Dear piano teachers

Have you ever wondered how to build a happy, growing and thriving piano studio?

After developing a successful studio, here are my top 10 tips for teaching beginners. Most of these tips circle around the idea of keeping a positive environment.

  1. First impressions are always key for a great start. Keep your words and actions loving and warm. Be professional and tell the students and their parents your expectations from the beginning.
  2. Take advantage of their initial motivation and get them through their primer book as fast as possible. Beginners are the most motivated when they start because they are excited to experience something new. I’ve seen multiple students go through the Piano Adventures Primer book in 11 weeks when they practiced 10 minutes a day. That is about a chapter per week! When they see they have completed a book so fast, students are more likely to practice on their own as they go into their Level 1 book (which, in my opinion, is the more “fun” book).
  3. Make sure to dress professionally. Parents will respect that you take your job seriously. There are so many times I’ve seen private teachers wear athletic shorts to teach and I have cringed every time.
  4. Always look for ways to encourage the kids. Pointing out their good technique such as a curved hand shape reinforces them to keep their hand curved. Say things like, “the melody was beautiful!” or “great job making that softer,” “WOW, amazing! I can tell you practiced a lot!”
  5. Look for physical ways to teach new concepts. For example, guide a child’s hand and show them how to play a technical passage. This way the child has the correct physical response and can play it correctly the first time. Or if a child has a hard time making a song softer throughout, I tell them to “put Ms. Jessica to sleep.” If they keep the whole song soft throughout, I pretend I fell asleep at the end. If they have a note louder, all of a sudden I “wake up” and say “ah!”
  6. Incorporate highlighters into your lessons to teach notation. Go to town with them! I have multiple colors and they do not bleed through the paper. The more notations the kids learn, the more the notations start disappearing into the background. At times, I’ve asked kids to find and highlight all of their dynamics. They spend a few minutes looking for them as if they were looking for Waldo! Highlighting symbols and notations on the paper makes them pop out more so children have a higher chance playing them.
  7. Have KEY WORDS. For children, change the lingo so they understand music in a simpler way. Cheat sheet: QUARTER REST- “shh”; STACCATO- “bounce”; ACCENT- “push!”; SLUR- “smooooooth”; or SLUR to STACCATO- “Drop- Lift”; QUARTER NOTE- “TA”; EIGHTH NOTE- “TI”; PIANO (p)- whisper “soft”; FORTE (f)- shout “loud”.
  8. Make sure to make your student’s assignments stand out. Find out what works best for each kid: assignment sheets, keeping a journal, email, bookmarks, etc. I’ve noticed my students became more progressive when I put a fluorescent yellow square at the top of their homework page. If the assignment was for homework, the box would be empty; if it was completed, the box would be filled with a sticker. I also use large paperclips as bookmarks.
  9. If students get wild during the lesson, always keep your cool! Some students have a lot of energy and are not used to sitting and concentrating. I try not to yell – that just diminishes your power over time. Try to avoid words like “stop,” or “no,” and instead use words like, “Please come back to the piano,” “No thank you,” or “Look at me.” If they are not respecting you as the teacher, you will have to talk to their parents. I’ve seen the wildest students calm down when I ask their parents to sit in the room with them. The parents do the disciplining and I do my job as the teacher.
  10. Have your students establish INDEPENDENCE. For example, encourage them find their hand position on their own instead of telling them. I know you don’t want to waste precious lesson time, so you are tempted to move their hands where they’re supposed to go, or say “c position.” However, when you let them take their time and remember that RH 1 goes on middle C, and LH 5 goes on Bass C, they will strengthen their note reading skills and quicken their pace of finding their own hand position. Also, write YOYO on some of their new assignments. YOYO stands for You’re On Your Own. Tell them if they figure out how to play it on their own correctly, they will receive 2 stickers for that song!

These are but a few tips I learned and have established teaching beginners.