Teaching Piano in Schools

Some musical instrument teachers are employed by the local education department and work as peripatetic teachers. I decided not to do this, but instead, restricted myself to teaching in our local primary school.

If you decide to approach the school directly, you must first arrange to meet the head- teacher. In my case, the head-teacher at our local primary was extremely receptive to the idea of offering piano lessons to her pupils. These days, schools seem particularly keen to impress parents (not to mention Ofsted inspectors) and – as long as it doesn’t cause them or their staff extra work – they are generally very welcoming to a ‘guest’ teacher who provides an extra educational service.

The majority of parents are quite happy for their children to come out of classroom lessons for individual music tuition as this one-to-one teaching can be far more productive than the same time spent learning along with 30 or so others. (Also by arranging for their child to learn piano at school, they don’t have the inconvenience of transporting him to lessons).

The head-teacher may decide to restrict your teaching hours to avoid clashing with vital literacy or numeracy lessons and you may also find some parents request that their children are taught during the lunch hour.

It’s important that both child and parents know the day and time of the weekly lesson so that they remember to bring books and payment. (To be honest, I generally carry a spare set of books just in case as it’s amazing how many forget them).

Ask For a Copy of the Newsletter

It is also worth asking for a copy of the school’s weekly newsletter so you stay informed of school trips etc. and can re-schedule lessons accordingly. (Few children are so organised that they will tell you in advance if they’re going to be absent the following week).

Sometimes the teaching staff can be less receptive to the idea of piano lessons in school than you might expect and you could be seen as an ‘intruder’. Having taught at our local primary for several years, I now feel accepted but when I first started there was some bad feeling when a teacher caught me using the hall where she had planned a play rehearsal. Of course this wasn’t my fault – or hers – but it’s important to know when you start that the room allocated for piano lessons will not be needed for any other purpose.

I try to keep classroom interruptions to a minim by designing my time-table so that children from the same class are taught straight after one another: that way, as one goes back into class, the next one leaves. It’s important to show respect for the teachers’ – often very stressful – situation and make sure you communicate any changes in your timetable to them.

Organise a Concert

Piano teachers are sometimes asked to organise a concert in school or at least help prepare some pupils to perform in one: although this is something I have not experienced as yet.

Alternatively, you could suggest to either your pupils, or their teachers, that they are given the chance to perform in morning assembly. My sons recently performed a duet in their (secondary) school house assemblies which, I believe, was a great boost to their confidence.

In order to find pupils at the school, I ask for a paragraph to be put into the school newsletter around June each year. I explain that I teach pupils in years 3 and upwards – i.e. Key Stage 2, or what used to be known as ‘juniors’. (in other words they must be at least aged 7 but not still in the ‘infants’) so obviously I am hoping to recruit some current year 2s who will be moving up in September. I request that parents contact either myself or the school before the end of July if they are interested. I then write to these parents telling them a little about what to expect:

Hi, I’m a grade 8 pianist and I’ve been teaching piano at school since 2006 and at home since 2004. I teach children from year 3 and upwards. Before you decide whether you would like your child to have lessons with me, I thought it might be helpful to answer some of the questions I’m most often asked.

Q. Will my child miss much school work?
A. The lesson lasts for half an hour each week. Most parents don’t seem to have a problem with their child coming out of class for this short period: it could be argued that the one-to-one tuition they receive during a piano lesson easily compensates for missing a small amount of classroom time. I do teach at lunchtime as well, but obviously there are fewer of these time slots available. If your child does decide to start lessons, he/she must attend every week (unless, of course, they are ill – if possible, please telephone to inform me of their absence in the morning – particularly if they have a lunchtime time slot). It is also helpful if you/your child could let me know of any school outings which coincide with piano lessons – in which case I will try to rearrange the lesson for that week.

Q. How much will it cost?
A. I charge £11 for a half hour lesson. This compares very favourably with the going rate for piano lessons in this area. I will accept a cheque or cash but ask that payment is given on the day of the lesson (or before if this is more convenient). In the past, I have had to remind parents that their child’s lesson has not been paid for, which is both embarrassing and time-consuming. If you do not wish to send the payment to school with your child, you can post it through my letterbox.

