[Expert Roundup] Top Piano Teaching Tips Every New Teacher Should Read

By Sean Wales | New Teachers

Nov 27

Piano Teaching Tips

We have gone to the experts to give us their top piano teaching tips for new piano teachers. 

Learn from their experiences, mistakes and take in their advice so you can be the best piano teacher as possible. 

If you like what you see, why not check out our previous expert roundups? 

Bradley Sowash

Bradley Sowash
What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

More than one!  

  • That adding teaching to my musical life somehow made me less of a performer and composer. Now, I see that my teaching, playing, and writing all continue to benefit as a result of doing all three.
  • That I would not be able to find adequate materials for teaching jazz and improvisation. That turned out to be true so I began writing my own exercises and tunes that eventually turned into books though that wasn't my intention at the time.
  • That I wouldn't be able to explain or organize the creative concepts I use. Too many musicians in my development were vague either because they wanted to protect trade secrets or they just couldn't put into words what had become intuitive. In the beginning and sometimes even now, I do find that I'm at a loss to explain the whys and hows behind some aspect of improvisation but teaching "in the trenches" has made me a lot better at it.
What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

You don't have to teach it all at once. Break it down the new mental/physical/artistic skills to a pace that can be absorbed and applied. 

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

The first mistake was assuming new students knew more than they did and believing their own self-assessments on their ability level.

The second was that in the beginning, my teaching approach was to start students on very slow ballads. My assumption was that slow tempo tunes would be easier since they offered more time to think about what’s coming next.

Here’s why I was so wrong: Even pros find it challenging to keep a steady beat at slow tempos, the chords and implied scales in jazz ballads are often too advanced for many students, and novice improvisers feel exposed and lost trying to fill up all that extra space.

Plus, tweens and teens don’t even like slow, sad tunes. Oops. 

Wendy Brentnall-Wood

What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

It's a long time since I started teaching, but I still remember asking my own piano teacher, "What book should I use for beginners?".

In those days (we are talking nearly 40 years ago) I had the idea that you just needed one method book to teach a beginner and that the book would magically make it achievable for every student to learn.

I learnt that way so doesn't everyone? Fortunately for me, my teacher only recommended one book, (she was more focused on advanced students than beginners at that stage). It was the Leila Fletcher Piano Method, so I started with that but soon found "one size doesn't fit all" and I started to experiment.

Thanks goodness I did! I found bits in many books that worked and bits that didn't. Things that were missing and ideas I would never have thought of. By building a library and testing and observing with many students, and always being prepared to try a different way, I was able to find what worked best for me and my students to the point that I ended up writing my own program!

Not sure what books to use for beginner students? Why not download the first three modules from Tim's No Book Beginners framework for free? Click here for more information.

What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

Set boundaries between work/teaching and looking after yourself.

It is easy as a teacher to "burnout" by using every minute preparing, planning, correcting, teaching and managing your teaching business. It is easy to feel pressured by students and parents to keep giving more and more of your time and energy with "extra" activities, concerts, workshops, exams.

The biggest issue though is the unreliability of your hours if you allow makeup lessons without limitations. We all need to protect some private time, some family time and some time for yourself.

When you start out, I would encourage you to set strict guideline on when and how you will offer makeup lessons ( or not), withdrawal policies, cancellations for holidays etc. Set the policies, broadcast them so everyone is clear and be firm about enforcing them.

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

My biggest mistake when I started was not realising that young beginners have different goals to a university student.

Yep it sounds dumb now, but essentially I was at uni when I started teaching, and I was trained to aim for perfection in my playing. This meant playing the same repertoire for months sometimes.

My first students applied themselves well, but I was expecting them to aim for that same perfection goal, and insisted they play pieces for way to long! There are times when we need to aim for perfection and times when we need to learn and move on.

Eric Rinehart

What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

How to create a long-term vision/curriculum that would communicate what I knew from 16 years of playing experience in a cohesive effect fashion.

