Piano students working out of method books are fairly easy to teach. They arrive with ready-made materials, the concept they should be learning next is laid out with accompanying exercises, and motivating music is interspersed with “good for you” repertoire. Most of your piano lesson planning is done for you aside from the supplementary material, activities and games you choose to add to your piano lessons.
And then they grow out of their piano method book series. And then this “easy student” suddenly begins to take up much much more of your time. How do you keep them learning what they should? How do you keep them motivated? How do YOU stop spending hours preparing for their short weekly lesson?
Out of Method Books and Into the Real World
I like to compare piano method books to early readers that children use in school. My daughter, Lexi, is in Kindergarten this year and comes home from school each day with two books her teacher has selected. These books follow easy reading patterns and are designed to build up her knowledge of sight words and of language patterns. They’re not all that different from piano method books which are designed to build up a student’s knowledge of note reading and musical structure and patterns. “See the puppy run. See the cat run. See the bird fly…” is not all that different than Lightly Row.
Lexi likes these reading books because they are predictable and make her feel like she is truly reading. But the world would certainly be a duller place if true literature was anything like these early readers. The world would be a quieter place if true music was limited to method book-style pieces. Eventually, once the groundwork of understanding has been laid… it’s time to throw away Dick and Jane… and their rowboat… and head out into the real world.
Finding Structure Amongst the Freedom
The most difficult thing for a piano teacher to do once the method books are no longer in the picture is to find some sense of structure and progression. Piano lessons shouldn’t simply be a repertoire-building experience. You still want your students to grow as musicians… not simply just competent jukeboxes. You need to create your own “Mental Method Book” and then explore repertoire that is both selected and directed by this structure.
This is where the art of piano teaching comes into play. YOU get to decide what it is that you want your piano students to learn. It’s both a freeing and a frightening place to be. But we’re here for you. Don’t be scared. Check this out instead…
1) When creating your “mental method book” decide what it is that is important for you as a teacher to hear and see in your own students. In an ideal world what would all of your piano students be able to do? This answer is different for every teacher. This is the wonderfully lovely part about being a piano teacher. It’s an art. All of your teaching should be directed towards those goals. Find ways to bring your own expertise into each and every lesson in a way that is as effective as a branding iron… but much kinder.
2) Choose repertoire for your students that is approachable. There is the tendency to drown your method book graduate in all of your favourite repertoire that you’ve been dying to dust off for years. Resist this urge and ease them into this new format of lessons slowly. It’s no coincidence that students who finish their method books often quit soon after. They miss feeling continually successful. Method books provide these feelings of success by giving them manageable material and letting them move on to something new in a reasonable amount of time. Follow suit.
3) Find a theme. This can be anything, but your piano student needs a goal or a project. Randomly assigned repertoire can be fun… but unless your student can sense a real reason to why they are playing it you risk losing their motivation. Choose 2-3 month long themes and then choose your repertoire accordingly. Are you going to have a “Winter with Chopin” theme? A “Movie Theme November”? A “Jazz Standards Spring?”. You don’t need a clever name, but you DO need a plan. This makes their lessons easier for you to plan and provides a sense of organization to your student.
4) Rid the world of starving artists. We wrote about this recently (click the link to check it out), but it’s important to touch on this again. Piano students who have left their method book series need to be learning real-world applications of their piano skills. Ensure that you are adding these skills to their lessons with you.
In this transitional time in your piano student’s education it’s important for you, as their teacher, to be firmly (and confidently) at the helm. Embrace this opportunity for exploration and flex your teaching muscles. Enjoy the freedom to simply teach without page numbers holding you hostage.
A great way to get your students used to playing out of method books is to introduce other piano book series to them early and often as a supplement to their regular book work. The Adventures of Fearless Fortissimo Episode 1 and Episode 2 are jam packed with motivating music aimed at providing an exciting resource for your students. Not only that… but when you purchase the e-book you receive 3 levels of the music to enable you to use it with a wide-range of your students! Check it out and see why teachers are saying “What can possibly compete with outdoor sports, family fun, video games, good books? Enter “Fearless Fortissimo”!