piano teaching

Three Things I'm Doing Differently in My Piano Studio This Year

Three Things I'm Doing Differently in My Piano Studio This Year

It's been a while since I've written anything about private teaching here. This is a big part of what I do during the week, even though I don't talk about it much here, and I know many of you teach privately, as well, in addition to the other things you do. 

I teach private lessons four days a week at a private school as part of their extracurricular and after-school programming. At the beginning of this year, I shared eight ways to continue developing your teaching skills this year.

8 Valuable Resources for Music Teachers

8 Valuable Resources for Music Teachers

You can never have too many teaching resources, right?

It seems I'm always looking for a piece of sheet music for this student or a fun concept-based game for that student. I'm also continuously searching for ways to streamline the business side of my teaching with helpful studio management tools, bookkeeping support, and email shortcuts.

Whether you're a studio teacher, K-12 music teacher, or children's choir director, I hope you find at least one thing on this list that's helpful to you!

Here are eight of my favorite resources for music teachers:

Wave Accounting

This all-in-one online accounting system that features free (unlimited) invoicing, ability to accept credit card payments, automatic billing and reminders, accounting support, and more. Wave is the perfect small business tool!

How to Build and Run a Successful Piano Studio

How to Build and Run a Successful Piano Studio

On the surface, it might not look like much work, but running a successful private studio means running a small business and there's lots of behind-the-scenes work that happens in between those weekly 30-minute lessons.

Whether you're just getting started, looking to build a studio in a new city, or searching for ways to streamline your process and help the business side of your studio run more efficiently, this post has something for everyone.

Today, I'm sharing ten tips and tricks for building and running a successful piano studio (many of these suggestions are applicable for other music studios, as well!), including ideas and helpful resources, insight into how I run my studio, and a few things I've learned along the way.

Why You Should Have Consultations with Prospective Students

Why You Should Have Consultations with Prospective Students

Last year, I received an email from a piano teacher asking about initial consultations and interviews. What do you do? What questions do you ask? How long should it be? What materials do you give them? Great questions! Here are some of the reasons I offer consultations to prospective families (and why you should, too!):

Why Are Consultations Important?

1. They give you an opportunity to meet prospective students (and their parents) face-to-face before either of you commit to lessons.

2. For students who are transferring from another teacher, it's important to see what music they're currently working on, assess what they know, and determine where you want to begin in your first lesson.

My Go-To Plan for First Piano Lessons

My Go-To Plan for First Piano Lessons

Where should we begin?

It's the age-old question we ask ourselves when we sit down with a new (beginning) student for the first time. What should we talk about first? Hand position? Finger numbers? Letter names? Where's Middle C?

I like to get the student playing as quickly as possible. We explore high sounds and low sounds and sounds in the middle, black keys and white keys and the patterns they make, and rhythm patterns based on our heartbeat. We imitate, improvise, and create.

The first lesson is all about experimenting with the instrument and exploring sound. Here is my go-to lesson plan:

    40 Ideas to Inspire Creativity in Your Students

    40 Ideas to Inspire Creativity in Your Students

    "To stimulate creativity, one must develop the child-like inclination for play.”- Albert Einstein

    As a piano teacher, I love teaching young beginning students. I love their enthusiasm, the questions they ask, their excitement over little successes, and most of all, their creativity.

    Young children are naturally curious and inquisitive, with vivid imaginations. I love finding ways to bring that into our piano lessons and their practicing at home. I added a "Creativity Challenge" to the bottom of my assignment sheets a few years ago (available as a free printable here) and each week, I write a short prompt to encourage creative exploration, discovery, and music-making during the week.

    "Around the World" Piano Theme

    "Around the World" Piano Theme

    One of my favorite ways to prepare for the new teaching year (or new semester) is choosing a theme and gathering inspiration. Last year, I spent some time planning an "Around the World" theme for my young piano students (inspired by a children's choir curriculum I created a few years ago). So fun! See my inspiration board here.

    Pack your bags and join us for an exciting musical journey around the world! This year, students will discover new skills and musical concepts, hear and play new music, and experience the language of music in a rich environment. At the end of the year, children will have suitcases full of new skills and experiences from their musical travels!

    Monster Dance

    Monster Dance

    Last week, I introduced Jennifer Fink's Monster Dance to an 11-year-old student. It was a sight-readable piece for him - something we could put together in one lesson. The piece is written for left hand solo, though it ventures up into the treble clef partway through. Once we had worked through the key patterns, tricky moves, and looked for repeated material, he wanted to play it all the way through from the beginning.

    As he played, I thought about the beloved Disney/Pixar film, Monsters, Inc. (one of my personal favorites!).

    "Have you seen Monsters, Inc.?" I asked when he finished playing. "Um, yeah, of course!" he said, with a sparkle in his eye. "Have you seen Monsters University?" he asked. "Um, yeah, of course!" I said, imitating his inflection. "I was thinking - which monster is the best match for the music in Monster Dance?" "Definitely Sullivan," he said without pause. "I was thinking Sully, too," I said. "What about Mike Wazowski? What kind of music would fit his character?"

    He immediately went to the high side of the piano and started playing something.