What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

Teaching piano isn't about teaching piano at the core of it. It's training a student to enter into a long-term relationship, and develop their character to be a better, intentional, accountable human being.

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

Being exceptionally accommodating to students; treating them as friends rather then as students who want to be influenced by me.

Rachael Wherry

What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

I was worried I wasn’t good enough.

I knew there were people out there who were way better pianists than I was and I thought that I might let my pupils down. This is a pointless worry as there is always going to be better pianists than you!

I had a music degree and a teaching qualification I was actually very well qualified to start my own business but I was still scared and undercharged for my lessons.

What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

Your job is to help them love music, love the piano, send them away from every lesson having had fun and wanting to come back.

Oh, and celebrate small successes and always break things down into manageable chunks so the pupil is always successful. 

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

Business wise I undercharged and pupils paid for individual lessons as they came. Bad idea!

Musical wise I expected way too much of my pupils. I didn’t appreciate that playing the piano was just one aspect of their lives. I thought their academic musical success was linked to my reputation as a teacher and I put ridiculous amounts of pressure on them to practise, perform and do exams. I wince to think about it now.

Do you need help sorting out billing and charges for your students? Have you considered converting to monthly billing? This post will walk you through the process - it is one of our most popular of the year so far!

Markus Kreischer

What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

My biggest worry when I started teaching was not to be professional enough and that my students would notice that I was a total beginner in teaching.

As I started to teach I hadn’t any pedagogical education but I was very dedicated to learn as quick as possible. I figured the quickest way would be to just start off and learn on the fly. Luckily I could acquire three adult students who where easy to teach and all went well.

What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

Ask experienced teachers (like many of the Inner Circle members) about which approaches will work with the students you are going to teach.

Get as good as possible in recognizing differences between what you are telling the student and what the student actually decides to do and why these differences occur. This will help to connect to your students - one of the most important keys of building motivation.

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

The biggest mistake I made when I started teaching was to think that all students would learn to play the piano in the same way as I did. So I gave them pieces that were way too advanced for them to start with and I failed to see that learning to read music is in fact difficult. I only taught classical repertoire, no pop, rock and improvisation - a no go nowadays. 

Sharon Mark-Teggart

What was your biggest worry when you started teaching, and why?

“I’m not good enough.”

The idea of teaching was sparked off by an earnest, yet casual, remark made by my piano teacher, when I called to pick up my Grade 8 piano certificate during the summer of 1997: “You should teach a bit of piano now.”

So, without any clear idea of how or what I was going to teach, I set off in a pretty ad hoc way. Looking back, I wasn’t “good enough”. Yet it was that feeling that spurred me on to become better.

What is one piece of advice you wish you were told before you started teaching music?

A single day of professional development is not a catalyst for change. Discovering a new idea is not enough to facilitate success. Nor will it help you to explore your potential.

It’s the ongoing feature of professional development that is significant to becoming a more effective piano teacher. For effective and meaningful changes to happen there needs to be an ongoing, active process, a set of clear goals and a sense of commitment and accountability 

What was your biggest mistake you made when you started teaching?

I spent my first five years as a piano teacher being as earnest and dedicated in the best way I knew how. I knew that I lacked many essential skills, so right from the start I engaged frequently in one-off professional development events.

Yet these one-off events weren’t a catalyst for change. They recharged my batteries for about two weeks. Then everything seemed to resort back to the old, not-working-very-well routine again.

However, when I did a postgraduate diploma course, where I had to submit written assignments about my teaching every other week for two years, everything changed.

Conclusion 

I hope you enjoyed our expert roundup for this month. There were plenty of great experiences there to draw on. 

As always, if you are after unique resources and exclusive piano teaching courses, the Inner Circle is waiting for you. Click here to find out more

What mistakes did you make when you started teaching  piano? Can you relate to our experts' advice and experiences? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About the Author

Sean is one of Tim’s former piano students, now in his third year of study at the University of Melbourne. Majoring in Italian and Media and Communications, he hopes to one day work as a journalist overseas.

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