Starting off Fresh… Begins with the Piano Binder!

January is about new beginnings; new plans, new resolutions… the promise of spring.  And there’s nothing worse than a student who drags in a tattered and torn piano binder to their first lesson in the new year; papers, not-so-sticky stickers and ziploc baggies falling from the depths of their music bag.  Shudder.  It’s the worst.

If you also get the heebie jeebies when you think of those paper-engorged binders then follow along and get set for a fresh start.

piano student organization image

1.  Piano Binders

I’ve tried duotangs, coil-bound notebooks and even hard-cover journals.  The only thing that actually seems to do the trick is a 3-ring binder.  But… I make sure that my piano parents know that the binder must be one that lays flat (ugh.. nothing is worse than a binder that doesn’t stay open) and should be good quality to avoid the inevitable spine splitting/cover peeling that occurs.  Why does a binder work?  In my studio I send home a lot of material that comes from digital resources and there’s just no better way to tame the paper monster than with a binder.

2.  Dividers

The only problem with binders is that it’s difficult to find what you need when you need it, unless you use dividers.  Each of my piano kids comes to their first lesson with dividers which we then label:  

Lesson Notes:  I have pre-created simple sheets with space to write what we did in the lesson, what they need to practice and notes for home.  It’s nothing fancy and so it works for everyone.  Usually, I accompany a lesson note sheet with an activity from our practice book and some of my students are getting creative with lesson notes by turning them into art (read more about that here).

Special Projects:  This is the area where I put practice incentive hand-outs, special composing assignments, piano pal materials, new years resolutions etc.

Supplementary Repertoire: Fortissimo music goes here!… as well as music they have purchased from musicnotes.com, music I have composed for them to play, music their peers have composed that they like to play etc.

Composing:  Our Muttzart and Ratmaninoff lessons and work sheets go here so they’re all in once place as well as any other composing activities, improv starters, chord progressions etc. that they may be working with.

Theory Activities: (Not the boring kind :) )  I regularly send home sheets from our Pssst… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Theory (freebies at that link!) as many of them are really fun for students to complete with their family as an extra home activity.

Lead Sheets:  Our studio completes a “lead sheet of the month” every month to teach chording skills.

3.  Know When to Purge

The way you add material to these dividers also makes a difference (most recent should go on top). It’s also important to regularly take out what is no longer needed (theory activities that are complete and are of concepts they’ve completely mastered, lead sheets they have memorized, composition work sheets that are now published etc.)  Nothing in my student binders stays in there for more than 3-4 months so binders are never stuffed, pages don’t get torn out and the binder stays reasonably light.

4.  Stickers…

My young piano kids collect stickers after every lesson and used to put them on the front of their binder.  I spent years watching those stickers then un-stick from binders and re-stick to the bottom of shoes, my studio carpet, my piano bench, my driveway… it just wasn’t working.  Using a piece of card stock inside a page protector at the front of their binder then keeps the stickers where they ought to be (and it also makes them seem that much more special).  It’s a real “moment” for my piano kids when they get to start on page protector #2 :)

5.  Back and Forth

The one section I didn’t mention in the divider notes above is the “back and forth”.  I don’t include this in a divider, but instead I tape a piece of paper to the inside of the front cover of their binder.  This is where I write notes to parents whom I don’t always see after every lesson but that aren’t a big enough deal for an email (notes like “Recital date has been set, check your email!” or “Didn’t have piano books today… please bring them next week” etc.) Anything that is important or my studio newsletter ends up here here as it’s super easy to find.  My students’ parents know to check this page after every lesson.

It’s a Bigger Deal Than You May Think!

Organizing your piano student binders may seem trivial… but it actually does make a big difference.  If your lesson materials are organized… they’re more likely to actually be done. If the time you spend carefully choosing supplementary materials and activities doesn’t end up crumpled at the bottom of a mini-van…  you’re using your own personal time more wisely.  If your binders clearly show progression, use of innovative materials and care and planning… your clients will more clearly see just how fabulous you are!  Give it a try… start the new year with a piano binder overhaul and fresh beginning.

