I remember vividly the moment I signed up my first piano student. I also remember my mad dash thirty minutes later to the local music store where I sorted wildly through an array of method books.
I emerged with an armful of resources, ready to spend the next week planning out my very first lesson with the precision of a military general. I was determined to create the perfect lesson without a single wasted minute. And following the lesson, my new student’s head would be filled with everything those method books told me she needed to know.
Putting “My First Piano Lesson Plan” Into Action
Flash forward a week later, and I was sitting beside a 6 year old who wanted to debate the virtues of puffy vs. scratch-and-sniff stickers. And while she was happy to flip through the first few pages of her new book, she really wanted to know… how I braided my hair.
My first piano lesson wasn’t at all what I had expected.
In fact, I accomplished about a quarter of what I had planned on covering. She wasn’t poorly behaved… she was simply infatuated with the fact that she had my undivided attention… for 1800 seconds.
So, remembering the connection I myself had with my own piano teacher, I abandoned my original plan. We explored what she needed to know in order to practice something in the coming week, all the while getting to know each other. Over “bits” of piano teaching, I learned that she was afraid of snakes, that she had a best friend who had just moved away, that her favorite food was pickles and that her brother was sent to the principal’s office for making duck noises in class.
She learned that I too loved pickles, and that I learned to braid my hair from the babysitter I had when I was 10.
As I debriefed later that day on whether or not the lesson was a success or utter failure, I received an email from her mother. “She absolutely loved her lesson. We haven’t been able to pull her away from the piano since you left. Thank you so much – this is exactly what we had hoped lessons would be.”
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before That First Lesson
Despite what ended up being an obvious first lesson success, when new piano students started signing up I reverted back to heavily-structured first lessons… only to have them turn out the exact… same… way!
It took me far too long to realize what a first piano lessons was truly all about. So if you’re launching or relaunching a teaching career, or simply want first piano lessons to go better, here is what I wish someone had told me…
1) A first piano lesson is all about relationship building. Without a strong initial bond, everything you teach (or attempt to teach) becomes ten times more difficult as you struggle to catch your students’ attention, motivation and interest. Your “first lesson action plan” should focus on learning as much about your students as possible and enjoying the time you spend together. You only have one opportunity to make a great (and lasting) first impression.
2) You don’t need to cover everything in “Chapter 1” of a method book. If your focus is on relationship building, then let that take precedence, and ease off the idea that your students need to learn absolutely everything on Day 1. In fact, more than one lesson spent on those all-important initial concepts can actually result in a deeper understanding of foundational knowledge, resulting in fewer problems down the road.
3) A first piano lesson is the perfect time to ignite a passion for music. Obviously you are passionate about the piano… so now is the perfect time to pass on some of that exuberance to your students. Let them see how excited you are about music and why they should be excited too. Play something that rocks… and find simple little ways that they can join in on your music making.
4) Banish the perception of practice as a chore in this very first lesson. Good practice habits start from the very first moment your students’ fingers touch the keys. Avoid making the mistake of assuming your students won’t want to practice; inadvertently passing on the perception of practice as being tedious or something they will need to be nagged to do.
Trevor and I love creating practice materials that are absolutely, positively, most definitely, NOT BORING! And one of our most popular resources, Shhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice contains 88 such activities. Learn about it here.
5) Your actual “first piano lesson” usually takes place in Week 3. By that time you and your students will have built a strong working relationship and your students will be connected to their lessons and excited about learning music. Once this has all happened, then the next step in the learning process (the actual learning) can take place in an environment that is perfectly primed for years of happy music making.
Remember my very first piano student? She remained in lessons with me for 11 years. I know for a fact she is still playing the piano. She still loves pickles… and can braid her hair easily 😉
What Do You Wish You Would Have Known?
Now we’re handing the reigns over to all of you. In the comments below we’d love to hear about anything you wished someone would have told you before teaching your very first lesson. Can’t wait to hear your responses!