It’s back to school time and you’re probably welcoming new students who are thrilled to start on a piano lesson journey. For these students, everything is fresh and exciting; method books are shiny, never-before-seen games are a blast and off-the-bench activities are a welcome surprise.
But what about your returning students?
When my students would return to lessons after the summer, I used to start with a big review of everything we had covered in the spring and early summer, thinking this was the best way to get them “back in the groove”. I assumed that a review of materials they’d covered in the past was a comfortable way to ease them back into piano lesson routines.
But I forgot that I was unintentionally depriving my returning students of the joy that “fresh” brings; and that dragging out those old materials was indeed comfortable, but it was not at all inspiring.
The thing is… your returning students DO need review. Brushing the cobwebs off of previously-learned skills is important. However, it can be done without flogging old, tired music that has lost it’s sparkle.
So today we’re sharing 5 things you can do to brush up your returning students’ abilities while still allowing them to be part of the “September Fun”. Even if you’ve already started lessons, using these activities will re-inspire your returning students and ensure they are happy riders on the piano lesson train.
What To Do Instead Of Review: 5 Activities For Returning Students
To help your piano students brush up their playing skills without dragging out their old, tired music right away, focus in on what needs work with these 5 activities.
1. Incorporate rote teaching into your first few lessons back. Nothing fills a need for instant gratification like rote teaching. Seek out an easily-memorized, pattern-based piano piece and get your students’ fingers moving immediately with cool sounds they’ll be stoked to bring home. Send home both the sheet music and a recording to assist with their recall once they’re on their own piano… but encourage them to play by ear. Look for piano pieces that reinforce the skills your students were working on before the summer break (or previously struggled with) to let their muscle memory get back into the groove first.
2. Have fun with improv. We’ve shared a lot of improv resources on the blog (most recently our teen improv piece “Unbound”) that will give you plenty of ways to add some freedom to your returning students’ lessons. Improvisation activities remind your students of how wonderful it feels to play with fluidity while avoiding any note-reading struggles as they regain their confidence on the keys. Check out this activity and this activity which both provide just enough structure to make improv approachable while letting creativity flow!
3. Teach a new piece – but two levels below. Returning students love to bring something new home from their first lesson… but “something new” doesn’t have to be a big, arduous, multi-week project piece. Seek out motivating music that is two levels below your students’ current ability and enjoy the process of completing an entire piece in one lesson. Your student will appreciate the chance to take something home that is instantly playable, and you’ll enjoy the return to practice routines that this will inspire.
4. Play games that focus on specific skills. There’s absolutely no better way to brush away cobwebs than with piano games. A student who has “forgotten” skills at the keyboard is acutely aware of every error… but in the context of a game, the pressure is off and they are fully engaged in the process without fear of failure. Spend your first lesson back engrossed in games that focus in on what you know they need to improve upon… and then send the games home for family game night fun. The skill boost this provides will make the return to lessons less stressful for children who didn’t practice often during the summer. Need games? We’ve got them!
5. Get creative and compose. Because your returning students may be feeling slightly guilty about their lack of practice, the chance to create their own masterpiece will leave them feeling relieved and inspired instead of inadequate and down. Create a simple ABA piece with a repeating motive to allow it to be completed within just one lesson. Together, give it a title that connects your students to their music in a powerful way. Send your students home with instructions on how to add dynamics, and phrasing and allow them the chance to get excited again about the creativity provided by piano lessons.