Tips on How To Start Teaching Piano

Hey All!

Its been a little while, but I think we’re all settling into Fall. I made this video a little while back as the second part to answer a question on how to begin teaching piano lessons. As a reminder, the question she asked was:

This is literally my first time teaching piano and I’m just going to be teaching a few kids, but I am a little unsure of exactly what to do.  I want to be able to get to know their skill levels and then go from there hitting theory, sight reading, and ear training first. I was just wondering if you could offer some tips? Maybe some suggestions on what I should focus on and what books are the best for beginners? 

I know it can be a little daunting to say the least when you begin! After 10+ years of teaching, I think some of my best tips can be found in this video. Kind of “I wish I had known then” list. Check it out, and more info below.

Don’t forget to sign up on the email list over there :-)

To expand on the video a little:

Stick by the Method Books

Although not perfect, the Method Books do provide you with a good systematic framework for taking a student from point A to point B. I wish I had used Faber in my early years of teaching, but I stick by Piano Adventures now as my Method Book series of choice. I still use the normal Primer Level books expect for really young beginners (like 5-1/2 and under) just because I’m not as crazy about My First Piano Adventure (maybe I’m just getting used to them), although I find it does work better with the real young kids. So kids about 5-1/2 to maybe 10/11 I’d start them in the Primer Level if they’re beginners, and any older than that you can start in the Accelerated Piano Adventures Books. If they’re not beginners, use your judgement of how well they read notes and rhythm to decide what level to start them in.

Always Remember the Basics: Notes and Rhythm

Especially with younger students and beginners, much of our job is to ensure they have a solid foundation of music literacy. I ALWAYS check in with the basic stuff, note reading and rhythm. This is a great approach for students you’ve had for a while or when assessing a new student. Simply, can they identify notes from a book? Do they know notes quickly on the piano? Can they read rhythm at sight (level appropriate)? And can they taps rhythms while counting a beat?

(Caveat: this is general advise. I’ve found ages 7 and under to be a grey area where the status quo might be being able to follow along in the book by pointing, while slowly learning note reading. They may learn more by a combination of ear, memory and rote at this age, but you always want to help shift them towards real note reading as they mature and become ready. You may place emphasis on singing along and imitation. if you start a young student, and they can’t read notes at all, get them in the My First Piano Adventure books and follow the activities provided. This age group has done very well with the Note Squish note-reading game.)

Much of Your Effectiveness has Nothing to Do with Music

You’ll find after working with students for a while, the quality of your relationship can have a huge impact on their ability to learn from you. A student needs to feel safe, comfortable, appreciated, listened to and respected. This comes from being open to their emotions and suggestions. It comes from having a clean and warm studio environment. From keeping promises.

The first few moments I spend with a new student, I find are the most important at helping to create this atmosphere. I always introduce the piano as something fun, experimental and exciting – not something to afraid of if a “bad” sound comes out of it. When I first started teaching piano, I was still in college and was so wrapped up in the music part of it, its easy to forget the human side of teaching, and how effectively teaching music is also achieved through universal people skills as well.

- Still unsure of what to do? Ask me a piano teaching question here…

I hope this helps some people, and the NEXT question to look forward to is also about beginning to teach piano, but more about determining if you are qualified. Look for it soon!

Psssst…. don’t forget the email list…

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2 Responses to “Tips on How To Start Teaching Piano”

  1. Lee Gellatly Says:

    Thanks for this post. I remember when I first started teaching and I did it all completely wrong. Luckily, it was with a friend whom I was using for practice just to get my feet wet – I overloaded her with WAY too much information and gave her some very advanced stuff too early.

    That’s when I discovered the method books and why there are methods at all: because I had spent my entire life before as a student of piano myself, I didn’t really understand why there were methods. Now, as a teacher, I totally get it, which is why I completely agree with your post.

    Within a month of teaching my first student I went out and bought about 5 different piano methods and experimented with each of them to get a feel for the best one. I now realize how important it is to have a method book whose theory book matches with the piano lesson book in order to provide effective teaching and learning.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Dan Says:

      Thanks! Much of that rings true for me as well. Teaching is very much a ‘learn on the job’ profession, and mistakes are going to be made, but its great you can learn and grow from them!