In a recent interview with Intelligent Life magazine, children's author Philip Pullman sang the praises of music education for young children. According to Pullman:

"...of all the things the body can do, the richest, the most interesting, the most emotionally and intellectually fulfilling thing is music. Every child needs to encounter music as early as possible, and I don’t mean just listen and then answer questions: I mean make [music], with voice, with clapping hands and stamping feet, with instruments of every kind."

Picture this; it's late February and the first term of school is about to start. You've just finished a phone call with an enthusiastic parent booking a lesson for their child - your first piano lesson with a new student is scheduled for next week! In fact, you've been diligently implementing all our advice on marketing your piano classes and now you have a schedule jam-packed full of new students. Exciting stuff!

But, first, preparation, preparation, preparaation.

In this article, Superprof will lay out simple a five-step plan for giving effective, engaging and fun private piano lessons, touching on structuring content and building the student-teacher relationship. Even if you're a new piano teacher, soon teaching piano will be second nature.

1. Assess your student's level and adapt your piano teaching accordingly

If you are teaching a new student, you'll probably have the chance to message or chat with them on the phone before the lesson. Once you've settled on a time and place for your first lesson, ask them to text or email you a short biography of their music education history - how long they've played, how often they practice, any exams or performances they may have sat for. If it's a very young student, ask their parents to send through a short description of their playing experience, if they have any. This means you have their basic info handy and will know roughly what kind of teaching materials and sheet music to bring to the lesson.

Test students in private piano lessons
Evaluate your student's level for tailored, effective piano lessons.

If your new student already has some musical experience under their belt, it's a good idea to start the lesson by having them play a piece they love and know well for you. This will hopefully put them at ease. Next, ask them to play a piece they are finding difficult and ask about those difficulties. Finally, ask them to sight-read something a little challenging - but not too hard! - to assess their sight-read level. 

Lastly, it's a good idea to ask them to play a few test chords, starting with something easier like C major, moving through F minor 7 and work up to a Db full diminished chord.

When observing your new student, you can assess:

  • Their posture and technique
  • Their sight-reading ability
  • Their interpretation skills
  • Their knowledge of music theory and harmony
  • If they can use the pedal effectively

Once you've gauged their proficiency as a pianist, you're in a better position to discuss their musical goals together and create a plan to realize them. You're also in a better position to...

Choose the right lesson materials for your student

As with any job, you need to work with good tools. In the case of piano teachers, this means high-quality sheet music and method books.

You must have a different go-to beginner method book for toddlers, primary-school-aged children, teenagers and adults. If you advertise that you teach across different styles, make sure you have not only classical sheet music on hand, but jazz, pop, rock and blues as well, in a variety of levels.

You can also let students know about online resources for honing their sight-reading or music theory. There are so many apps and programs out there to help beginner students learn the basics!

Unsure of what level piano you should be teaching? Click through for our advice on the subject.

2. Structure your piano lessons effectively

You can think of structuring your lessons like a three-course meal - entree, main course, and dessert. You can vary these according to the needs of the student.

The Entree 

Your entree should be kept short and sweet - in this section, you review any scales, ear training, sight-reading, technical exercises or music theory homework you've set for your student, and give feedback on those exercises. This means that the "boring stuff" is out of the way, and the student can look forward to playing their favourite pieces!

The entree also helps to get the student warmed up at the piano and release any tension. For classical piano, you may be working on more traditional scales and broken chords, whilst in jazz piano, you may get your student familiarizing themselves with various jazz scales.

 

How to structure your piano teaching effectively
Start your piano lessons with theory homework, technical exercises and scales.

The Main

The main course should consist of any pieces that they are currently learning or perfecting - the challenging stuff! Anything being played at an upcoming exam or performance should be tackled in the main course. These may need to be played with a metronome if there are any rhythm issues.

Dessert

"Dessert" comes during the last 5-10 minutes of the lessons. This is the fun stuff - you can invite your piano student to play a favourite piece they have mastered and show off their interpretation skills, or you can try improvising at the piano together. If your student loves composing, this would be where you ask them to play something they've written and offer feedback.

