Back to Piano Lessons Kick Off Ideas

piano lessons

Here we are, still in the middle of summer, a time for piano teachers to rest, and to celebrate the hard work of the previous semester.

Maybe you’re like many piano teachers, choosing to take off during the summer due to your travel schedule, or the fact that your students travel during the summer.

Perhaps you adopt an every other week sort of approach or teach throughout the entire summer.

Whatever model you adopt, the fact remains that a new teaching season is just around the corner!

It’s important to kick off new teaching seasons on an exciting, joyful note, that inspires students and helps them stay engaged throughout the semester.

The following ideas are for you to consider before diving into the new fall semester that is so quickly approaching!

Organize a challenge event.

I used to work at a local arts center (by local, I mean Atlanta-based).

And every year they put together a “Scale-a-thon.”

This was primarily a challenge that inspired students to learn their scales, chords, and arpeggios over the course of a semester.

Midway to three-fourths of the way through the semester, students had a chance to participate in a big festival, demonstrating what they had learned, playing games, and possibly receive rewards for their efforts and accomplishments.

It was so well attended and became a tradition for this particular arts center.

We all have students who have “checked out” due to travel schedules, right?

Parents are not as engaged with piano lessons during the summer as they are during the school semester.

And maybe this is okay; they’ve worked hard with their students on homework throughout the semester.

Summer is a time to recuperate.

But students spend far too much time in front of the television, they play (as they should), and travel. They’re not practicing that much.

Hosting an event, like a fall kick off challenge that inspires students to practice over the course of a semester is a great way to set a positive tone for the new teaching season.

Host small group gatherings.

If you don’t like the idea of throwing a big group gathering like a scale-a-thon, maybe you host something on a smaller scale, such as a small group gathering.

Do you have a group of beginning students who have taken with you for a year or so? (Of course, you can throw this event for older, more advanced students as well.)

Consider hosting a small group gathering based on age groups or piano level at the beginning of the semester.

Ask parents to get involved and help organize the event.

Pro Tip: Students excel when their parents get involved.

Begin the event by allowing students to play a familiar piece.

Perhaps you can ask a parent to narrate a fun story as you accompany them on the piano. This is an excellent way to teach students about music’s emotive power.

Consider preparing a fun snack with a cute music related theme.

The possibilities are endless! Just get creative.

Make the first piano lesson super special!

If you don’t like the idea of any sort of group gathering, consider making the first piano lesson of the new season super special by presenting your student with a brand new piece of music.

Of course, you can find music in the PracticeHabits online store.

There are free pieces of music and exercises scattered throughout the site as well.

One lady within the PracticeHabits Membership Community uses Halloween music and organizes Halloween themed recitals to inspire her students.

I think this is such a cool idea!

Fun and well-crafted sheet music inspire student practice.


Hopefully, you’ve connected with one of these ideas.

Try something new this season! Get creative!! Have fun!!!

Are you looking for a community of like-minded piano teachers to connect with and learn from?

How do unlimited sheet music downloads sound?

Looking for fun and creative technical exercises that inspire student practice?

Well, consider joining the PracticeHabits Membership Community!

CLICK TO LEARN MORE

 

Inspiring Music Sparks Imagination and Creativity

Inspiring

The boy in the picture looks pretty bored, doesn’t he?

I think he needs a new and inspiring piece of music!

Do you remember receiving a brand new piece of music from your piano teacher?

Do you recall the wonderful feeling you’d get when opening the clean, crisp pages for the first time?

I sure do.

What a joyful experience it was!

There’s something special about introducing a student to new and inspiring music.

This reason alone helped me fall in love with festival competitions.

My teacher, Mrs. Jackie Hudson, always picked the best pieces for me to play.

The vibrant and colorful pictures on the front covers and the clean smell of the new pages inspired me to practice (something Mrs. Hudson was super thrilled about).

Of course, the music had to be good as well!

And it always was.

