Beginner – Three Quick Teaching Tips

child - beginner profile looking in fthe camera while playing piano

You and I probably agree that one of the most rewarding experiences any piano teacher has is the bright-eyed, bushy-tale beginner’s first piano lesson.

There’s nothing quite like helping the young beginner place her little hands on the piano.

“Hold them up,” we say. “Oops, not too much, though,” we continue.

I remember the first time I helped my daughter place her hands on the piano. Her little thumb and pinky barely reached C-G in the five-finger position!

We quickly dove into her primer lesson book. And by the end of our first brief 15-minute lesson together, she had learned to play a song!

I’ll never forget the exuberant look on her sweet little face. Oh, what joy filled my heart to see her glow so bright!

Music has a way of doing this, right?

It touches hearts, young and old.

How many times have you witnessed this radiant look on the beginner’s face? So many times, I’d imagine.

I’ve taught a lot of beginners over the years, and I can tell you one thing from my experience – the beginner’s glow never gets old!

What a great privilege and opportunity it is to share the gift of music!

It’s not something we take lightly. We embrace the challenge and pour a whole lot of love and quality music instruction in the beginner’s bowl.

On that note, here are 3 quick tips to help you prepare for the very first piano lesson with a new student.

1.) Rhythm first and foremost!

Rhythm is the most essential and important musical element. Steady and precise rhythm lays the foundation for excellent musicianship.

It’s so important that beginning students walk away from the first lesson with a good understanding of basic rhythm (quarter notes, half notes, whole notes).

Nothing fancy. Just basic rhythm.

Nicole Murphy of Music Teacher’s Helper offers some great tips on teaching rhythm.

2.) Teach a complete song on the first day.

You want your beginning piano student to walk away from the first lesson having accomplished something. I always recommend teaching a complete song during the very first lesson.

It’s important to note that this is a simple song. Hopefully, a song that reinforces the basic rhythmic foundation you’ve laid in the first lesson.

Not to mention, parents are really impressed when their child walks away having learned a song on the very first day! Keeps them coming back if you know what I mean ; )

3.) Share your expectations with the student and parent (especially the parent)

You have to set expectations. Without them, students wander from lesson to lesson without aim! Parents do as well.

Make sure to set high, but reasonable expectations from the start. It will save you, the student, and parent heartache and headache!

Consider Alex Spiegel’s thought provoking article Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform.


What are some of your tips? What’s one of your stories? Has a student touched your heart and soul in a profound way? What keeps you coming back to the lesson room again and again?

I invite you to share your tips and stories with the PracticeHabits.co community below.

Thanks for reading!

Understanding the Creative Child

Let me begin by saying all children are creative. But somewhere along the way society stifles their creativity. My hope is that this post will inspire you and others to tap into and encourage this creative curiosity.

For many, “creative” is a scary word. For others, a badge of honor to be worn and flaunted. But to the true creatives, it simply describes who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

Webster’s defines creative as,

Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas.

I’ve taught many kids who fall into the “creative” category. Though contrasting in many ways, such as temperament and work habits, they all have one thing in common – they’re unique. Don’t read into my tone. I don’t mean this in a negative way. But in a way that is sincere to who they are as uniquely “creative” individuals.

In his popular blog post 20 Things Only Highly Creative People Would Understand, Kevin Kaiser says this about creative people,

1.) They have a mind that never slows down.

2.) They have difficulty staying on task.

3.) They need space to create.

4.) They focus intensely.

5.) They feel deeply.

If you love a highly creative person, you probably experience moments when it seems like they live in a completely different world than you. Truth is, they do. But trying to change them isn’t nearly as effective as trying to understand them.

I learned early in my career that teaching the right-brained kids the same way I taught the left-brained kids wasn’t going to work! (Fun Fact – right brain vs. left brain is actually a myth. Read about it here.)

I made the learning process painful for them (and myself) through forcing them to conform to my regular teaching style. Thankfully, I learned to adapt my approach and quickly became a greater service to my students and their families.


Are you struggling to teach your creative child? Do your creative students seem disengaged in class? There are steps you can take to re-engage these children and see vast improvements in their learning.


Don’t try and make creative students conform to learning regiments that work for “most” kids.

The current education system operates on an outdated model developed alongside the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. In his book, Industrialization and Public Education, Jim Carl says,

As educational access widened, […] the study of the classical curriculum declined, and, by the twentieth-century, the importance of schooling for both national economic development and individual mobility took on the status of an “education gospel.”