The dessert section should certainly be fun, but it also serves two practical purposes:

  1. helping you both unwind and decompress from the challenges of the lesson
  2. building up your student's confidence so they can leave on a high note, excited to practice at home and return next week

Assigning work for the next lesson

The very last thing you should do is review your practice expectations for the coming week. Be specific with your piano instruction - for example, you may tell your student you'd like them to play four times for a minimum of thirty minutes and point out the areas they need to focus on. During the lesson, you've hopefully been writing down notes and expectations in their practice diary. This is where you review the content of what you've written there so you're both of the same page. 

Still unsure of how to set competitive hourly rates for piano lessons?

3. Encourage your student to assess themselves and give feedback

Many people have the skills to become a piano teacher, but to become a great piano teacher, you need to be open to student feedback, and help students assess their own playing.

There are three places in the lesson you can do this.

  1. At the very beginning of the class you could ask; "So, how did your practice go this week?" Asking about practice habits at the beginning of the class lets you know if you need to restructure on the fly - if a student hasn't practised at all, you may need to adjust your lesson plan and spend more time teaching them new pieces rather than repeating last week's lesson. If they admit that they aren't finding the time to practice, this is where you can intervene and brainstorm ways to help them build a practice routine into their everyday life.
  2. You should also ask a student to self-assess after playing you a piece by asking questions like; "What do you find most difficult about this piece? Which parts tend to trip you up?" Asking your student to assess their own playing helps them to build an invaluable skill - listening to their own playing and honing in on any challenging or stumble-prone areas. This way, they learn how to identify and focus on difficulties and practice smarter, not harder.
  3. Asking for feedback at the end of the class will help you hone your skills as a teacher. You don't need to do this every lesson, but asking simple questions such as; "How did the lesson go?" "What did you like? What didn't you like?" "What would you like more of next time?" will help you tailor your lessons to your student's needs, make the lessons more fun and rewarding. This also helps to build the student/teacher relationship as the student has a place to feel heard in the piano lessons.

And speaking of the student-teacher dynamic...

4. Piano teaching is all about building rapport with your student

We've already mentioned a few ways you can make lessons fun and engage for your students, but everyone has their off days - you included!

The key to successful piano lessons is good rapport between the student and their private instructor.
Develop good rapport with your students for successful piano teaching!

Some days, you or your student may simply feel sick, tired, distracted or unmotivated. Even if you've come in well-prepared, fatigue, stress or personal problems may prevent even the most enthusiastic students from practising and being fully present in their lessons. 

If your student is having an "off" week, don't be afraid to mix up your lesson plan a little, even if it means including more improvising, songwriting, or playing beloved pieces. Yes, students take piano lessons to improve, but they are also there for the joy of playing the piano. Piano lessons can be a refuge in difficult times, and demonstrating flexibility and empathy will strengthen your student/teacher relationship overall and help your student stay motivated and engaged in the long run.

Want more tips on how to teach piano?

5. How to teach piano effectively - setting goals and assessing progress

Students are enormously motivated by tangible progress in their playing. This could take the form of:

  1. Monthly videos of the student playing a favourite piece - these can be reviewed later to show the student how far they've come!
  2. Scorecards listing, for example, the number of scales learnt or number of minutes practised - this is especially popular with younger students
  3. Moving from a beginner piano book to a new, more challenging method book
  4. Exams - these are usually sat once a year and students will receive a letter grade and feedback from the examiner
  5. Recitals - these provide something to work towards and a chance for parents and friends to see their child's progress
Help your student set goals
Motivate your student with new music, exams or recitals.

Always consult with the student and get their input on their own musical goals - motivate them by putting them in charge of their own musical destiny!

Be prepared to adjust the goals as you go - for example, a student has achieved an A their Grade 5 classical exam, but doesn't seem so excited about the next exam, you could try exploring jazz piano to enrich their music education.

Expand your music studio with our tips on connecting with new students looking for piano lessons.

Looking for a fantastic private music tutor for you or your child? Check out Superprof's database of tutors near you.

Are you an ex-teacher looking for flexible, fun, well-paid work? Have you considered signing up as a private tutor with Superprof?

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Erin

Erin is an Australian musician, writer and francophile living in France.