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.
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.
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.
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.