just asked the kids what they wanted to play, and then I taught it to them. I ended up teaching a lot of kids how to play Taylor Swift and Black Eyed Peas, but it's what they wanted to learn and I can tell they had way more fun with it than if I had forced them to just go through scales right off the bat (although I did work on important music stuff with the kids who I could tell were really talented and were definitely gonna stick with it for a long time).
My favorite story, and I'm sure I've posted it, is when I asked an eight year old what song he wanted to play, and he sighs and goes "Hot Cross Buns." And I said, "Really? What's your favorite band?" And he's like "The Beastie Boys," so I taught him "Fight For your Right." Then at the end of the lesson he says, "Thanks, but you'll probably have to teach it to me again tomorrow since I can't practice it at home. My mom doesn't let me listen to the Beastie Boys."
As a seasoned music educator (I also teach several other business and law-related subjects at two local college extension programs), I think it's a great that you asked the kids what they wanted to play. That's what I also do with my adult students in classes like Math Refresher, Business Writing Skills, and so forth: I ask my students exactly what it is they wish to learn in each class, and then I help them learn these things, actively involving them in the learning discovery process as much as possible.
It's been my experience that your students really appreciate your willingness to abide by their actual needs.
I also think that it's good that once you started to teach them the things that they told you they wanted to learn, that you did
work on "important music stuff" (I assume you mean scales, music reading, and so on?) with those kids who you identified as having real talent and were definitely going to stick with it for a long time.
Your kids may not have realized it then, but they do need a foundation in the basics, even if they're having fun playing things they want to play.
I too have encountered humorous real-life stories like the one you related about the eight-year-old.
I appreciate your post, batman!