Q. What about books?
A. I teach from a series of books by John W. Schaum. The first is called Pre-A The Green Book. You can obtain this directly from me at a cost of £5.50 (or I may have a few second-hand copies at a reduced price) or from a music shop, or order it on-line (e.g. www.amazon.co.uk). I provide a notebook free of charge in which I keep a record of the pupil’s progress and pieces to practise. I will replace this book once it’s full but if it gets lost please buy your own replacement. There will be other books which you may choose to purchase as your child progresses (e.g. Christmas carols and exam books). Please ensure that the books have your child’s name inside and that they are brought to the lesson every week – along with the notebook, which is crucial for ensuring continuity.

Q. Do I need a piano at home?
A. Ideally yes, but obviously you may not want to invest in one straight away – however, you will definitely need some sort of instrument for practising on. You can pick up a keyboard fairly cheaply and even the most basic one will be fine for the first few weeks. As your child progresses, I would recommend an instrument which is touch sensitive (i.e. the harder you press the key, the louder it sounds) rather than one controlled purely by a volume switch. You may also consider choosing one with a pedal attachment (this is needed after about two years). With keyboards, generally you get what you pay for, whereas with pianos you can pick up some real bargains second-hand. www.ebay.co.uk is an excellent source if you set the ‘search distance’ for local items.

Q. How much practice is needed?
A. Little but often. The main thing with piano practice is that it should be a regular thing – i.e. every single day. In the early stage it doesn’t need to be for a long period of time – five to ten minutes is fine. However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to make this a regular habit from the very start – that way it doesn’t turn into an ordeal, with parents constantly having to remind their child to practise. Although children don’t always realise it initially, the more they practise, the more they’ll enjoy playing the piano. With my own children, I’ve found that mornings are the ideal time. This may mean getting up ten minutes earlier, but at least it can be fitted into a regular morning routine. Evenings tend to be less successful as practice routines may be interrupted by after school activities.

Q. What about during the school holidays?
A. For those who would like to continue lessons during the holidays (and I would particularly recommend this during the long summer break) I am happy to try to arrange lessons in my home. Obviously there are limited times when these lessons are available as I already have pupils at home. Therefore, if a lesson is arranged with me at home and there is a last minute cancellation, or the child fails to turn up, I’m afraid I will have to ask for payment. I hope this has answered most of your questions.

 

I include contact details at the bottom of the sheet. If, having read the letter, they decide to go ahead, I have a telephone discussion with one of the parents to find out more about the child and answer any other questions they may have and – if they decide to go ahead with lessons – I contact them again at the end of August before school starts to confirm the day and time of their child’s lesson.

My only experience of music-teaching in secondary schools is from ‘the other side’: both my sons learn a second instrument (the elder plays saxophone; the younger has guitar lessons) and are taught by peripatetic teachers employed by the LEA. The lessons are subsidised by the LEA and we pay termly. Of course the advantage of this for music teachers is that they earn a set amount and do not suffer a reduction in income if pupils are ill or forget to attend lessons (as a surprisingly large number seem to do).

The other connection I have with secondary schools is through the pupils I teach at home who are studying for their music GCSE. My role here is to support what the pupil is learning at school and in some cases it’s a good time for him to start working towards his grade 5 theory examination as much of the knowledge needed for this is required for the GCSE exam and vice versa.

3 Responses to

  1. Helena says:

    I just wanted to say how much your page has helped me. I have been teaching part time along various other jobs for over 10 years, but have decided what makes me most happy is teaching the piano and that’s what I want to do full time. I didn’t know if it was possible to teach in schools as I’d never heard of it being done before, so you have helped me a lot and I now know now how to go about it and that it is possible. So simply I wanted to say thanks and I hope the schools I approach are as open to it as much as yours was 🙂 Helena

    • Jan says:

      Hi Helena. Many thanks for your comments – I’m glad you’ve found my website helpful. Yes, teaching in school has been great for me and at the moment I currently teach more there than I do at home. Of course this is not so good for my income during school holiday times (only a handful keep their lessons going in my home) but I enjoy it and it’s nice to get out of the house sometimes and teach in a different environment. Good luck – I really hope the schools you approach are welcoming and supportive.

  2. Noel says:

    Hallo Jan. I appreciate your experience and advice in regard to teaching piano. Particularly, I have learned that organizing a concert can be a key tool for marketing music lessons.

    All the best in your endeavours
    Noel

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