14 Responses to Starting off Fresh… Begins with the Piano Binder!

  1. Jeannie says

    Good ideas! I use binders that have the clear front so I can personalize the front of their binder with their name — and my info. I have been using ‘wordle’ for about a year now and the kids love it!

  2. Kayla says

    Wow that really sounds like it helps. I’m about to start teaching piano and I need to figure those things out. Thx for the links too. :)

  3. Kathy G says

    Yowee!~ I LOVE binders …. notebooks ….. dividers ……. but have never fully allowed myself to unleash my binder superpowers for my students. I’ve been scheming this week about doing some kind of fresh start in assignment notebooks and this post has totally inspired me. I especially like the idea of putting stickers on a sheet in the binder — rather than on the actual pieces in the students’ music. Although I admit there is something about going back and seeing those stickers in later years that is especially wonderful. I still have my own first piano books (from 1960) with the dates, names (my brother and I shared a couple of books, so we have separate dates and stickers) and stickers earned, along with pencilled-in comments and corrections in the music — and I love seeing them. I also still have my bisque composer statues, earned whenever I finished a book — on the windowsill above my piano. My students love them. And in line with the subject of this post, I really wish I still had my assignment notebooks from those early years, but alas, they are long gone.

    My most vivid reminder of student days assignments is the old repertoire books I still have, with dates assigned and comments written by my second teacher — in ink! He used a fountain pen, loaded with turquoise blue ink, for all writings. I was so wowed that I bought myself a cheap drugstore fountain pen and I have been using fps ever since. I do use my fountain pens for lessons, and students are fascinated by my ‘old fashioned’ pens. I like to think I am passing the fountain pen love along to a new generation.

    I would love to hear your ideas about writing student assignments sometime. I type them up on my laptop at lessons, for their binders. But I write individualized practice suggestion on sticky notes, (thus the pen) and these go right onto the top of their book pages.

    OK, back I go to the stationery supply store for a few more binders. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Alice says

    Binders are what keep me as well as my studio organized! The Dollar Tree has sets of dividers for (or course) $1–avoid the flimsy paper kinds and purchase the plastic kind. I provide these as well as the binders for the students, and each year design a front cover insert with studio name, students name, picture or clip art, and a back page that indicates progress in some area. Last year it was a TOP FIVE list where students wrote down pieces fully memorized and ready for performance (some went through many sheets, others struggled for the first TOP FIVE). This year we’re working with 24 keys so the back of binder page is a chart where they check off progress in doing various activities in each key (scales, sightreading, improve, assigned pieces, etc. I love our binders!

  5. Debbie says

    I LOVE student binders! It’s revolutionized my studio. Costco 1/2″ binders have been my go-to for the last 10 years. Cost is approx. $1.33 per binder, and boy, are they durable! Rarely have to replace for a student. The cost of binder/dividers/and the inners as well as group lesson fees are charged the beginning of each school year as a “materials fee”.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. I enjoy updating the face and use of my student binders each year.

  6. says

    I really need to get my students’ Piano Binders sorted – thanks for the inspiration Andrea!

    The divider topics look like they’ll work really well. I’ve just updated my Lesson Plan template so now I’ll have to update everything else too!

  7. says

    I started with binders after I got sick and tired of writing the same thing in each student’s assignment book. I made up a Lesson Sheet that could be used with any method I was using and all I had to do was check things off. Along with that I made up a ‘Practice Plan’ with things to do given a number. I would use those numbers rather than writing the whole thing out. If used properly, the Practice Plan walked the students what they should be doing for each piece of music they were assigned.

    It worked great and saved me so much time. Each divider in the binder was a specific section, e.g. Table of Recital Pieces done. If anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

  8. Anna says

    Hi Andrea,
    Do you use page protectors for your music or any other parts of the binder? Also, do you have pages of music face each other or just stacked on top of each other? I’m excited to try this out!

  9. Anna says

    Hi Andrea,
    Do you use page protectors for your music or any other parts of the binder? Also, do you have pages of music face each other or just stacked on top of each other? I’m excited to try this out!

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