Whether you’re teaching a first piano lesson, a trial piano lesson with a prospective student, or a meet & greet, you’ll need a solid plan to teach the student and interview the student and parents effectively and efficiently. Here’s my own lesson plan for a first piano lesson with a brand new student who comes into my studio for the first time for what I call a meet & greet mini lesson (definitely a low pressure and friendly name for our first meeting!).
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After our initial contact and before the family comes to my studio, I provide them with a “What to Expect at the First Lesson” handout so they can get an idea of how things will go, and so I can start teaching them what I expect of them when they are in my home studio. It’s never too early to provide the expectations!
This came about when I started noticing that new families were arriving 15-20 minutes early, and were hanging out very loudly in my waiting area, which wasn’t a good thing for the student I was teaching at that moment. So I put together this brief handout to give to all prospective students’ parents before they come to my home studio for the first time.
The big day has arrived, and they are pulling into my driveway. What do I do when they come to my home studio for the very first time? What are the best concepts, activities, and games to include on the first day? I always take young beginners through the following 9 items at their first lesson. Ready to see what they are? Keep reading!
1. Following directions
Often an overlooked part of the first piano lesson, assessing whether a child can follow directions or is willing to follow directions/instruction is a valuable aspect of getting to know the student and envisioning what lessons with the child will be like. Even from the first moment the student walks into my studio, I’m quietly assessing the student’s ability or willingness to engage with me and whether the student can follow directions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the entire lesson:
- I welcome the family into my studio and ask everyone to remove shoes at the assigned location
- I show them where the restroom is and ask the student to wash hands with soap, and then dry with the clean towel
- I tell the student taking off shoes and washing hands will always be what she does first every week
- I invite the student and family into the piano room and ask them to sit on the sofa
- I sit in a chair and we chat
- I ask the student questions (see the next section below)
- I ask the student to come over to the piano
- Then I continue with the lesson, asking questions and giving directions
Over the years I’ve learned that children who follow directions and who engage with me and with the piano are a great fit for my studio and teaching style. Children who are unwilling to follow directions after multiple attempts to engage them, or who choose to do things incorrectly on purpose, are not a good fit for my studio. Because we have such a short meet & greet session, I need to make a quick decision on this. I use the information I’ve gathered in the mini lesson and go with my intuition, my gut feeling. I will say that I’ve ignored my intuition a few times in the past, and after a few weeks I wished I had listened! So please listen to your gut on this, and you’ll be glad you did.
2. Help the student feel at ease
Engage in friendly small talk with student and parent to help them feel at ease – they’re in a new environment with a new adult (you!) and may feel a little timid or nervous. Ask lots of questions, and tell a few small stories along the way to relate to the student and let him know you are a regular person too, just like he is.
- Do you have a pet? What’s his name?
- What’s your favorite sport?
- What’s your favorite food?
- Who is your favorite band/musician/singer?
- Why do you want to learn to play the piano?
- Do you know how to play any songs already?
- What songs can you play?
- Which one is your favorite?
- I’d love to hear you play that one! Let’s go to the piano so you can play that song.
3. Rhythm activities
- We use classroom percussion instruments to work on steady beat and rhythm.
- Clap-backs (I clap a rhythm pattern, the student echoes)
- Play-backs (I play a very short pattern on a single piano key or percussion instrument, the student echoes)
4. Groups of 2 & 3 black keys
- I ask the student to locate the 2 black keys, then the 3 black keys on the piano, then on the vinyl floor keyboard
- Find them in a variety of ways: Hop, jump, play on piano, loud, soft, etc.
5. Music Alphabet & White keys, Higher & Lower
The first white piano key I teach is D. I ask the student to review the 2 black keys, then say:
- “Hey diddle diddle, the D is in the middle!” (of the 2 black keys). The student plays every D.
Then I ask the student to review the 3 black keys, and say:
- “F is the front door!” (of the 3 black keys). The student plays every F.