Unfortunately, students are born and raised to be cogs in a machine. Seth Godin explains,

Since you were five, schools and society have been teaching you to be a cog in the machine of our economy. To do what you’re told, to sit in straight lines and to get the work done.

Forcing creative students to conform to a set of rules that vehemently opposes their nature is counterproductive at best and downright destructive at worst!

Camden, one of my past piano students, fell into the “creative” category. I was excited to take him on as a student because he exhibited more zeal for the instrument than most beginning students. I quickly became frustrated when he showed up unrehearsed week after week. I told his mother that he needed to sit at the piano for at least 30-minutes per day. She agreed, and that’s what he did. He SAT at the piano 30-minutes each day. He wasn’t actively pursuing his studies. He was bored out of his mind!

I sat down with him and his mother at the following lesson to discuss a new game plan. You see, I realized that I had been approaching our lessons in the wrong way. My approach was stifling his creativity and ability to learn the piano in his unique way. I began asking him to bring one piece each week that he was excited to play. His eyes lit up! “Really,” he said, “I get to pick my music?” Allowing him the freedom to choose just one piece per week had positive effects on his passion for learning the instrument.

I told his mother not to worry too much if he didn’t practice for exactly 30-minutes each day. I encouraged her to let him practice at his pace – 5-minutes here, 10-minutes there. I saw vast improvements in his playing and ability to focus. Most importantly, I didn’t squash his zeal for learning how to play the piano!

Of course, there were days when he showed up unprepared, and he occasionally had bouts of unproductive activity. But this became a rarity instead of the norm.

Giving a creative child space to digest material in his way is one path to successful education.


Once you’ve found the “secret sauce” for what makes your creative students tick, spread it on thick!

One of my past piano students hated classical music. I mean she hated it so much as to leave these particular piano books at home on purpose before attending her weekly lesson! She would have never admitted to this, but I knew what she was up to. “Oh, Mr. Chris,” she’d say, “I totally left the Beethoven book on my piano. I’m so sorry!”

Sure she was…But I digress.

Now, I believe it’s important for every music student to have a healthy diet of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. But if it ain’t what makes a student tick, then it ain’t gonna cause her to pursue her craft with passion and excellence.

Once you find the “secret sauce,” spread it on thick!

I quickly realized that this particular student enjoyed music with a funky groove and sweet harmony. She loved jazz! We began to focus on tunes such as Straight No Chaser, Autumn Leaves, So What, among other classic jazz tunes in her weekly lessons. Her love for learning increased exponentially. She even brought the classical piano books now and again!


Form environments that encourage creativity.

In their blog post Teaching for Creativity, written for The Center for Development and Learning, scholars Robert Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams write,

We routinely witness creativity in young children, but it is hard to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity. We begin to suppress children’s natural creativity when we expect them to color within the lines in their coloring books.

This resonates with me.

I have to make sure that I don’t discourage my young, budding artist when she’s crafting her Crayola masterpieces. I catch myself wanting to say, “Sweetie, make sure you color in between the lines.” Or, “Don’t you think her hair should be brown instead of purple?” But I must give her space to create.

I need to form an environment where she feels free and safe to explore and express herself. To be creative!


All children are unique and learn things differently from one another. Don’t try to conform the creative child. Don’t underestimate his ability to learn things in his way.

He still needs guidance.

Guide your student in a way that compliments his ability to learn and form a safe environment that promotes creativity.

I leave you with this thought-provoking quote by Seth Godin –

If we give kids the foundation to dream, they will figure out the grammar and the history the minute it helps them to reach their goals and make a difference.

You possess the tools for teaching creative children. You just need permission to use them.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have permission.

Piano Lessons – 4 Proven Strategies to Get the Most Out of Them

Boy in piano lessons
Piano lessons are expensive, costing an average of $90-120 per month ($1,080-1,440 per year). And rightfully so! We spend years studying our instruments and hours pouring into our students each week.
 
Unfortunately, a majority of students miss a tremendous opportunity to make the most of their weekly piano lessons, squandering their parent’s money and sometimes their own. It’s a sad but legitimate reality.
 
Fortunately, there’s hope!
 

Parents don’t have to continue wasting their time and hard-earned money. They don’t have to discontinue piano lessons.

 
For over a decade, I’ve been encouraging students and parents to take full advantage of their music instruction by following these four straightforward and practical steps. And you can too!
Download Your FREE 8-Page Guide...
Hand this 8-Page Guide out to your students and their parents. You’ll see a vast improvement in their performance and practice when they implement these 4 straightforward and efficient strategies!
4-proven-strategies-free-guide
I hate spam. Your information is secure.