    The Piano Teacher

    Penelope is a bright-eyed, curly-headed girl of almost 8. She often skips into her lesson, singing me the song she composed that week. But one week, in the middle of playing through "Beautiful Dreamer," she fought back tears as she half-whispered, "No one wants to listen to my songs." I put down my notebook and pencil and moved to the bench to sit beside her. "My friends just want to play with me. They don't want to hear me play the piano." We talked about people and how everyone is different. We all like different things and are good at different things. Some people like to be with other people and others would rather be by themselves. "I like to be by myself," she said quietly. "Me, too," I said with a smile. She brushed away a tear from the corner of her eye and we went back to our lesson. Sometimes, it's more important to sit and talk for a minute than hearing every piece on the assignment sheet. Sometimes, lessons are more about building relationships and trust than playing and making music. As musicians, we know how much our emotions impact what we do. Creating music is a vulnerable act, a bearing of our very souls to those listening. Many times I've felt insecure about this and insecure about my abilities when they are not affirmed by others. Maybe you've been there, too. I want to be a teacher that acknowledges these struggles with openness and honesty. Someone who offer that affirmation and encouragement or at least lend a listening ear and say "I understand. I know what you're feeling." I believe this is part of what we are called to do as teachers. We listen when they're going through a hard time, encourage their pursuit of musical excellence, and celebrate their achievements.

    We also laugh at their jokes and smile when they're being silly. Like when Graham, a sandy-haired, blue-eyed 1st grader asked to read me a comic he memorized from the New Yorker. At the end of his lesson, he sat on the bench and "performed" the comic for me with a different voice for each character. His mom said the first thing he told her when he got home was that he "made me laugh" with his story.

    We are musicians and supporters, encouragers and facilitators, but we're also listeners and mentors, friends and confidants. We are piano teachers.

    Piano Olympics Festival

    Piano Olympics-01.png

    Aren’t the Olympics exciting?! 

    I love how they bring people together – across nations – to recognize and celebrate hard work, excellence, and achievement

    These are things I want to celebrate in my students.

    So, inspired by this year’s Winter Olympics and drawing on the five colored rings in the Olympic logo, I created a piano festival based on five key aspects of musicianship:

    Blue – Sight-Reading
    Gold – Memorization + Performance
    Black – Aural Skills (clap-backs, sing-backs, play-backs)
    Green – Creativity (improvisation, composition)
    Red – Technique

    This festival is based on a series of weekly “events” – students will have the opportunity to choose which events they would like to “train” for and participate in. 

    My goal is to focus on one ring at a time, for teaching efficiency and to keep students from getting overwhelmed. Together, we will choose events (2-3 per category); I will give students practice materials to take home so they can prepare for the events. Most events are designed to take place in the lessons. 

    Once students successfully complete the required number of events for a given category, they will earn that Olympic ring.  After all rings have been earned, the student will receive a certificate of achievement and perhaps a small prize for participating.

    The events are as follows:

    Blue: Sight-Reading

    Olympic training: sight-play something new 7 days in a row

    Sight-Reading Events: Choose 2

    Halfpipe: sight-play two contrasting short pieces
    500m Freestyle: sight-read two contrasting rhythm exercises, counting out loud
    Remix: sight-play a short exercise with RH, then LH
    Short Track Relay: sing, speak rhythm, and play new piece on your own

    Gold: Memorization + Performance

    Olympic training: practice 7 days in a row

    Memorizing + Performance Events:Choose 2

    Speed Skating: polish and memorize 1-2 pieces from earlier in the year
    Giant Slalom: learn a continuous technique sequence from memory
    Semifinal: perform two pieces from memory for friends or family

    Black: Aural Skills

    Olympic training: copy tonal and rhythm patterns from recording – sing-back or clap-back

    Aural Skills Events: Choose 2

    Curling: perform two contrasting rhythm exercises, counting out loud
    Free Skating: create your own rhythmic series for practice – minimum: four bars
    Qualifying: sing and play a new song by ear – choose something you know

    Green: Creativity

    Olympic training: transpose three short pieces to a new key this week

    Creativity Events: Choose 2

    Freestyle Skiing: compose a new piece
    Bobsled: perform a structured improvisation with teacher or family member
    Figure Skating: compose or improvise a duet with a friend

    Red: Technique

    Olympic training: practice a different technique exercise every day for 7 days

    Technique Events: Choose 3

    Ski Jumping: play five continuous 5-finger or one-octave scales in steady tempo
    Cross-Country Skiing: play three major/minor triads (Prep B/Level 1: with inversions), HS
    Biathlon: play one 5-finger or one-octave scale – one hand legato, one hand staccato, HS
    Snowboarding: play two 5-finger or one-octave scales, descending first, then ascending, HS
    Ice Dancing: play two 5-finger or one-octave scales in contrary motion, HT


    Free Download:
    Piano Olympics Planning & Resource Guide

    Download this free guide, complete with helpful resources and materials for facilitating
    these events with Preparatory A, Preparatory B, and Level 1 students (based on the levels
    of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Music Development Program).

    Let the Games begin!


    Resources used in this project:

    Please note: some of these links are affiliate links, which means if you decide to purchase through any of them, I will earn a small commission. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue creating free content. Thank you for your support!

    Gig Harbor Music Teachers Association
    Susan Griesdale
    Chanson Voice Studio
    Joy Morin/Color in My Piano
    Keyboard Musicianship for the Adult Beginner (Frances Clark)
    Music Tree Activities, Part I (Frances Clark)
    Royal Conservatory of Music, Music Development Program
    Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation (Azzara/Grunow)