On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… 6 Things That Should Happen At The First Piano Lesson.
I’m joining up with several other piano education bloggers with 12 Days of Piano Teacher Inspiration that correspond with the 12 days of Christmas.
Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas are really after Christmas. They are the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany, when the 3 Kings delivered their gifts. It’s a fun little extension of Christmas and and my piano blogger friends and I thought it would be a neat way to deliver a bunch of fantastic content while we all have a little bit of downtime.
How may first piano lessons have you taught? The answer should correspond with however many students you taught throughout your whole teaching career. You’ve probably taught quite a few first lessons and they’ve all probably looked a little bit different from each other.
It took me years to finally figure out what needs to happen in the first lesson. I’ve spent so many first lessons giving clumsy explanations from method books, confusing students, forgetting to tell students important things and telling students too many unimportant things.
I think I’ve finally discovered the perfect balance of what to say and what not to say and what to do and what not to do at the first lesson to help new students get off on the right foot.
And, since January is a big month for new students to show up in your studio, I wanted to share 6 things that should happen at the first lesson. I’d love to hear what you do in your first lessons. Check out my approach below, then leave a comment to compare notes.
Take note that I am assuming here that your student is a fairly young beginner (like 5-7 years old.) But really, all of these things would apply to any first lesson; you’d likely just adapt them to an older student and assume that they may have more input than a really young beginner.
1. Make your student feel comfortable and learn expectations for piano lessons
A lot of new students feel scared or timid about trying something new, so they need to learn that your studio is a comforting and welcoming place for them. I always show my students around a little bit. “This is the piano we’ll learn at, you’ll get to use an app on my iPad over here at this keyboard, here’s a computer where we play fun some fun games sometimes. The markers and pencils are right here if we need to draw or write anything.”
Saying all of these things not only gets the student oriented, but also builds excitement because they got to get a quick peek at all of the fun things that are in store for them.
In these first few minutes, I also read into a lot of cues from the students so that I know what kind of expectations I need to set for them. If the student is quiet and shy, I say and ask things that might get the student talking or that will immediately capture their interest. On the other hand, if a student is talkative, disruptive or if I sense any potential behavior issues, I be sure to immediately set boundaries.
Either way, I want to make sure students know that they are in a comfortable, safe environment and that I am an authority, but also easy to talk to and open to helping them. I almost never have any behavior issues in my studio these days, so this first step has been essential to maintaining a peaceful and productive studio.
2. Make your student feel successful
Since the student knows that they are there to learn piano, I want to be sure that they learn something right off the bat. I want them to instantly feel successful, especially since playing the piano might seem hard or foreign to them.
I always teach a young beginner how to play Hot Cross Buns right away.
I have a free mini-course that shows step-by-step exactly what I do to get the student playing the piano quickly and correctly. You can access the course here. I highly recommend checking it out, then adapting the same process to many other simple rote songs. This is truly the best way to begin teaching young children!
3. Introduce many musical concepts
Along with making a student feel successful, this first song that you teach your student should lay the foundation for many more lessons to come. I am a huge proponent of conceptual teaching.
Once you view my Hot Cross Buns mini course, you’ll see that just from that one simple song, a student is already exposed to all of these concepts:
- Steady Beat
- Finger Numbers
There is a lot happening here, and the first lesson is the best time to provide a lot of different experiences with these ideas. Play games and move from one activity to the next to help reinforce all of these things.
4. Teach your student to listen
There are a lot of layers to teaching a child to listen. First, in order to have a successful student-teacher relationship, your student must learn to listen to you. If the student tends to interrupt or chat, gently redirect the student to listen to what you are teaching them. Help the student practice listening to your instructions and following through with them. This might seem like common sense, but it’s an important skill that many students need to be explicitly taught to do.
Another layer of listening is to teach your student to listen to music. This is a huge part of learning to play music. If this isn’t happening at piano lessons it probably isn’t happening anywhere else either. So, it’s up to you to make this a priority. Teach your student to actively listen quietly when you are playing the piano. If you are listening to a recording, teach your student what to do while listening. Give them something to occupy their hands, let them color, or help them focus on specific things to listen for.
5. Give your student clear instructions about what to do at home
Once you’ve taught your student a couple of songs (or more if they’re up for it!) and you’ve completed a few activities together. Make sure your student knows what to do once they leave your studio. Set really clear expectations for how and what to practice. Tell them what will happen next time they come to piano so they can be prepared for it.
All of my students use a custom assignment book that I design. I usually pull it out for the first time near the end of the lesson, since there are so many other important things to take care of first. When I show them the assignment book, we talk through what kinds of things we’ll write in it each week and what they should do at home.
6. Provide playful experiences at the piano
I think most teachers agree that we want students to have fun and enjoy making music. Make sure that you’ve set the tone for your student that playing the piano is fun. It doesn’t have to be silly and chaotic, but as the teacher, you should definitely tap in to your student’s imagination and help them discover that the piano is a place to create, explore and express themselves.
So, there are 6 things to make sure you include in first piano lessons.
I intentionally didn’t include anything about method books to use, games to play, or teaching aids to use. These things will all vary from student to student. I often don’t even use a method book for the first several lessons. It’s really helpful to have a chance to get to know a student before you commit to using a certain book or approach. And, there are so many great rote songs a student can learn.
Also, I always weave a lot of games and activities into every lesson, but there are so many different factors that determine which direction we go at a particular lesson.
Leave a comment and tell me how you handle first piano lessons.
Be sure to check out all of the other 12 days of Christmas Posts in this series:
- How to make one simple change at a time with Nicola from Colourful Keys
- Two things piano teachers should do over Christmas break with Mallory from Mallory’s Music Studio
- Three ways to avoid stress with Jennifer from Music Educator Resources
- Four New Year’s resolutions for piano teachers with Judy from ViolinJudy
- Five ways to reset your studio after the holidays with Bridey from Pianosaurus Rex
Visit Sara’s Music Studio tomorrow for day 7!