The National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) sure knows how to put on a good piano festival.

I’m always impressed at the attention to detail in every aspect of the festival.

They’ve produced a nice teacher resource of music titles suitable for students of all levels.

The NFMC Festival Bulletin is an excellent resource. And they’re always updating it. So you can trust its contents are relevant!

There are other sources for new and exciting music; PracticeHabits.co of course, and others.

I’m a huge fan of the Festival Collection series produced by F.J.H. Music Company Inc.

It’s perfect for actual classical pieces (no arrangements) and runs the spectrum from beginning to advanced students.

Many of my students have made their way through these books.

The repertoire contained in the Festival Collection series is excellent for festivals, auditions, and recitals.

Here’s a quick list of several other fantastic and inspiring resources I’ve used in my teaching journey –

  1. The Complete Book of Scales, Arpeggios, and Cadences
  2. Music and technical exercises arranged by Keith Snell
  3. Most anything by Dennis Alexander
  4. Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts

What about you?

Are you in the market for some new and creative piano music to inspire your students this Summer?

I sure do hope so.

Well-crafted and inspiring music sparks imagination and creativity in piano students and encourages healthy practice habits!

 

Improvisation in the Lesson Room

improvisation

My three-year-old (Oh! excuse me) my three-and-a-half-year-old, Emma, is now interested in the piano.

Let me define interested here –

It’s early in the morning, and we (my wife and me) hear the pitter patter of little, sticky, bare feet across our rustic 1950’s wood floor.

We listen to a big CLUNK as Emma pushes the black fallboard of our mid-1990s Kawai Upright out of the way.

Tiny partially painted fingers begin caressing the white and black keys from low to high.

Next, dissonant clusters resound as groups of black notes are pressed with preschool force.

It’s not the most pleasant sound, but that’s okay.

She’s improvising.

That’s right; our three-and-a-half-year-plus-a-day-and-a-second-old is improvising!

I’m a huge proponent of dedicating a small part of the weekly lesson to improvisation.

Why, you ask?

Children learn to speak before reading, right?

Well, why should it be any different with music??

A child must first learn to speak the musical language before learning to read music from a page.

Consider this quote from an article featured on the Suzuki Association of the Americas website

The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others.

My daughter is learning to speak music.

And I’m encouraging it!

Now, I’ve never been one to lord practice over my children. (I have a six-year-old as well – Abby.)

Instead, I’ve adopted a different approach –

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Abby.”

“Can you give me a pliano lesson??” (No mis-spelling. That’s how she says it. My daughter plays the pliano.)

Believe me – she doesn’t have to ask twice!

You can’t force small children to play. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.

Abby has declined my offer to give her a lesson plenty of times. And that’s okay.

I want HER to make the decision to play. And so far this approach is working beautifully.

Now, back to improvisation.

Webster’s dictionary defines to word “improvise” as follows –

Improvise – to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously.

I feel like I need to define the long “e” word!

Extemporaneously – done, spoken, performed, etc., without special advance preparation; impromptu.

Emma (my youngest) did not prepare her ebony and ivory improvisation well in advance or its execution. She just saw the keys and went to playing.

And this is a beautiful thing! Children need this opportunity!

Freedom to explore possibilities is essential to the learning process, especially as it pertains to music.

Are there ways you can begin incorporating improvisation in your studio?

Maybe you already do.

Are there things you can do to enhance the time devoted to improvisation?

Consider this –

1.) The Ostinato (a recurring rhythmic idea as found in Ravel’s Bolero) is a beautiful canvas on which the young student paints with his or her improvisatory colors.

(Example – Play a quarter note ostinato on a low “C” and then have your student improvise with a “C” in his left hand and a “G” in his right hand. You’ll be surprised at just how clever youngins are!)

2.) Next, change your ostinato pattern up slightly. A minute change may trigger your student to come up with something different as well.


Thank you for spending a few moments with me! I hope that you’re walking away with some nuggets to help you in the important work you’re doing.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or question below.

