How to Adapt Your Teaching for Partner Piano Lessons

By Nicola Cantan | Group Piano

Sep 06

Partner Piano Lessons

When I first posted an article about teaching partner piano lessons I was surprised at the huge reaction I got from teachers. They were excited. They were intrigued. But they also had tons of questions:

  • What’s my setup like?
  • How long are the lessons?
  • Do I teach both students together, or alternate back and forth?
  • What do I charge for this format?

As more and more questions came in and I started to think about it some more, it made sense that teachers were excited about this idea of partner piano teaching. With all the talk of group teaching and its benefits for piano teachers – many teachers just can’t get on board.

Either they don’t have the space, or the equipment, or they just don’t want to teach in groups. Maybe they feel the one to one relationships that they and their students love would disappear if they converted to group teaching.

But partner piano lessons? Now that sounds like the best of both worlds.

Sure, you won’t massively increase your income, but you also won’t incur any extra costs. You can teach in your own space with no extra equipment. It also might be an easier “sell” if your piano parents are apprehensive about the idea of group piano classes.

In fact, if you want to try teaching partner piano lessons – there are only a few tweaks you need to make to your teaching. Let me take you through them.

What is a Partner Piano Lesson?

Before I go any further, let me define what I mean when I say partner piano lessons.

This is about teaching two students, at the same time, for the full lesson time. Partially overlapping lessons (which I also offer at my studio) are a different story – although a lot of this advice is applicable to both situations.

Plan Partner Piano Lessons Carefully

Do I hear you protesting? Do you already plan all of your lessons carefully?

Good for you! However, with partner piano teaching, you really need to always plan it out. Every time. You really won’t get it away with sometimes “winging it” a little.

You see the thing is, it’s two against one now.

Not that your students are exactly against you (hopefully!) but it’s safe to say that kids are on one wavelength, and we’re on another. So if you stop steering the ship for a few minutes, they will team up and climb on one another’s shoulders to reach for the wheel.

steering wheel

This is why for partner piano lessons I make out the assignment sheets in advance and I suggest you do too. You won’t have time to write out assignments in two notebooks…it just won’t happen.

If you’re unsure of how much to put on the assignment – err on the generous side. It’s much easier to cross things off than to add them during the lesson time.

(Incidentally, I’m actually experimenting with pre-writing my assignments sheets for all my students after listening to Marvin Blickenstaff at NCKP. But that’s a story for another day.)

Follow a Format

Although you might do this for your one on one lessons too, it’s doubly important for partner piano lessons. This takes some trial and error, but what you want to find is a great structure that you can follow week after week.

Now, when you’re planning that structure, it should go up and down and on and off…the piano bench that is.

Your partner piano lessons will most likely be longer than your one to one lessons. (I suggest 45 minutes for preschoolers and 60 minutes for ages 6 and up.) You need to keep those little monkeys engaged and concentrating for that whole time – otherwise aforementioned steering wheel takeover will ensue – and this is likely after they already sat still at school ALL DAY LONG.

Bored child at school

Yikes! That means these kiddos are going to need to wriggle to focus.

Which is awesome. Because all those rhythm activities and games and other fun stuff? It’s waaaay more fun with someone your own age instead of just your boring old teacher.

So make sure your lesson plans yo-yo between singing and marching, sitting at the keys, playing a music theory game, and then back to the bench again. If you want to see how this all maps out – read this post about how I plan for partner piano lessons.

Expand Your Teaching Strategies

Here we come to the key point you might be wondering about. You’ve planned your partner piano lessons more meticulously, you’ve tweaked and altered your format so that it’s optimised, but what about when you are working at the piano? What does it look like to teach two students at the same time?

First of all, you do not need a second piano/keyboard. Just like with individual lesson teaching it’s a “nice to have” not a requirement. In my partner piano lessons we spend most of our time at the one piano, often with me leaning in to add a teacher duet too.

Depending on what we’re learning these are some of the strategies I’ll use to make this work:

  • Both students play in unison in different octaves.
  • Play in unison while saying intervals, note names or finger numbers. This gives extra insurance and makes it easier to stay together.
  • Students alternate every 1-2 bars, then swap. They both still have to read the entire piece and develop a great sense of rhythm to know when to come in.
  • One student plays while the other sings, then swap. This is very beneficial if one student is a stronger player than the other.
  • One student plays a rhythm instrument while the other plays, then swap.
  • One student performs and the other practices being a great audience member. They soon learn that they need to pay attention as I’ll be asking them questions about the performance afterwards – this is great for developing aural skills too.

Have you noticed something? With every single one of these strategies both students are learning the piece much more comprehensively than if they just played it. They get to isolate the rhythm, learn the theory concepts and listen more thoroughly.

For more awesome teaching strategies I thoroughly recommend reading ‘152 Strategies for Effective and Efficient Teaching’ by Dr. Julie Knerr. This isn’t specific to partner piano teaching, but it will expand your go-to list of strategies which is very useful when you are teaching two children at once.

Adapt and Improve Your Piano Teaching

The most amazing thing about teaching partner piano lessons and adapting your teaching in this way – is that it will also improve your teaching in general.

To teach partner piano you need to expand your teaching strategy library, plan more effectively and structure your lessons to include more time away from the piano. These are not just things that make for great partner piano lessons – they also make for fantastic lessons for all your students.

I’ve seen my own teaching skills improve so much since I started teaching in this format two years ago. Learn about 6 other reasons why I love partner piano teaching in this article. I hope you’ll consider adding partner lessons to your own studio.

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About the Author

Nicola Cantan is a piano teacher, blogger, author and creator of teaching resources. She loves getting piano students learning through laughter, and exploring the diverse world of music making. You can find lots of creative teaching freebies and ideas on her blog
Colourful Keys, and her book ‘The Piano Practice Physican’s Handbook’ on Amazon and other bookstores.

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