How to Teach Piano to Bryan and Ryan; Sibling Wars in Your Piano Studio

My piano teaching studio seems to be placed in the middle of a medical phenomenon.  I’ve taught five sets of twins and two sets of triplets over my years as a piano teacher; apparently there is a large concentration of musical multiples in my small town!  With these pairings I learned a great deal about navigating the touchy (and sometimes confusing area) that surrounds teaching siblings who are close in age.

Most of us teach siblings; are you struggling with the three main problems you face when teaching piano lessons to siblings?

teaching piano to siblings

Answers To The Three Biggest “Teaching Sibling” Questions

1.   Method Book Madness!

Question:  When teaching siblings of comparable age should you use the same books for both or different method books that you yourself aren’t thrilled with?  Should you use the same level of book for both if they are close in age?  In method books that match, it’s painfully obvious when one sister surpasses the other… but should you sacrifice your preference in method books simply to protect an ego?

Answer:  Don’t sacrifice your choice in method books for the sake of your student’s feelings. Sounds a bit harsh, but you have chosen the method books you use for a reason.  While your student may feel better in the short-term, they’re going to be quite frustrated in the long run while you scramble to fill-in holes in their understanding created by a less-than-perfect method book series.  Instead, give each sibling the same main lesson book and then vary the accompanying materials.  Give one the Performance Book and one the Popular Book from the series.  Or, choose an accompanying supplementary materials from another source each child.  This way they each have their own unique music to play.  It’s important to have some individuality, but it’s also extremely important to have a solid grounding.

2.  Spread the Wealth?

Question: When rewarding your piano students for their efforts with studio awards or recognition do you always have to be fair and give both siblings recognition at the same time… even if only one is particularly deserving?  Will rewarding just one cause negative connotations towards the piano for the other?

Answer: By falling into the trap of “I should really give Ryan something too if Bryan is getting an award” you actually end up taking away the effectiveness of the awards all together.  Recognition means so much more when it is completely genuine and when the child themselves knows they were deserving.  Do make an effort to recognize both siblings at various points in the year – but give each their own moment in the sun.

3.  I Know This One!

Question:  How do you teach the “behind” sibling to play their pieces without relying on their ears?  If you are having siblings share method books (or if even if they are a year or two behind big bro) they’ve heard these pieces a million times.  It’s then natural for them to rely more on their ears than their eyes when learning it for themselves.  How do you keep the “newness” in each piece to ensure a proper learning experience?

Answer:  Vary “sibling number two’s” repertoire widely.  It’s inevitable that the method book pieces may be old hat to your younger sibling student.  However, make sure they still learn how to approach a brand new (and unheard of) piece by choosing lots of material from outside of their method books.

One of the great things about our supplementary series The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo is the fact that you actually receive 3 levels of music when you purchase the book.  This means that siblings who have the same interests but who play at different levels can  still enjoy the motivating pieces – but each at their own level with no extra cost to you!  Early Elementary, Elementary and Intermediate versions of each of the pieces are all contained within the instant download.  Die-hard Fearless Fortissimo Episode 1 fans can check out Episode 2 here!

7 Responses to How to Teach Piano to Bryan and Ryan; Sibling Wars in Your Piano Studio

  1. says

    I’ve just started to teach siblings! Some of them request a piece that “big sis” already knows, and I don’t mind teaching it to them (they usually pick it up so quickly!). But I do try to give them vastly different repertoire (then they play/sing each other’s pieces at home, so really they’re getting double the practise! Win win!). Great post as usual!

  2. Kelly says

    I have many sibling lessons, about 60% of my studio is siblings! Most of them are very comfortable being either in-front-of or behind the other, because I make each one feel special with their own musical gifts.

    As a matter of fact, one of my long-term brother sets is coming today and I’m going to give them the first episode of Fearless Fortissimo! I’m giving them the Early Elementary, even though they are above that level, to sight read and when they “pass” that level, I’ll give them the next level. I think it will be fun for them to discover how to take a piece of music and make it easier or harder. Really looking forward to using it with all my boy students. I love the music….very cool and intriguing!

    Thanks for all you do to make our career fun and interesting!

  3. Bethany says

    Occasionally, I like finding duets for same-level siblings to do together for their supplemental material. Since siblings live together and often come to lessons as the same time together, it makes practicing together easier. And bonus – the parents always talk about how much they love seeing their children work together and make music together.

  4. Tiffany G says

    I was one of those close in age siblings plus I had many cousins who were the same age taking piano at the same time. It definately became a competition and had a negative effects on my friendships with my cousins. It didn’t help that some of our parents compared us as well. Now I look back, I wish that someone had told me that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in learning. I learned like the rabbit and my brother learned like the tortoise. But… I would soon forget what I had learned – because it did not take a lot of effort where as my brother still remembers those early piano pieces that he worked so hard on. And one of my cousins worked painstaking at memorizing her pieces but her musically was soooo beautiful. When she pkayed it sounded like she had opened up her heart. It took me a lot longer to figure out how to connect with the music because I was trying to impress people with the right notes and speed. I went through a stage where I quit piano and found improvising, lead sheets fake books and popular songs (which I never was taught) before I learned to love

  5. Tiffany G says

    …love piano again. Students should know that progressing through a book faster or slower doesn’t make you better or worse of a musician. There are so many other areas they might be strong in.

  6. says

    With the right encouragement, etc., all of my sibling students have responded well to the fact that they will learn at different paces and have different strengths. The “second” sibling who picks things up by ear from the sibling who is ahead is a constant battle. Only once or twice did I give in to the idea of switching one to a different method book….and ended up regretting it. Now, I just assign differing supplemental music and do lots of theory review and sight reading to make sure they are actually reading the music well.

    An additional challenge I have with teaching siblings, though, is this: The parent usually wants both student to have their lesson back-to-back. That’s not a problem at all. I would want the same for my kids. However, if the parent sits in on the lesson, or likes to drop off and come back later, this means that the sibling who is waiting is also sitting in on the lesson. I have found that the absolute WORST person to have in the room during a lesson is the student’s sibling. This is where my “mean teacher” comes out. The first time I hear a giggle or negative comment from across the room, they get a big fat lecture about how inappropriate that is and it will not be accepted. If it becomes a pattern, I have to ask the parent to make arrangements to allow each student to have their own lesson time without the sibling in the room.

  7. Julie says

    A rule I always appreciated as the 3rd child of 7 was that once I was assigned a song it was “MY” song. Older siblings who had already learned it were no longer allowed to play it. It really helped me to have ownership and not be shown up by my sibling who, having already studied it, could play it better than me while I was learning it.

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