In a world where the words “piano teacher” often conjure up negative images in the minds of potential students and potential piano parents, your special skills and interests can help you stand out. They inform your way of teaching and are the unique ingredient that draws students and parents to your studio!
I unexpectedly became aware of how I apply my special skills to my piano teaching a few days ago while teaching a student how to play the hit song “Say Something” by A Great Big World. This song is definitely a singer/songwriter’s song which lends itself to the piano’s rich ability to communicate deep emotion – especially when combined with heartfelt lyrics. In the process of teaching this song I discovered something unique and potentially marketable about the way I teach. I teach piano lessons from a singer/songwriter’s point of view!
I found myself using the lyrical idea to help my student understand the chord progression in “Say Something”. Where the lyric is hopeful or anticipating, the chord shape is open. Where the lyric is tentative or afraid, the chord shape is closed. When I reflect a little more, I see that I often use examples like this to help my students focus on delivering the message in the song. I believe that this is natural for me because I am a songwriter. Songwriters carefully craft their lyrics and chords to match each other so that they have a specific effect on the listener. For me, this is the unique ingredient in my teaching. Students who study with me can expect to develop exceptional performance skills in addition to the basic piano skills that most piano teachers teach.
So, my challenge for you is to observe your teaching style during your lessons TODAY and take note of how you explain things.
- What analogies do you use?
- What examples do you offer your students for correcting technical issues?
- What suggestions do you give them for memorizing phrases and music concepts?
- Who are you as a musician?
- What is your favorite part of making music?
The answers to these questions can help you pinpoint the unique ingredient in your teaching that makes YOU stand out in the world of piano teaching!
You Might Also Be Interested In:
Teaching Tweens and Teens
Supply and Demand 101: Music Teacher’s Edition
Teaching, Performing, Or Both?
After using the worksheet for teaching 3 and 4 chord songs last week with my students I realized that coloring the black keys was a challenge. So, here is an updated version of the worksheet with the black keys blank. Enjoy!
In a recent post I shared an important law that every piano teacher needs to know and abide by, The Law Of Friends, which essentially says that tweens and teens will practice diligently if you teach them music that their friends like. For most teens, this will mean teaching pop music. There is no need to abandon traditional repertoire altogether, but in order to connect deeply with students of this age you will most likely have to bring in some pop or jazz.
How do you do this with a student who doesn’t know enough theory or read music well enough to play songs at this level? The good news is that there are LOTS of songs that use only 3 or 4 chords and today’s FREE PRINTABLE makes it easy for you to teach them how to play these chords.
The sheet has 4 blank keyboards so that you can use it with either a 3 or 4 chord song. During your lesson, let the student know that there are only 3-4 things they must know to play this song. That puts them at ease and opens them up to what you are about to say. As you show them the notes for each chord, have them color in the corresponding keys on the sheet with a color pencil. At that point they are ready to play one of their favorite songs with a very cool sound!
Because there is no music notation involved, you can take this time to help your student understand the layout of the keyboard and how music moves. You can go as deep with the theory as your student can handle – just be sure to follow the student’s lead.
Finally, if you haven’t downloaded Tim Topham’s free e-book on teaching teens, click here to get it. It’s filled with helpful information!
If you have a deck of cards, you can put them to good use in your piano studio!
- Quick Finger Number Review: Preselect cards numbered 2-5. Have your student pick a card and wiggle the finger that matches the number on the card.
- Tricky Practice: Preselect cards numbered 4-9. Have your student pick a card and play a tricky passage the number of times specified on the card.
- Note Value Check Up: Preselect cards numbered 2-4. Have your student pick a card and draw or name the kind of note that gets that many counts.
- Rest Up: Preselect cards numbered 2-4. Have your student pick a card and draw or name the kind of rest that gets that many counts.
- Name That Interval: Preselect all the numbered cards. The student draws a card and quickly plays the interval indicated. If the student draws a 9 or 10 they get to be the teacher and have the teacher play the interval.
- Connect The Musical Dots: Have student pick a card and relate it to at least 3 music / piano concepts
- Interval Eye Exam: Lay out flashcards that show intervals on the staff. Have students match the cards from the deck to the correct interval. This is a great activity for students who are waiting. To make it more interesting use a timer to see how fast they can complete it. They can then try to beat their fastest time.
- Scale Degree Review: Preselect cards numbered 2-8. Choose a particular key to work in. Have student pick a card and play the note that corresponds to the scale degree shown on the card.