See you next time!

3 Creative Ways to Increase Classroom Engagement

student in piano classroom

There she goes again (eye-roll).

Taking her eyes off of the music and allowing them to wander all around the room!

Sigh…

She’s such a good student when she focusses.

It’s a common scenario. Little minds wander. It’s hard to sit still. It’s difficult to focus.

But there are ways to increase engagement.

Here are three suggestions on how you can increase engagement in your classroom.

I’ve used these in larger settings, such as youth chorus, and group music classes. But they’re easily adapted to the private lesson room.

1.) Movement and Play

This one’s important. Young kids need to move! Some more than others. Believe it or not, this is a scientific fact.

In her brilliant article, Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement, Lara N. Dotson-Renta says,

Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.

She goes on to say that kids learn through movement and play. Imagination is key!

Yet such learning is increasingly rare in early-childhood classrooms in the U.S, where many young children spend their days sitting at tables and completing worksheets. Kindergarten and preschool in the U.S. have become more and more academic, rigorously structuring kids’ time, emphasizing assessment, drawing a firm line between “work” and “play”—and restricting kids’ physical movement.

But how do we teachers encourage movement and play? Especially with our limited teaching time??

It’s a simple as reinforcing things via short games and activities.

For example, my class loves Rhythm Popcorn.

I simply line two rows of chairs facing one another, clap a simple rhythm, and then point to a student to repeat the rhythm. The student then points to one another student and he or she claps the rhythm. So on and so forth.

It’s a simple game, but it certainly increases classroom engagement. The students have fun and learn all about steady and precise rhythm.

2.) Transition

It’s easy to overlook this one.

Imagine you’re six-years-old again and asked to sit quietly on the piano bench for 20-30-minutes.

What would you feel? What would you think?

In their article What is a Normal Attention Span, Day2DayParenting says,

Young children do have relatively short attention spans and generally do best when alternating activities which require sitting still and focusing with those that allow for physical movement.

The younger the student, all the more necessary to transition, and transition often.

The article goes on to outline young children’s attention spans –

Children ages 5-6 years old typically can attend to one activity that is of interest to them for around 10-15 minutes at a time and should generally be able to filter out small distractions occurring simultaneously in the environment. They may only be able to attend to an assigned classroom activity for only 5-10 minutes particularly if they find it uninteresting or difficult for them and do not have adult guidance to stay on task.

Keep things moving along. Don’t rest too long on a particular song or activity. I’ve found 3-5 minutes to be the ideal time for each activity. Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

3.) Visuals

Inspiration.com cites the following as benefits for visuals in the learning environment –

Visual learning helps students clarify their thoughts – Students see how ideas are connected and realize how information can be grouped and organized. With visual learning, new concepts are more thoroughly and easily understood when they are linked to prior knowledge.

Visual learning helps students integrate new knowledge – According to research, students better remember information when it is represented and learned both visually and verbally.

Visual learning helps students think critically – Linked verbal and visual information helps students make connections, understand relationships and recall related details.

Who wants to stare at the same thing for 30 minutes? Especially boring white and black notes on a page?!

Consider changing it up.

Why not print music on green or red paper around Christmas? Or orange paper leading up to Halloween?

This is a fun (and super easy) way to increase classroom engagement.

I’ve found small, handheld whiteboards to be wonderful teaching tools. Drawing examples of notes, rests, etc., on these boards and asking students to name them adds an extra layer of engagement and anticipation in the lesson room.


We need to remember those childhood feelings and embrace them. This is how we keep the sense of wonder and imagination in the classroom.

We want our students to long for the next piano lesson, asking questions such as, what’s Mr. Chris going to do this week? And, I wonder what game we’re going to play this time?!

Let’s encourage creativity in the classroom. After all, encouraging creativity, play, and imagination encourages learning.

Now teach, and teach well, you amazing teacher, you!

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.