If you’d like some ideas about different ways to start a piano lesson, then today’s post is for you.
While we all know that routine can be great for some students, I like to mix things up every now and then. It keeps students on their toes and starting a lesson with something creative is a great way to set the tone for the music-making ahead.
Please see below for my list of 20 ways to start a piano lesson that I’ve explored over the years and you can also download a handout of this blog post below.
Notes about the List
While some of these lesson starters are creative, others are just designed to be different so you avoid always doing things the same way. This is great for breaking students out of a rut!
Don’t feel you always have to come up with new ideas in lessons – sometimes just doing things differently can be creative!
Oh and remember that there are two great questions you can always ask students at the beginning of a lesson:
What would you most like my help with today? (older) / What would you most like to show me today? (younger)
What would you like to do first today?
I always finding it interesting to see what my students choose when asked this question. Some go for scales and technical work to “get it out of the way”, others show me their composition or want to play the blues. Whatever it is, go with it 🙂
Back to my creative ways to start a piano lesson!
The activities you choose will depend on the level of your student, so I’ve tried to include a mix for beginners, intermediate and advanced students, or suggestions about how you can modify them to suit.
While all these activities can be done quickly, many of them could easily fill-out much of a lesson, if you have the time and the student is interested.
I try to avoid cutting off creative activities if the student is clearly engaged and motivated, unless we have other work that must be done; quite often, it’s the creative part of a lesson that will have the most meaning and impact for students in the long-run.
Most of these activities can be done without any equipment, but some use apps that are fun to explore.
I’ve added links to other resources/reading/videos where available.
Let me know what you think!
You can download the 20 Creative Ways to Start a Piano Lesson handout below.
20 Creative Lesson Starters
Play them something on the piano (or another instrument/sound on your digital) and they have to work out how to play it by ear. Play it a number of times and allow them to ‘doodle’ on the keys while they work it out between plays. Maybe you ask them to sing it back as they work it out. The level of difficulty will need to suit the child and it may take a couple of lessons doing this for you to work out how much/little your student can manage. Build on this each week for just 3-5 minutes of a piano lesson. It’s a practical and creative way to incorporate fun aural training into your lessons.
Spell out a word on the piano by playing notes (eg. DAD) for your students while they watch. Student has to tell you what you spelt. Then they get to play while you tell them what they’ve spelt out. This is great for beginners learning their notes, but for extra challenge, have them shut their eyes and listen as you play the notes, so they have to play them on the piano by ear and tell you what you spelt. It will be fun when they get to do that back to you!
Student creates a rhythm in MyRhythm App and teacher has to tap it out. Make sure you choose a good grove/style. Then swap roles.
Over the course of a few weeks, teach them how to accompany Happy Birthday (everyone should know this!) using chords.
Play a version of chopsticks with them. If they don’t know it, teach the by rote. Use it as a basis for exploring chords or improvisation.
Create a quick 4-chord progression in TinPanRhythm and then use a pentatonic scale to improvise on the piano while it plays.
Use DecideNow app to choose how you start the lesson or what key to improvise in, etc. You could put all 20 of these ideas into DecideNow and spin the wheel to start!
Ask the student to make up and play a chord progression in the key of “x”. Depending on their ability, you could also suggest a time signature and/or style with a LH pattern.
Teach them a simple song or folk tune while keeping a beat on their knees. Once they’ve learnt it, can they tap the rhythm or tap the rhythm with one hand while keeping the beat with the other?
Use Musiclock as the basis for improvising on scales. You can also work out the underlying chord progression. Students love this app and I have training videos demonstrating how I use this inside TopMusicPro.
Play a simple chord progression and get them to improvise on either white or black notes. Eg. Play Heart and Soul in C major and they improv on white notes. Play something in Gb major and/or Eb minor (or just alternate between the two) and they improv on black notes. See my “No Book Beginner” course for accompaniment notation.
Start with a rhythm activity like Rhythm Cups or one of the many fantastic activities in Bucket Drumming – great for students of all ages and abilities.
Give them 3 minutes to Doodle (read this post if you’re unsure about this) using some of the creative ideas from last week. This will give you an idea of what they’re doing in their “doodle” time at home (if you’ve been using this). Discuss and explore the outcome and give feedback.
Let them practice for 3 minutes just like they did at home this week while you leave the room (or sit and listen). This is great for students that haven’t practiced that week. Give them feedback on what their practice was like and how it could be improved.
Play scales to a drum machine (eg. SuperGroove Metronome). If they know the scale well, can they improvise using the notes while the drum beat plays?
Do some rhythmic call and echo. Start and keep a steady beat (use an app or metronome). Tap out a beat on your legs/piano/drum and they have to mimic it back in time.
Melodic call and echo. You play something using a limited set of notes and student has to copy you back. You can either do this keeping a beat or no beat. If you keep a beat, they’ll need to try playing their echo without missing a beat and may need a few goes. Student can either look at your hands or do it by ear.
Do some call and response. This is different to the above because instead of echoing or mimicking you, they have to respond in a different, but musically-related way. Choose a key and set of notes. You play a little motif that asks a question and your student plays a reply in answer. These are more ideas from my No Book Beginners framework!
Get your student to transpose a simple melody to a new key on the spot at the piano. This could be just a RH melody or lead sheet style with chords.
Give your student 3 minutes to prepare 5 different variations, interpretation or styles of the 1st line of a piece they are learning.
Phew! Hope that gave you some ideas!
Starting a lesson with something fresh and creative is a great way to help students focus, switch on their ears and get the most out of their lesson time.
Why don’t you try one of these each week with a couple of students and see how it goes?
Remember that you can download a handout of this blog post using by clicking the button above.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.
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