How to teach piano better

Do you ever feel like sometimes you’re teaching on autopilot? You want to be a teach piano better but you show up with no plan except to continue where you left off last week,  moving onto the next page in the method book, or going through the same motions every time. Does it leave you feeling unsatisfied, not in control, lacking direction or intent? Like you’re not giving value to your students? Like you’re failing them somehow?

Let’s talk about how you can flip this approach and teach piano better by showing up for your students with purpose.

Recently, when I got back into teaching after a break, a friend of mine asked me how I felt about it now. And I realised that something had changed. I no longer felt those negative feelings because I now had clarity around WHY, WHAT and HOW I was teaching, and that made all the difference.

You may have come across the idea of living your life on purpose. Which I take to mean you have a clear plan on HOW you live your life and WHY you do what you do. Not just going through the motions without thought or design.

Those of us who drive know the feeling of getting in your car, starting to drive and then turning up at your destination with no clear memory of how you arrived. You just got there on autopilot. It’s a scary feeling, right?

I don’t know about you but I quite like being in control of where I go and how I get there. I’m not particularly interested in living my life in a semi-conscious state of awareness.

But I didn’t always feel that way about teaching. And here’s why.

Teaching was a side gig

To be blunt, teaching piano used to be just a job for me. It paid the bills. It was not my passion. I was more focused on pursuing other musical goals. I was afraid that committing to teaching meant giving up on the dream. But really, that was just crazy thinking.

Whether teaching is a side gig or your life’s calling, there’s nothing stopping you from having a mindset of intention rather than obligation, of purpose rather than vagueness.

Lesson planning was non-existent

In the past, I never thought of having a lesson plan. The idea of doing one In the past, I never thought of having a lesson plan. The idea of doing one never entered my mind. I just assumed that all you needed to do was turn up and teach on the fly. I would bluff my way through anything I didn’t know and figure it out later.

teaching piano without a plan is like being blindfolded
There was definitely no strategy or program.

It’s pretty obvious to me now that flying blind only fuels anxiety. One of the best tips I have learnt for teaching piano better is to be prepared with a plan. This makes for a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience.

No clear teaching philosophy

Many teachers are not sure what their teaching philosophy is. This was me. I had no clear idea of what kind of teacher I wanted to be or what kind of student I wanted to teach. Sure I had a good idea of how to teach piano, but this was purely based on how I was taught.

I’d never thought about using my own ideas or experiences to inform how I taught. And it often left me feeling dissatisfied and drained. In many ways, I would dread my lessons?  I was not aware that showing up with purpose could actually fuel me, and leave me satisfied and energised.

And of course, make me a better piano teacher.

How to Teach On Purpose

Here are just 3 ways you can be more intentional with your teaching and give your students better piano lessons.

You’ll need to get clear on WHY you are teaching, WHAT kind of teacher you want to be, and HOW you are going to prepare and show up for your lessons.

#1. WHY – Be Realistic And Honest With Yourself.

Many teachers are born to teach and many have other passions or dreams.

And that’s ok.

It’s ok if teaching is not your dream job. You can still appreciate the value of piano teaching and how it can serve the world in many positive ways. You’re not giving up on your dream, this is just what you’re doing right now. It doesn’t have to be permanent.

If teaching is your full-time job (or you want it to be) then you need to make sure you’re set up for satisfaction in your work, NOT drudgery.

#2. WHAT – Find Your Niche Teaching Style

Whatever it is, your niche piano teaching style is what defines you as a teacher. It sets you apart from other teachers and gives you something to focus on when planning lessons.

Let’s say aural is one of your specialty areas.  Teach aural in every lesson and look into different ways you can teach from an aural perspective, such as playing pieces by ear or introducing rote pieces, or sight-singing repertoire, or playing duets, or improvising together to encourage active listening. For more on this read my post on how to figure out your niche piano teaching style.

Of course, that doesn’t have to mean ignoring the things you don’t like teaching, but for sure these things DO NOT need to be a focal point of your teaching approach.

Maybe you really dislike the limitations of exams focussed students and struggle to get them properly prepared. Then make the decision to not have exam preparation the primary objective in lessons. Make this philosophy clear to any new students and parents.

You don’t actually have to do anything you don’t want to do. 

It’s so vital for any teacher to have a clear idea of their own personal teaching style and not one that was passed down to them by their teacher, or dictated by parents and students.

If you make the focus of your teaching style based on the things you love, your lessons will not only be more engaging but you’ll find them so much more personally satisfying.

#3. HOW – Start Lesson Planning

having a lesson plan helps you teach piano better

Lesson planning doesn’t have to take long. It can be a very simple process once you’ve identified your niche piano teaching style. A very straightforward idea is to break up the lesson into smaller sections and list what you want to do for each.

Such as:

  1. Technique
  2. Repertoire
  3. Creative
  4. Extra (this could be rhythm, aural, general knowledge, sight-reading, theory, or games)

A 30min lesson could be broken up into three 10 min sections or six 5min sections.

Creating a lesson plan can take as little as 5mins. Thinking ahead about what you want your student to achieve in the lesson allows you to problem solve ahead of time and anticipate the student’s needs. Trust me, this is not only better for students but will make you a far better piano teacher.

If you want to go a step further you can think about where you want your student to be in 12months time and set some long term goals (in consultation with them, of course).

Pick 1 goal, like being able to compose a solo piano piece for a recital, and make a long term plan for your student. Work backwards to now detailing the goals for 1 year, 6months, 3months, 1 month, and 1 week.

Finally, have a curious mindset

having a curious mindset with make you a better piano teacher
We all know that curious students are more self-motivated, more engaged, and are most likely to make progress.

It makes absolute sense that to make progress in our own personal development we should have a mindset of curiosity and an eagerness to seek out new ideas.

Every time you try something new you learn about yourself as a teacher, about your student and about how students learn in general.

Knowledge gained through action and experimentation creates a level of personal satisfaction that’s highly contagious.

Give it a try!

About the Author

A multi-passionate music professional, Geri has many strings to her bow. She’s taught piano, theory and composition for almost 20 years and is an experienced composer and orchestrator in the Australian Film and TV industry. When she’s not hanging out with her 3 kids and her musician partner she’s usually found collapsed on the couch watching some sort of epic SciFi/Fantasy show with her cat Saffy on her lap.

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  1. Geri, this was a fantastic breakdown on teaching with purpose while still keeping a balanced mindset. Figuring out what you love to teach, using that to create a niche studio & then incorporating it into each lesson flows so organically as a process. And as someone who LOVES teaching & my studio, I can absolutely say this approach works!

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