Piano lessons, in theory.
December 31, 2009 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Piano lessons! I've decided to start teaching kids piano lessons in the new year, and I have questions.

I have one willing student so far who's 8 and eager to learn. Her mother knows I'm a novice teacher, but I do have 30 years of piano-playing experience and a desire to teach.

-Am I potentially doing the child a disservice, not having a solid background as a music teacher? I do remember my early years of piano lessons, where I learned about theory and fingering and such, and assuming my student is willing to stick with it, it wouldn't be hard for me to guide her through workbook exercises, scales, etc.

-Any tips for the novice teacher? I've decided to commit to a month or so of lessons with my student and then decide with the mother if I should help her look for a more experienced teacher.

-I'd be interested in any suggestions about workbooks to purchase, too.
posted by emelenjr to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh I think you'll do fine. I gave a few piano lessons when I was in high school, and in fact, I took lessons from high schoolers when I started playing piano (age 8 or so). Most kids won't play for too many years, so how could it really matter to them how good you are? But then, the ones who do play for a long time will eventually move on to more experienced/better teachers, which is fine.

Also, I think the most important thing about teaching children is to be "good" with children. I certainly was not. In high school, I taught my girlfriend a little bit of piano, and then she came and helped with my class. She was a natural with the kids, and despite only being a couple hours ahead of them in classes, was a much better teacher than I was.

Good luck, and hope you find this rewarding!
posted by where u at dawg at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2009

Fun! I used to teach violin lessons and I miss it...here are some random things I learned (when I started, I was also very inexperienced).

- Showing/demonstrating is way, way more effective than telling at any age, but especially for younger students.

- Be aware that a lot of times, kids are too shy to speak up when they don't understand something, even if you ask them directly...again, observation is the best way to figure out if they've got it or not.

- Technique, scales, etc. can be kind of a drag to learn and practice. Making them into a game of some kind (there are tons of ideas about how to do this on the web) is a good thing.

- Try to get her playing tunes, even simple ones, ASAP. Most kids are going to be way more motivated to practice a 'song' than an exercise.

- RE: workbooks: are you looking for theory books and such? I worked through the theory books from Alfred's Basic Piano Course around that age - they worked pretty well. The rest of the Alfred's Basic books are good too if you are looking for beginning repertoire.

- where u at dawg is right; the biggest thing is to be comfortable around your student and enjoy being with kids. If you are comfortable, chances are that your student will also be comfortable.

Have fun! I'm sure you will do fine.
posted by Knicke at 7:40 AM on December 31, 2009

I'm a private flute teacher. On a purely practical level, one of the best things I've done is to require that students pay for an entire month's worth of lessons up front. It's an excellent inducement to practice when the lesson has already been paid for. Also, it makes it less like that the student will blow off a lesson when something more interesting comes up. Be firm about make-up lessons. They're only available when you've been given at least 24 hours advance notice that the student won't be able to make the usual lesson time. (Unless there's a genuine emergency -- but then it's up to you to decide whether a make-up lesson will be available.)

Put all of this in writing and give a copy to the student/parents at the first lesson so there won't be any confusion about what's expected.
posted by rhartong at 8:17 AM on December 31, 2009

My daughter took private music lessons for a while. I think rhartong's suggestion is a good one - we paid a month at a time for the sake of convenience. Decide if you are going to accept checks, and whether you will give receipts.

Also, plan what are you going to do about making sheet music available for your students. My daughter's teacher had a supply of books that he had purchased, and would in turn resell to his students (at no extra charge). Once in a while, he would make copies (on his office copier) of pages from certain books, and give them to his students. (I understand this was probably a copyright violation? He didn't do it very often - mostly the occasional Christmas carol or the like.) So you need to figure out how your students are going to acquire their music.

Also, please please occasionally veer off into fun stuff, and teach your students the latest hit or the Charlie Brown theme song or the local high school's fight song or whatever. That kind of fun stuff can do a lot for a kid's waning enthusiasm for practice.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:41 AM on December 31, 2009

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions so far. Please keep them coming.

It's especially helpful to hear that I should gear the lessons toward making things fun. It's been a long time since I looked at beginner piano books to know what's going on these days, but I have memories of b-o-r-i-n-g theory exercises I was given way back in the 80s that made me dread lessons.

These days I play mostly by ear, so working with a new pianist will challenge me to pay more attention to the notes on the page.
posted by emelenjr at 9:58 AM on December 31, 2009

When my daughter was in elementary school, she took piano lessons. The teacher told me one time that she seemed to have a lot more fun singing along rather than playing, so I came in here to suggest that you find a song the kids want to sing, then teach them to play that so they can do both.

Also, depending on how many students you get and what their interest is, our teacher held a recital twice a year. She used the choir practice room at her church. The kids dressed up and sat in one section, the parents in another. Starting with the tiniest first graders playing super-easy short pieces, they went all the way up to the graduating high schoolers who played fabulous classical or jazz pieces. It was great for the kids to show off and to see where they could end up if they stick with it. You might consider an option to decline if they are too nervous to participate.

Oh, and our teacher also was a member of several organizations, one of which sponsored a regional theory test. All the kids showed up at the college for a timed test and they later got awards if they passed. I don't have any idea what exactly that was, but here are some links that might get you in that direction:
Royal Conservatory of Music

Nthing the suggestions for monthly payments, acquisition of music from the teacher for an additional cost paid in next month's bill, and Alfred's books for both theory and lessons (they are different books).
posted by CathyG at 11:17 AM on December 31, 2009

Watch piano lessons on YouTube
posted by abbat at 4:57 PM on January 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the suggestions. My first lesson is scheduled for Monday (the student is verrrry excited about it, according to her mother.) I bought a couple of books in the Alfred's series, and a couple of books in the Faber "Piano Adventures" series, based on recommendations here and at the music store (where music teachers get a 20% discount! who knew?)

Word has gotten around, and I already have a few more potential students. This is going to be fun.
posted by emelenjr at 8:38 AM on January 16, 2010

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