Tips for Piano Teachers
1) Find yourself a ‘guinea pig’ to practise on before you start teaching paying customers.
3) Know your ‘rules’ – especially regarding payments and cancellations.
4) Keep thorough notes on your pupils.
5) Be well prepared before a new pupil arrives.
6) Provide a free notebook and insist that it’s always read and brought to each lesson.
7) Stock up on exam books for each piano exam grade and familiarize yourself with the pieces. The new ABRSM piano exam books (for 2017-2018) are available (with or without CD) for grades 1-8 from the beginning of July 2016. Visit ABRSM piano pieces at Musicroom.com or Amazon UK/Amazon US.
8) Have a format for each lesson – e.g. chat/practice review, scales, current piece, new piece, old piece, practice reminder.
9) Find out a little about the home situation before prescribing practice times.
10) Give plenty of praise – including for adults.
11) Ask a question rather than just telling information (e.g. “is the note you’re trying to read higher or lower than middle C?” rather than: “That’s a B”).
12) Cover pupil’s hand with a book to stop him looking at his fingers all the time and make sure he is reading the music.
13) Suggest mnemonics or other ways of recognising notes.
14) Explain key signatures (including why, for example, there may be an F♯ in the key signature yet no Fs in the piece) and relate them to scales.
15) If you are unsure of any scales yourself, invest in an ABRSM scales book available from scales books at Musicroom.com, Amazon UK/Amazon US or eBay.co.uk/eBay.com. (If you buy only one, choose the grade 8 book).
16) By playing a familiar piece with random rhythm demonstrate how rhythm is just as important as pitch.
17) Explain the purpose of a metronome and demonstrate how to use it.
18) Try note-spotting ‘games’ (e.g. “show me a bass clef G on the page” or “show me a minim”).
19) Encourage a musical ear and musical memory (e.g. teach a simple piece like Happy Birthday without music).
20) Advise interested parents on how best to help their child (e.g. by testing on musical terms and – if they can play themselves – by not telling their child what notes to play and – if they can’t – by volunteering to act as their child’s pupil).
21) To increase your piano-teaching business, try approaching local schools (see Teaching in Schools) or your local education authority. Alternatively you could organise piano classes (or – a more practical option – electronic keyboard classes) for beginners in small groups.
22) Reward young pupils with coloured stickers (to stick on their notebook or their clothing).
23) Draw a practice timetable in the student’s notebook so he/his parent can tick under each day he practises (and maybe be rewarded with a sticker).
24) Make sure a pupil can recite the finger numbers of a regularly-fingered scale before he attempts to play it. Then continue reciting finger numbers with him as he plays it.
25) Suggest writing scale names on pieces of paper and mix them up ready for practising. Have the ‘new’ pile one side of the piano and the completed scales on the other. Suggest a reward could be given for 10 out of 10 correct scales.
26) Rather than telling a pupil to ‘practise everything’, give him a certain task(s) as his priority but tell him anything he improves on top of these will be a bonus.
27) Sometimes a bit of imagination can make piano lessons for kids more interesting and therefore more successful (e.g. pretending there’s an audience present may encourage them to try harder).
28) Don’t be afraid to mention practical personal problems to your pupil e.g. that long fingernails are not ideal for piano-playing or that they may need to consider wearing glasses.
29) Ensure that your students and their parents know exactly what a piano exam entails and make sure you give them the cost, date, time and venue in writing.
30) Give your pupil a mock exam but never tell him you expect him to get a merit or a distinction.
31) Underline scales which have been learned in front of exam book.
32) Teach mnemonics to help pupil remember the order of sharps e.g. “Four Clever Girls Dance Abroad Exotically” and the word “BEAD” for the first four flats.
33) Give ‘identities’ to scales to help pupils remember them (e.g. B minor is “The Gappy One” as there is a gap between the sharps and F minor is “The Bad One” as it has BAD flats).
34) Don’t always start teaching a piece from the beginning: sometimes it’s better to start with the most difficult part.
35) Suggest some words to fit the notes of a tricky rhythm as pupils often find this helps them to remember it.
36) Give students a sight-reading ‘check-list’.
37) For less able pupils give sight-reading tests designed for a standard lower than their exam grade; for more able pupils give sight-reading tests which are a grade higher than they need.
38) When teaching music aural, try to make your pupil feel less self-conscious by singing along with him.
39) For pupils taking higher-grade exams, you will need to prepare written notes for the aural part of the exam (explaining texture, structure etc.). (See Grade 8 Aural).
40) Give exam results to the student himself first, rather than to his parents.
41) Start teaching music theory when your pupil has completed his grade 4 practical exam (after checking whether or not he intends to continue with ABRSM exams at grade 6 and beyond).
43) Have plenty of suggestions of pieces to suit all grades and tastes.
44) If pupils seem genuinely short of time to practise, give them small goals to achieve each week (and let him have some say in choosing these).
45) If a piano student is considering quitting, point out the social and career benefits of playing the piano.