7 Ways to Add Character to Your Piano Lessons

Activities that will keep your piano students engaged… and won’t cost you more time or money.

7 Ways to Add Character to Your Piano Lessons

Here are 7 ways to break up the routine and add a little character to your piano lessons… without spending more time or money.

1. Mix-up your piece

Tell your students they are NOT allowed to play a piece as written this week.

Instead, instruct them to mix up the components of the piece to play it differently.

For example, they could:

  • Play the melody (written for the right hand in the treble clef) with their left hand in the bass clef, and vice versa.
  • Change the rhythm (straight to swing, move a rhythmic motif from one part of the song to another, etc.)
  • Transpose the song or change the mode.

2. Mash-up challenge

This challenge is similar to “mix-up your piece,” except now you are challenging students to take components of different songs and mash them together.

For example, they could:

  • Take the bass pattern of one song and use it in another.
  • Play the melodic contour of a song using the rhythm of another.

3. Change-up the song (a.k.a, tell me what you don’t like… and change it)

Ever notice that students avoid practicing songs they don’t like?

Makes sense – I avoid activities I don’t like, too.

Instead of insisting that they keep practicing that dreaded song until they can play it correctly, empower them to change the song by saying something like:

“It’s OK not to like every song you are learning. I don’t like every song.

This week, I want you to think about and identify what you don’t like about this song.

Is it the key? Mood? Melody/harmony? Rhythm? A specific section?

Then next week, tell me specifically what you don’t like, and we’ll brainstorm some ideas of how you can change the song so that you like it better.”

4. Composition challenge

Once or twice a year, hold a composition challenge.

I find it works best to have a theme, even if it’s just giving a song title or specifying which notes can be used.

5. Crazy technique

We want our students to develop good technique, but especially for those younger, restless students, giving them the freedom to explore out-of-the-box techniques can make their day!

For example, can they play a song:

  • Crossing their arms, so their left hand is toward the top of the piano and their right hand toward the bottom?
  • Sitting under the piano, facing away, so their hands are above and behind their head when they play?
  • Eyes closed?

6. Improv theme of the week

Rotate through different themes to keep your students improvising, such as:

  • 1, 2, or 3-note improv (focus on changing the rhythm as a method of improvisation)
  • Pentatonic improv (sounds great if they can play chord patterns using the I, IV, V, and vi chords in the left hand – or have a family member do this)
  • Blues scale improv (accompany with 12 bar blues bass pattern)
  • Scale improv (make practicing scales more fun by improvising the rhythm and adding accompanying chord progressions)
  • Minor key improv (easy to do in Am- they play all white keys, while you use Am and F arpeggios)

7. Literally add some characters to your lessons

Did you know that the world’s most adorable sports team plays the piano? Use some printable characters in your studio to help your students explore music theory.

Laura Gabrielson

Laura is a piano teacher, math enthusiast, and mother of 4 energetic boys. She created Team Stickey, seven colorful characters that play the piano, to make learning music theory fun. In addition to printable at-the-piano activity sets, Laura developed the Stickey Notes game for iOS and android to help kids learn to read music.

 feeling inspired? 

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