How to Teach Piano Lessons to Beginners in 8 Easy Steps
Piano is an instrument that is open to everyone, often being one of the first instruments many learn to play. There’s no lung capacity or weightlifting ability needed, making it easier than most other instruments and open to students of all ages and abilities.
The wide variety of students can make the job of piano teachers quite difficult. Since each student has their own abilities and learning pace, knowing how to teach piano lessons to beginners of all kinds can be a complicated and daunting task.
How To Teach Piano Lessons
There is so much that goes into every piano lesson, it’s more than just about the content. Piano lessons need to be engaging, informative and fun. Without all three of these aspects, students may have a hard time wishing to continue their studies. However, it can be difficult to incorporate all three of these seamlessly into every lesson. It is a skill that teachers build over time until eventually they find a rhythm that works.
Piano lessons are more than just learning to play an instrument. While becoming independent musicians, students have personal growth through lessons. They are taught how to set and achieve goals, problem solve difficult sections, and create effective learning strategies for themselves. It is the piano teacher’s responsibility to help foster these concepts within lessons while also improving their musical abilities.
Based on their experience, teachers know what needs to be taught, fundamentals such as how to sit at the piano, hand curvature and the layout of the piano. Those are things they learned as students, but the more subtle teaching strategies and lesson implementation they had as students may be not-so-easily replicated.
This list of 8 easy steps outlining how to teach teach your beginning piano students will hopefully shed some light on great teaching strategies and ease the anxiety that can come with teaching brand new students.
Step 1: Set Goals
The first step for beginners is to set goals for all aspects of their playing. Short term goals like how often they want to practice every day, or which scales they want to learn by the end of the lesson are great starting points and can help guide lesson plans and student practicing. Students should also set long term goals like pieces they want to learn to play or a contest they want to compete in. This will help with motivation and creating delayed gratification.
It’s important to remember that piano students normally come from all age groups. Setting goals with adults can be easier than with younger beginners. Adults know what they want out of piano lessons and can think more long-term.
Kids, on the other hand, simply want to learn everything at the first lesson and become professionals. This is where implementation of lessons is important. Teaching younger students to set long-term goals can teach them the value of using smaller goals to stay motivated and eventually achieve a bigger reward.
It’s important the students stick to their goals and only change them if necessary. A great way for younger kids to be able to visualize their goals is to write them down. Creating a goal poster not only is a creative arts and crafts idea, it also functions as a physical visualization and reminder of what the student is striving towards and can help sustain motivation.
Step 2: Keep Your Piano Lessons Small
The piano is a big instrument with lots of different keys and parts. Adding in complicated and messy sheet music to the mix, beginning students may easily feel overwhelmed. It’s important for lessons to start small. Begin with the fundamentals: posture, approaching the piano, how the piano is laid out, etc.
For the first lesson teachers may not even get to real sheet music but focus on just becoming comfortable with the piano and terminology. Starting with both thumbs on middle C and playing 5 finger pieces is a good first lesson to become comfortable with finger dexterity and playing such a massive instrument. By putting both hands in the middle, these exercises make a big instrument suddenly feel smaller.
A difficult part of learning a new task can be retaining the information. By starting small and not overloading students with insane amounts of information they have less to focus on and less to practice.
The minimal information to practice means students must repeat what they have learned over and over again which helps solidify the important fundamentals before moving on. Eventually, fundamentals will become second nature and students can focus on the next small task teachers assign.
Keeping things small also applies to breaking big things down into smaller pieces. This strategy can be applied throughout a student’s piano journey. Learning to read sheet music can be broken down into right hand and left hand or difficult pieces can be broken into phrases or measures. Breaking things down is an important skill to learn for beginning students that can be applied outside of piano lessons; work smarter, not harder.
Step 3: Be Understanding
The relationship between a teacher and a student is as important to lessons as the actual instruction. Students are more motivated to practice and learn when teachers know how to teach piano lessons to beginners, are understanding of their beginner status and support making mistakes. Teachers that are more harsh or demanding can scare students away from the piano with standards and expectations that are too high.
In this sense, students are going to make mistakes. Rather than chastise, be sure to encourage the student to try again and then reinforce their correction. Practicing mistakes can lead to permanent bad habits that are hard to break in advanced playing. The benefit of having a completely new beginning student is they are a blank slate ready to be filled with only good playing techniques.
Step 4: Keep Your Piano Lessons Simple
The piano is not a new instrument to teachers and sometimes it seems there may be nothing else to learn, however remember these students have never touched a piano before. They don’t know the terminology or the amount of multitasking it takes to become an advanced player. So in addition to starting out small teachers should also remember to keep it simple.
Explain things in terms that are easy to understand. Eventually students will be able to associate the easier understanding to the more complicated piano jargon, however that may not be until they are more advanced. Especially for the younger new students, using big words like “accidentals” or even “tempo” can be confusing.
So, for the first few lessons use these words in conjunction with the easier definition like “tempo, you know, how fast we play”. This way the new student can hear the term and understand what it means while beginning to form the definition to word connection.
This goes for the more fundamental playing and practicing techniques as well. Rather than give a student a bunch of things to fix at once and all these different techniques and theories that may help, focus on one thing that they can fix and explain how to simply.
Explaining what students did wrong in a simple way is as important as teaching how to fix it. If these things are explained not simply, students may not understand what they should be looking for during individual practice to catch and fix bad habits.
