Teaching Beginner Piano and Planning a Curriculum

By Tim Topham | Exams

Mar 02

This month’s theme is all about teaching beginner piano and planning lessons for maximum impact without relying on exam boards or other set curricula.

I’ve combined these together as many of the ideas will be linked:

  • The importance of finding connections between aspects of music (eg. theory, aural, composition, etc.)
  • How to keep lessons creative, fun and exploratory for students
  • How to sequence students’ learning to get the most out of their development

Teaching Beginners

I’m very passionate about giving students a fun, exciting, creative start to their piano lesson experience.

For me, this means that I don’t do any reading or use any method books for at least a term (10 weeks of school in Australia).

Instead, during this time I do lots of fun activities with students like exploring simple improvisations, getting students to create musical stories on the piano, lots of rhythm and singing work and so forth.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is to fill many weeks with activities that students are going to love, that are great for their musical development, that will spark their curiosity and that don’t require any reading.

We’ll also look at:

  • Why I believe in this aural/exploratory approach to teaching beginners before they start reading
  • What the research says about music learning
  • What exactly I do instead of using a method book
  • Related resources for beginner teaching – other approaches and courses that might be of interest
  • Rote teaching and much more!

how to teach beginner piano student

I’ll also be launching my 10-week No Book Beginners Course and will show you exactly how to get started on the next webinar and through lesson plans and training videos.

Can’t wait to share this with you – it’s been 18 months in the making!

Planning a Curriculum

We’re also going to zoom-out and take a look at the bigger picture of planning lessons (single lessons and series of lessons) for students.

In Australia and the UK (and many other parts of the world), piano teaching is heavily influenced by exams and many teachers, who were taught an ‘exam syllabus’ when they were learning, tend to use the structures and repertoire of the exam boards as the sole basis of the lessons they plan for students.

The exam boards themselves make it very clear that this was never the intention of the exam system.

For example, here’s Tim Arnold, Executive Director of Global Operations from the ABRSM discussing this in a podcast where he clearly states:

…an exam is a syllabus, not a curriculum. A curriculum is a plan of action for a year, whereas a syllabus is a measure of your ‘temperature’ at any one point in time.

Have a listen to our discussion about it in this video (it’s cued to the spot you need):

You can find out more about the full episode here.

So what do you teach and how do you program lessons if you have only ever followed an exam or festival system in the past?

And how do you fit everything into a 30-minute lesson anyway!?

Here are some questions we’ll explore the answers to:

  • How do you find good repertoire if you don’t use exam books?
  • How much music should students learn and at what level?
  • How do you sequence lessons?
  • How do you ensure technical work is covered?
  • When should you use exams?

Conclusion

I believe this is going to be a really affirming, positive, exciting month for teachers who struggle with these questions or have wondered about alternative ways to approach beginners.

Do you have any questions about beginners or curriculum/lesson planning?

If so, please leave it below and I’ll do my best to answer it during the month 🙂

Resources

See below for a list of articles and podcasts as they become available this month.

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About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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