|Hopefully your beginners aren't |
quite this young! But this pic was
too cute to pass up.
- Is this student old enough for lessons? Too old to be starting?
- How involved is this parent going to be?
- What books should I start them in?
- Should I stick to just the Lesson book or pile on Theory, Technique and a Performance book?
- How do I instill proper technique from day one?
- How do I ensure a good sense of rhythm?
- How do I get through the first 5 pages of the book in 30 minutes?
Stop! Remember, if you can, your first lesson, whether it be back to your first piano lesson or a more recent "new" instrument. You have all the enthusiasm and potential in the world and that first impression of your new experience can do so much to either kindle or squelch that passion.
In short, your number one goal for these first 30 minutes should be to grab hold of that "beginner's eagerness" and fuel that fire instead of unknowingly putting it out.
Here are some suggestions for the perfect, memorable first lesson:
1. Set aside your own agenda.
Yes, you have your list of things to get through before the end of the lesson, the end of the month, the end of the school year. But, remember that every student is unique and will learn and grow at their own pace. Use this first 30 minutes to get to know the pace, personality and learning style of this student.
2. Don't talk the whole time.
When I look back on those first few students I taught, I cringe at how boring the first lesson must have been! "Here's how you sit...here's how you hold your hands...here's the history of the piano...here's my dissertation on the acoustical properties of the tritone...blah, blah, blah..." (Thankfully, that was an exaggeration!) Make the first lesson a good mix of you talking, the student talking, you playing, and the student playing.
3. Make a personal connection.
What do you come away learning about this person who graced your bench for half an hour? Do they come from a musical family? What sort of ambitions do they have? What music do they love to listen to? Do they dance? Play the violin? How many siblings? Pets? Packer fan? Horse lover? Fill the first lesson with engaging conversation and find some common ground on which to build a lasting relationship. One easy way to do this is to have a set of questions to talk through that the student can fill out themselves. This is a great way to get a sense of their reading and writing skills if they are young. Check out the free printout My Very First Piano Lesson.
4. Make your expectations clear.
Though you'll strive to make a personal connection, don't forget your role as teacher. Avoid future awkward or unpleasant confrontations by spelling out your expectations of the student right away. Let them know how frequently and how long you want them to practice. Let them know the behavior and attitude you expect inside the studio. Fill them in on the consequences. It is so much more appealing to get this out of the way when you are on the best of terms than to blurt out previously unmentioned policies when you and/or the student are having a frustrating day.
5. Include a fun activity.
I think all students sign up for piano thinking it will be fun. Don't let them go home the first week thinking otherwise! Piano is fun, of course, but it may be hard to portray that in a student's very first 30 minutes at the keys. Here's a list of possible quick activities:
- Listen to a classical or jazz recording and talk about what instruments the student can identify or what they feel when they hear contrasting styles.
- You play something for them. Then get them involved by giving them an ultra simple duet part or letting them improvise on certain keys.
- A simple music-related coloring activity can make a little one's face light up.
- A simple game identifying 3 or 4 musical symbols.
Send the student home with a strong motivation to someday become a "real pianist." Play something for them. Listen to a recording or watch a video. Talk about what piano piece they to someday learn. Then sneak hints of encouragement into the first lesson: "Wow, you really do have piano fingers, don't you?" "You are catching on so quick!" "You're the first student I've had who's gotten that right the first time." Of course be honest, but find their strengths and compliment them. Surely they entered your studio with some doubts that this was for them or that they could really do this. Help them leave with no doubt at all!
7. Send them home with something to play.
The first 30 minutes fly by. You look at the clock and there are two minutes left. You realize you've had fun, gotten to know the student, talked through the first few pages of the book, but you haven't gotten to a real song yet! Ever been there? Plot out your time wisely so you have at least two short pieces for the student to play when they get home. It'd be a shame to miss this opportunity to set the standard for weekly practice while the enthusiasm is so high. Either make it a priority to get to the first songs in the method book, or print off your own pre-reading song to teach the student separate from the book (see the Primer Level options on my Free Sheet Music page for some possibilities--as of today, this is still in the works). Students can learn partly by finger numbers, partly by rote. Just make sure they have something to play for Mom and Dad this week!