Step 5: Keep the Motivation Alive
This may be one of the hardest parts of being a piano teacher. Especially with younger students, if playing the piano seems to hard or like too much work they can easily want to give up. Keeping them motivated to continue practicing and improving can be difficult. However, there are many strategies that could be implemented to try and help students.
Rewards are always a great system, especially for younger students. For the kids, simply achieving a goal may not produce the intrinsic reward that adults have access to, so small rewards like candy or a sticker can help produce the motivation for kids to continue working towards and achieving their goals. Even if students choose to change their goals because they didn’t achieve them or something got in the way, positive reinforcement of achieving the reset goal can serve the same purpose.
Another strategy to help keep the motivation alive is find what the student is interested in. Don’t give up the fundamentals and technique of playing piano, however if a student seems to be getting bored, find what music they want to play. Pop songs that students already are familiar with are great ways to re-inspire students to continue playing. They are fun and well known and can be played for their friends to impress them.
A third strategy for helping students stay motivated is resetting their goals. After major goals are achieved it’s a good milestone for many students to either stop playing or caring. However, there is always more to learn and achieve on the piano, so having a meeting or taking part of a lesson to establish new goals can be a great way to find more motivation for students.
Step 6: Establish Expectations, Especially for Practicing
Especially for younger students establishing what you are looking for between lessons is extremely important. It can help guide their practicing efforts and establish good practice habits. The more advanced a student becomes in their piano playing ability, the more lessons become about remembering how to practice pieces. It’s less about learning the fundamentals and more about strategies to tackle the difficult 8-page pieces, so establishing good practice habits at the beginning with new students is a good idea.
An important aspect of expectations is to hold to them. This means that teachers should not be creating extremely high and unachievable expectations for their students because when they are not met students can easily become demoralized. However, the expectations of a teacher should be high enough to push a student in their practicing to improve.
For new beginners a great tactic for remembering what they are working towards in their practicing is to use a notebook. Each lesson the teacher writes down the pieces or exercises the student worked on and where they should each be by the next lesson.
Sometimes it can also be helpful for the teacher to write down a specified amount of time that the student should be working on each piece and what section the student should be practicing. This way the student knows how to break down their established practice time into the ideal fragments for each piece.
Step 7: Be Flexible
This step is extremely important when teaching beginner piano lessons. Teaching piano is not the same as teaching other subjects. While piano teachers can try their best to come up with a lesson plan beforehand, much of it will probably not be used. Lessons need to be based on the student and their needs, since each student is different, this makes each lesson different.
In this way, especially with beginners it is important to be flexible. While teachers may have a plan to advance the fundamentals at an upcoming lesson, if the student shows up and still hasn’t mastered what they learned before, the lesson plan may have to change to re-practicing previous material. In the same vein, if teachers only have planned to do some scales at an upcoming lesson but the student picks them up fairly quickly, the teacher needs to be flexible and allow for faster advancement.
It can be easy to settle into a certain style of teaching. Doing a certain number of things at the assigned lessons and not wanting to go faster or slower. However, as consistently mentioned, each student is different and piano teachers need to be flexible to be able to help each individual student. This is also a great way to experiment with some teaching methods and find other things that may work and teachers can put into their arsenal to use with other students.
Step 8: Have Fun
While the main purpose of teaching piano lessons is to improve musical ability and learn to play the instrument, it’s important to remember those goals can’t happen without a bit of fun. Find exercises that create a psychological challenge, songs that students really enjoy playing and learning, or games that can be played on the piano. Use fun terms for the fundamentals of playing. For example, instead of talking about hand curvature, call them bear paws. Play with the students on the piano to make it a collaborative effort of learning rather than a strict student-teacher boundary.
While this may be more difficult to convince participants, another great way to have fun in lessons with younger students is to get family members to start up! Nothing is more fun than playing a little duet with a parent or older sibling that doesn’t know what they are doing yet. It inspires laughter at mistakes as well as creating ways to engage the student by asking them to listen and ensure they stay together with their partner.
Not to mention giving the student a little more responsibility and pride at being able to help teach their clueless family member while showing off what they have learned.
Benefits of Teaching Beginners
Teaching piano lessons to beginners is a daunting task, but there are so many benefits that come with each new student. First, they are a completely blank slate. Each new student is a new chance to improve teaching techniques. Plus, they help to flex teacher’s creative muscles to accommodate for everyone’s individuality.
Sometimes teaching beginners can be refreshing. While fostering long-term relationships with advanced students is important, teaching the basics of actually playing the piano rather than simply reminding students of effective practicing techniques is always fun. Also, beginning students are new relationships ready to be forged. Teachers will (hopefully) get to watch their students grow both in the musician sense, but also as people.
Beginners can remind us to keep it simple, just have fun with the piano. Many advanced students may have so many big goals like competitions and theory tests which can create a lot of stress about perfecting a big and complicated piece just so. But with beginning students they are simply there to learn the instrument, have some fun, and maybe show off to their friends a little. As teachers it’s important to have little breaks like this with a smiling kid who laughs every time they press the keys down. It helps remind us what piano playing is really about: joy, happiness and fun.
Teaching Piano Lessons
Teaching piano lessons is not an easy job. Each student has a different learning style and different reasons for starting the instrument that teachers need to adjust to. Along with struggles of keeping students motivated and interested, there is a lot to juggle as a piano teacher.
However, once students are invested each lesson becomes easier as there is less to teach and more enjoyment of simple music. With that being said, knowing how to teach piano lessons to beginners is an important skill because it helps foster their connection with the instrument that hopefully lasts a long time.
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