This term I am working with a young colleague to help her through those early experiences as a piano teacher and to give her some teaching guidance. 'Sophie' is about to give her first piano lesson so I asked her what she needed to know. She came up with five questions:
- Where do I start?
- How do I get a good grasp of their capabilities?
- How do I make this fun?
- What do I need to take with me?
- Are there any books I could read for guidance?
All good questions - I can't provide definitive answers but I can make some suggestions based on my experience and research.
- Where do I start? Lizzie, you need to start with making music. It is the magical properties of music that have drawn you to play and now teach the piano. Your new pupil has also been captured by its magical sound and it is essential to keep that excitement. You could start by improvising a short piece at the piano; use metaphors and descriptive words to help access the imagination, for example: shining stars, deep sea divers, rain drops, thunder and lightning. Get the pupil to join in - for example in shining stars she could play the highest note on the piano 6 times at the end. Alternatively you could try the 'Forget-me-not' piece in the resources section.
- How do I get a good grasp of their capabilities? One way is to ask lots of questions. 'Do you think we should play deep sea divers really low or really high?' 'Am I playing loudly or quietly?' Some of the answers might be right, some might be wrong. The important thing at this stage is for you to develop an understanding of what they know - I will ignore any wrong answers at this point but will 'slip' the correct reply into the conversation over the next couple of minutes. Another easy way of finding out about her capabilities is to sing a simple song. One of my favourites is 'Jelly on a plate' whilst another is 'Rain is falling down'.
- How do I make this fun? Well, quite simply by doing the activities already outlined. Don't spend too long on anything; be aware of the pupil and when it feels the right time (before she loses concentration) move onto the next activity. Aim for a healthy balance between making music and talking (ideally 80/20% but in early lessons probably more realistic is 70/30%). Smile and enjoy yourself - it's catching!
- What do I need to take with me? I always have a pencil, rubber, coloured pens and stickers at hand. I will have the outline of the lesson easily available so that I keep on track throughout and I will have a pre-prepared sheet to give to the pupil. For example, if I have done Jelly on a plate she will get the activity sheet to do for the next session.
- Are there any books I could read for guidance? Books are quite thin on the ground. The most affordable one is Teaching Beginners by Paul Harris. This is very comprehensive but it is a generic book and not instrument specific. Instrumental teaching by Janet Mills is another excellent book about instrumental teaching. The Well Tempered Keyboard Teacher by Marianne Uszler et. al is very highly recommended BUT it costs an arm and a leg! It is worth the investment though.
It would be really interesting to hear from other piano teachers who read this blog how you go about the first few piano lessons with a new pupil.
Please do share your experiences.