1.) Come to the lesson engaged and ready to learn.

Private music lessons typically last between 30-60 minutes and occur directly after school. Students are tired at the end of the school day and may have difficulty staying awake or engaging in a meaningful way. A quick snack just before the piano lesson can help with this.

Most students should not nap prior to their lesson as they arrive in a groggy state. I remember my piano teacher scolding me for napping. I also recall thinking about sleep while playing my pieces for her. I wasn’t a stellar student!

One final and important note on this – find a music teacher that engages your child in a meaningful way and inspires her to pursue her instrument beyond the weekly piano lesson.

2.) Videotape the music lesson.

Most music teachers send their students home with a weekly “things to do” list. Making a list is a good habit, but from my experience, students do not engage with the list unless prompted by a parent. For this reason, I recommend videotaping weekly piano lessons.

Music teachers cover a lot of material in a lesson. The rehearsal video is a relevant way for students to re-engage with this material during the week. Review it just before or during the first practice at home.

(Side note – the first practice at home should occur on the same day as the lesson or the very next day while the material is fresh on the student’s mind.)

3.) Parent involvement.

This one seems obvious. I believe that many parents would say that they’re involved. But I would argue that most parents are passively involved and not actively involved. Let me explain the difference.

An example of passive involvement –

“Johnny, get downstairs and practice the piano. I’ve set the timer for 30 minutes. Now go!”

It’s a great thing that you’re encouraging (making) your student practice, but there’s a better approach. Here’s an excerpt from one of my recent blog posts, Understanding the Creative Child. You’ll notice a shift from passive to active involvement.

Camden, one of my past piano students, fell into the “creative” category. I was excited to take him on as a student because he exhibited more zeal for the instrument than most beginning students. I quickly became frustrated when he showed up unrehearsed week after week. I told his mother that he needed to sit at the piano for at least 30-minutes per day. She agreed, and that’s what he did. He SAT at the piano 30-minutes each day. He wasn’t actively pursuing his studies. He was bored out of his mind!

I sat down with him and his mother at the following lesson to discuss a new game plan. You see, I realized that I had been approaching our lessons in the wrong way. My approach was stifling his creativity and ability to learn the piano in his unique way. I began asking him to bring one piece each week that he was excited to play. His eyes lit up! “Really,” he said, “I get to pick my music?” Allowing him the freedom to choose just one piece per week had positive effects on his passion for learning the instrument.

I told his mother not to worry too much if he didn’t practice for exactly 30-minutes each day. I encouraged her to let him practice at his pace – 5-minutes here, 10-minutes there. I saw vast improvements in his playing and ability to focus. Most importantly, I didn’t squash his zeal for learning how to play the piano!

Quality over quantity. 5-minutes of focused practice is much more desirable than 30-minutes of unfocused practice.

4.) Practice perfectly and slowly.

My dear friend and colleague, April O’Keefe says,

We’re all told that “practice makes perfect.” But this is not true. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

I couldn’t agree more with this statement.

Students often sloppily play their pieces in the practice room. Time and time again, I’ve told students to restart their pieces and play slowly and accurately, often making them reset having missed only one note, even at two minutes into the music! This approach may seem harsh, but it works! Students engage much more deeply when forced to think about the music on a cerebral level.

There is no room for error, at least not in the rehearsal room.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus and faculty member Noa Kageyama has this to say about slow practice,

I had forgotten all about this [slow practice in music] until very recently, when I had the pleasure of interviewing Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim (incidentally, check out his personal jetlag remedy).

He revealed that one of the keys to his success (and building confidence as well) is super slow practice. A process of practicing in slow motion – while being fully mindful, highly engaged, and thinking deeply in real-time about what he is doing.

Will students continue to make mistakes? Of course! I’ve yet to meet a human who doesn’t. But the severity and frequency of these errors will grow increasingly small when preceded by thoughtful and efficient practice habits.

Download Your FREE 8-Page Guide...
Hand this 8-Page Guide out to your students and their parents. You’ll see a vast improvement in their performance and practice when they implement these 4 straightforward and efficient strategies!
4-proven-strategies-free-guide
I hate spam. Your information is secure.

I hope you find these tips helpful. I’ve taught countless music students and experimented with many approaches to aid them in their weekly studies. These four are among the top strategies.

Implement them and I promise that you’ll see a huge improvement in what your student takes away from weekly piano lessons.