- Big Scale Degree Review: Preselect cards numbered 8-10. Choose a particular key to work in. Have student pick a card and play the note that corresponds to the scale degree shown on the card. Gives the opportunity to teach that 8=1, 9=2, 10=3
- Key Signature Review: Preselect cards numbered 2-7. Have student pick a card and tell you what key has that many sharps/flats
“It’s not what you do, but the way you do it that matters!”
Music theory. Keyboard topography. Rhythm. Ear training. Technique. All these are essentials of learning to play the piano, however, success in teaching these skills is determined by the WAY these skills are taught.
One of the biggest complaints of piano teachers and parents of piano students is that the child will not or does not want to practice. If you can relate to this, then allow me to give you a life changing piece of information:
Parents are busy. Sometimes they feel that they are too busy to sit and listen to their child practice piano. These same parents listen to music all the time while they are working and doing important things. So, what is the problem with listening to their child play music? It just might be that the music their child is playing is unappealing or uninteresting to the parent. Eliminate this problem by getting to know the musical tastes of the parents in your studio. A simple question in passing can get you this information. “Who’s your favorite artist / style of music / song?
Similarly, when dealing with older students (tweens and teens) there is another law you must know as a piano teacher who wants their student to practice:
To sum it all up, music lessons should equip students to play music that they, their friends, and family enjoy hearing. The successful piano teacher knows this and abides by the law at all times!
Here are some additional FREE resources to help get you started on the road to ending the practice wars in your studio:
Teen Toolkit by Tim Topham: A FREE downloadable toolkit for teaching teens. A must read!
http://colorinmypiano.com/2013/04/09/free-printable-12-bar-blues-in-c/: Introduce the blues – no note reading, just cool sounds
8notes.com: Free riff lessons of popular music
http://www.teachpianotoday.com/2012/03/01/piano-recitals-are-like-totally-like-lame/ : Keep kids practicing with cool performance opportunities
Jazz for Kids : Use 5 finger scales to teach jazz to preschoolers
I LOVE February because of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month! There are so many great activities for music learning that can be used with these themes as a backdrop. So, with Valentine’s Day behind us today’s focus is a simple and fun music lesson with a nod to Black History Month.
In this lesson, the student will learn how to play a jazz tune about legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker using the 5-finger scale. It is designed for 3-6 year olds.
You will need a copy of the board book Charlie Parker Played BeBop and a recording of the song by Louise Rogers.
Away from the piano, play the recording of the song while reading the book with the student. Feel free to dance around, snap fingers and tap toes. Encourage your student to sing along with the call and response in the song.
Now, announce to your student that they are ready to play this song on the piano! If the student already knows some or all of the 5-finger scales have him/her play one for you. (The recording uses the Bb scale). Even if the student has not learned any scales, you can still use this activity to teach them the scale.
Your student will play the chant “Charlie Parker played BeBop” which occurs again and again in the song.
Here are the notes: C D E F G E
Once you have done this a couple of times, you are ready to play along with the book. Allow the student to turn the page and play at the appropriate time. You can even do this as a duet since it is in call and response style. Be sure they sing along!
Afterwards you can ask a couple of review questions -
“Who was Charlie Parker?” Ans. Charlie Parker played bebop.
“What instrument did Charlie Parker play?” Ans. Charlie Parker played alto saxophone.
This Valentine’s Day Themed Conductors Bouquet is going to be used in 3 ways in my studio next week:
- To teach kids which hand plays treble clef notes and which plays bass clef notes
- To teach kids how to feel different time signatures by conducting with the wands
- As a decoration to brighten up the studio so I can see kids’ faces light up as they enter for their lessons
When students arrive for lessons, I will be playing Bob Marley’s “One Love” and Annie Lennox and Al Green’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”. The Student will take a wand from the bouquet and using the correct hand for the symbol on the heart join me in conducting the song. We will extend the activity by conducting some of the pieces that they are working on as well. At the end of their lesson they will get to take the wand home to keep!
Here’s what you need in order to do this activity:
1. Valentine’s Wands from Dollar Tree (They come in packs of 3)
2. A sharpie marker to draw bass clef and treble clef symbols on the hearts
3. A nice vase to keep them in
4. Songs of different time signatures
Before we go I have a question: What other Valentine Themed songs can you suggest with different time signatures that can be used in this lesson? Please let me know in a comment below!