Are you a newbie? Are you a “well-seasoned” teacher? How many first piano lessons have you taught? One? Forty? Two hundred?
It’s likely you have your own first-lesson routines. All teachers like to begin piano lessons in a variety of ways. All teachers have their own ideas about what should be covered in the first lesson. All teachers have opinions on what books to use, what kinds of pieces to use, starting on-staff vs. off-staff etc. etc.
But no matter where you fit in in terms of first lesson teaching experience, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re setting up your brand new piano student for long-term success. So, check out our 10 things you should include in a very first piano lesson and add these ideas to your tool kit of teaching knowledge.
10 Things You Should Include In A Very First Piano Lesson (That Are Often Forgotten)
1. A Motivator: Include an improv activity or extremely simple duet (PianoBookClub’ers who received September’s book can use Ding Dong!) that gets your student making music immediately. There is nothing as motivating as being a part of great music making… so get your student playing right away!
2. Knowledge of Proper Posture: Starting this from the very first lesson ensures your student a) realizes this is important (not an afterthought) and b) doesn’t accidentally form any hard-to-break habits.
3. Knowledge of Bench Positioning: Teach your student how to adjust their own bench. I have fallen into the trap before of adjusting the bench and checking for proper distance, height etc. without including my student in the “why”. Making this their project ensures they will do the same at home.
4. Finger Warm-Ups: Aside from just sending your student home with pieces to practice, sending your student home with a finger warm-up routine that is “off the keys” (and therefore doesn’t require previous piano knowledge) also sets up the expectation from the beginning that pre-piece warm-ups are important and will be a part of their practice routine.
5. A Piece to Practice: No matter how much time you spend discussing keyboard awareness, finger numbers, high and low sounds… it’s so important to send your student home with something he or she can practice immediately. This sets up good practice habits from the get-go, but also builds a strong connection with the piano as the excitement of brand new lessons will carry over into home practice.
6. Freedom on the Keys: Starting off by giving your new student the freedom to make his own music gives him confidence and a creative outlet. Send your student home with instructions to make up his own short little piece to play for you next week and to notate it in any way he chooses. I absolutely love the notation ideas that my new students come up with – they’re often ingenious. Composing shouldn’t be something reserved for experienced piano students only… get them making music immediately.
7. Practice Expectations and Instruction: Newbies need to know your practice expectations right from the get go. But expectations alone aren’t enough! You need to teach them how to practice. New students may have no idea that practice doesn’t simply mean playing their piece from beginning to end 4 times and then walking away. Give them the first tools they need to practice efficiently (check out a post we wrote last year, 21 Days to Consistent Piano Practice).
8. Encouragement: Your new student needs to go home feeling successful and as though she’s “got this piano thing!”. Encouragement comes in the form of verbal feedback, but also in the form of ensuring your student can be successful at home with what is expected of her that first week. Adjust your goals based on each individual student to ensure that the second lesson is positive and also encouraging.
9. A Sneak Peek: Give your new students a glimpse into the fun they’re about to have at your studio. Do you use amazing manipulatives or games? Use them! Do you include iPad apps in your games? Be sure to show your new student. Do you include off-bench activities? Make sure your new student experiences these.
10. Parental Involvement: The parents should have the tools they need to assist at home; both to troubleshoot, but also to ensure practice tasks happen successfully. This can be in the form of a visual “help sheet”, or you can ask the parent to come into the final minutes of the lesson for a demo. Not only does this ensure your piano student won’t “get stuck”, but it also establishes the expectation immediately that parents are an integral part of home practice success.
First Lessons Are Fun… First Lessons are Important
As the saying goes, there is no second chance at making a first impression. So go ahead and include these 10 aspects (along with your regular first-lesson routine) and set your students up for long-term success in your studio.