- Then “B is the back door!” (of the 3 black keys). The student plays every B.
After introducing these 3 keys, we treat it like a race, and the kids love it! I say “Play all the D’s as fast as you can!” and choose low to high, high to low, right hand, or left hand.
6. Teach a piece by rote
I teach students how to play “Billy Boy” by rote. “Billy Boy” is a brilliantly-composed black key piece from Finger Starters by Lynn Freeman Olson, and I use it to teach quarter and half notes, steady beat, form, ritardando, and Music Rule #1 (decrescendo), all during the first lesson. I don’t tell students the musical terms just yet – we simply talk about what the music wants to do.
I teach the piece by rote, then we play it as a duet. I’ve memorized the accompaniment so that I don’t need to play from the book, and that makes the moment feel so much more organic. We definitely make the most of this short piece of music!
The parents LOVE that their child can play a piece (or even the first section) in less than 10 minutes, the child sounds amazing, and when we add Music Rule #1 to the end (a nice decrescendo) then go even further and add a ritardando, I’ve seen parents get emotional during the interview. It’s beautiful. Read the entire post about helping students play musically.
7. Introduction to the lesson & writing books
- We go through the very first pages of My First Piano Adventure Lesson Book along with the tracks (Friends at the Piano and Will You Play)
- We also work through the corresponding Writing Book pages
8. Assess fine motor skills
It’s important to assess the small motor skills of your new beginner so you know where the child is, with regards to fine motor development, and what needs to be addressed or worked on in the future.
Recently, two of my new elementary-age students in two separate families have come into my studio not knowing how to hold a pencil correctly. They could write, but they were both gripping the pencil with all five fingertips (the static tripod grip, which emerges around age 3.5-4 years), and their handwriting and coloring skills were definitely falling behind.
I talked with their moms about this, and they both shook their heads and had no idea why their children weren’t holding pencils with a grip that would support their fine motor skills and improve their handwriting and coloring skills, so we got to work to help them take their pencil grip to the next level, with permission from the students’ moms.
I read some research about the importance of good pencil grip in the educational development of children, ordered these ergonomic grip trainers and started using them with these students. After several weeks and tons of reminders, the students are doing better. We still have work to do, but we celebrate small improvements each week.
I believe it is very important to know what kind of fine motor skills the children have already developed, and what kinds of things you will need to work on to further develop those very fine motor skills necessary not only for writing, coloring, and doing schoolwork and homework efficiently, but also for efficiency and ease in playing the piano. Read this informative article, written by an occupational therapist, to learn more.
Here are some of the things we do:
- Write their name or a sentence
- Piano key worksheets
- Coloring pages
- White boards
- Anything that requires them to write, draw, and/or color
9. Home practice instructions
It’s very important to help the parent and child understand that the lesson is just the beginning of what should happen throughout the week. I give very specific practice instructions to the student and parent,
I also email a typed practice sheet to the parents after the lesson, and after every lesson once the student is formally enrolled. It includes:
- What to work on at home/how to practice/do exactly what we did in the lesson
- How many minutes a day/how to know if the child is practicing enough or too much
- What to accomplish throughout the week
- What to expect from the child during practice
- What is expected of the parent (helping the child practice daily)
- Make practicing fun!
So now you know exactly what I do in a first piano lesson. Of course this varies quite a bit from student to student depending on the readiness of the child, and a variety of other factors. But this is my go-to plan for that very first lesson.
What do I do after the first lesson?
What do I use the next few weeks to review concepts and introduce a few more musical elements to my beginners, as we continue working through the Lesson and Writing books? The Beginning Piano Mega Bundle! It includes tons of worksheets, coloring pages, games, activities, and more. Give your youngest beginners a solid foundation from the very beginning of piano lessons. Here’s what others are saying about the bundle:
Click here to buy the The Beginning Piano Mega Bundle!
What do you do during a first piano lesson? Leave a comment below!