If you are considering becoming a piano teacher, or if you already are and would like some additional tips to help, then please consider these important points –
This is extremely important as you always want to keep your students focused and interested in what they are learning, so you need to make sure your approach is well thought out in advance. The best way to do this is to make sure you have a meet and greet session with the student before you begin the lessons. Introduce yourself and ask questions, and let them ask you questions as well. The reason why this is important is because you need to find out what they want to learn, and also what they want to get out of the lessons and ultimately achieve.
Once you have established what they would like to learn, you can then also advise them of how you are going to approach the lessons. I always feel that no matter what a student wants to learn; whether it’s jazz, classical, or movie theme tunes that they need to still learn how to read music and practice scales. Learning the keys and chords, as well as the scales is the foundation for learning to play the piano. Without this knowledge your student will always be limited to what they can learn, and you may get into the situation after a few months where the student gets bored and wants to learn more advanced pieces, but can’t because they haven’t learnt this foundation.
You don’t want to put them off however, but you do need to let them know that although they can choose what they want to learn, there is however some things that they must learn in order to progress. As long you explain this in detail as to why it’s important, then you shouldn’t have any problems. At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t want to learn how to read music and focus on the right areas, then you may want to consider if they are the right pupil for you also.
Now that you have agreed what the student is going to learn, you can create the structure for the lessons. Without a planned structure you are really going to struggle to keep the lessons and the student focused.
For example, I like to start with the scales. If your pupil is also learning to read music then this can also be done along side the scales at the start of the lesson. The reason why this is a good place to start is because typically learning to read music and practicing scales are the least enjoyable. So you want to get this part out of the way first and then move onto playing. That way, the student finishes on a high and leaves the lesson after playing something they like.
No matter how long the lesson is, you may want to consider a 60/40 split. This really depends on what level the pupil is at, so for beginners you may want to consider 40% of the time to be spent on scales and learning to read music, and the rest on playing.
Again, this really depends on what’s been agreed and what the student wants to learn. If they are looking to take the exams with the ABRSM, then it’s vital they put a lot of time into scales and theory. However, if the student isn’t too keen on playing classical, then you may not need to spend as much time in this area.
Some pupils may want to just learn their favourite song off the radio, so most of the lesson may be spent on playing. However, you still must push for at least 20% of the time spent on theory and scales.
You also need to remember to make notes during the lesson, and also consider getting the student to do the same. I like to make notes on how the student is progressing and what they need to practice next. I then also get the students to make similar notes during the lesson very quickly, and they can then take them home and use them to remember what to focus on. For the following lesson it’s really important to go over those notes with the student before you begin so you can see how they’ve progressed. You must set them goals each week and then check how they’ve done.
Everyone progresses at a different pace, so once you have an idea of what your student can achieve from week to week, you can then begin to set them goals and see how they’ve done. If they are ahead then great! If they are behind on what you expected of them, then you can enquire as to why. How often are they practicing? Were they unable to practice for some reason?
It’s also important to make sure you compliment the student not only in person, but also on the notes. When a student is at home practicing, it’s always nice for them to see what they have been doing well so it spurs them on to keep playing and practicing.
A lack of practice for whatever reason is very common, and if there is a genuine reason then there is nothing to worry about. However, if the student isn’t practicing as often as you have both agreed, then you may want to discuss this with them and consider whether or not your approach or structure is working. Does it need to be revised? Is the student happy with what you are teaching?
Usually when you approach a student and ask them why they are not practicing, this would give them the nudge they need for the next lesson, as they can see that you’ve noticed. As long as you ask them politely and don’t come down on them hard, you should be able to get them back on track quickly.
The worst case scenario is that the student continues to practice from week to week, and then you will need to consider a more direct approach. If you are teaching a child or teenager for example, you will need to speak with their parent or guardian and let them know what’s happening. Hopefully that should resolve the situation. If you are teaching an adult, then you just need to speak with them directly and be honest and open with them. It could be that they have decided learning the piano is not for them, and it’s important you both acknowledge this as early as possible. It could be however that by approaching this head on that they realise they are not putting enough effort in, and they turn things around.
This of course needs to be agreed upon during the first meeting.
Ask the student what they want to learn. Classical, jazz, pop, blues? Once you have agreed upon this you need to ensure you stick to it. The most important thing to consider though is whether or not you are knowledgeable in this style. Most of the time you will be teaching beginners to intermediate level, so if you are not completely proficient in a certain style, then this doesn’t mean you can’t teach it. It may be that you need to brush up a little and get practicing and learning this style yourself before the lessons.
Overall you need to make the lessons fun and full of energy. Although it’s not easy to for the student to learn the piano, and it takes time and a lot of hard work; you can still make it fun for them. Mix things up from time to time. For example, you may decide to have a lesson without scales and theory. This could be once a month as a reward.
Change the pieces as soon as the student can play them well, and keep pushing them to learn new and exciting things…