“How should I structure my piano lessons?”
This is one of the most common questions we are asked. And the truth is… there is no single right approach to lesson structure.
But there is a single wrong approach and I call it the “Tidy Little Boxes” approach; where the different components of a lesson are assigned strict “minutes” that MUST be adhered to at all costs. Something that looks like this (and never changes)…
- Warm-ups (3 minutes)
- Technical Work (3 minutes)
- Ear training (4 minutes)
- Repertoire work (10 minutes)
- Composing/Improv (5 minutes)
- Piano games (5 minutes)
Now you might be thinking, “Hey, that schedule doesn’t look so bad.” And you’re right. It isn’t a bad schedule… if the assigned components and minutes are simply a guide. But for many teachers, the schedule above is not just a guide; it’s a checklist of ordered things that they feel must be accomplished each and every lesson. And that’s where things can become problematic.
Forcing yourself to stick to a tidy schedule at all costs will stress you and your piano students out. So, if you happen to fall into this “stressed out” category (which is where I used to hang my hat!), try structuring your piano lessons like this instead…
Here are 4 ways to correctly structure a piano lesson
1. Let Lesson Structure Change With the Seasons
I have many things I want to accomplish in any one piano lesson. But certain things during certain times of the year take precedence over all others. For example, at the beginning of the school year, the “technical block of time” gets extra attention. Why? Because students need a solid technical grounding in order to be able to practice independently at home; at the start of the year I need home practice to be as free from frustration as possible.
Similarly, during Christmas and spring recital seasons, the time I devote to repertoire work dwarfs other activities… while piano games take the lead when students return to lessons in January and need a boost of fun.
2. Let Lesson Structure Change With Student Personality
There isn’t a lesson structure in the world that is the perfect fit for every student. Some piano students will simply need to play piano games for 10 minutes… and that’s okay. Others will be completely obsessed with their repertoire and may want to spend 23 minutes playing their piece… and that’s okay too. Don’t try to fit piano students into those “tidy little boxes” or you’ll miss the chance to capitalize on their interests and motivations.
3. Let Lesson Structure Change With Student Excitement Levels
I now never abandon a lesson activity just to fit in another lesson activity. If I have a student that is having a blast with an ear training game, is completely engaged, is giggling and is obviously learning… I let that thing ride. Now, of course, I won’t play an ear training game for the entire lesson, but if things are going really well… I’m not slamming that door in favor of something I feel we “must” do. The other lesson activities can wait… until later in the lesson… or until next week if they have to.
4. Let Lesson Structure Change When Things Crash and Burn
As you’ve probably guessed from reading our blog, I like to experiment with a whole whack of lesson activities. Some things go really well… and some things absolutely bomb. And when things bomb, I cut bait… fast. If something is not working, or if my student is feeling frustrated, I’m quick to switch my approach and/or focus to avoid dragging it out for the sake of a “tidy little five minute block”.
This Activity Gets Extra Lesson Time In February…
Now that students are back into the swing of lessons, and with recitals still a ways away, I love using February and early March to steal time away from other activities to focus on composing and improvisation. This mid-year injection of creativity and freedom does wonders for practice motivation and “warm fuzzies” towards piano at a “low” time of year.
Our most recent release from PianoBookClub, The Unfortunate Appetite of Improv Alister takes piano students on a laugh-out-loud journey while getting creative on the keys with beginning improv skills. If you’ve never taught improvisation before, this book is just what you’ve been waiting for! You can learn more about PianoBookClub here.