It might seem like lesson planning is just the domain of school teachers, but this isn’t the case. Music lesson planning is just as important in the music studio. So, how do you find a balance between the creativity of teaching an instrument and the structure of a well-designed program for each student?
If we haven’t met before, I’m Rosemarie! From school classroom to travel teaching to online studio, I’ve always had to make the most of my limited admin time while keeping lessons highly engaging for students. This means that I LOVE looking for efficient ways to get admin done! Because as much as I love my studio, I want to feel like I have it all – career, family & personal fulfilment.
And, I’m guessing you want to have it all as well. Right?
Lesson planning doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time each week. But, it does need to include small & big picture thinking. Teaching online doesn’t have to take more admin time than in-person lessons (yes, really!)
Are you a planner? Or, more “let’s see where the moment takes us”?
A sound lesson planning system benefits you regardless of where you are on that spectrum. Even master teachers have a planning system in place. But, like professional athletes, they make it look easy while in the moment.
A good lesson planning system:
In other words, a good system will not only save you admin time but help keep your clients happy.
We all have different approaches in how we teach & what we hold most valuable in our studio experience. Choosing the right tools that best fit your studio is essential in ensuring your lesson planning system works efficiently & with ease.
When I was a travelling teacher, I used to bring binders of lesson plans with me. In the classroom, this meant better classroom management. It ensured we covered learning outcomes for each course. But, there were a couple of problems.
Firstly, there was no need for that level of planning when working with students one-on-one.
Second, there’s no way to get out of a vehicle wearing heels in the snow while trying to grab three teaching bags.
Trust me. I tried. It didn’t work. (Though my arms got a good workout carrying all that gear!)
I still needed access to quite a few resources and couldn’t just reach over to my studio bookshelves. So, I needed a different solution. The answer was moving as much of my resources to digital as possible.
Two of my favourites tools are Planboard & Google Drive.
Planboard is an online app that syncs with any device. I’ve even used it on my cell phone in a pinch! While designed for classroom teachers, there is so much customization (even on the free plan) that it’s checked all the boxes, saving me admin time. Plus, it works as my students’ practice page + my lesson plan. Having a streamlined approach & look means it is efficient for both my students & myself.
Google Drive is an online app that works as online storage. And yet, it’s so much more. I use it for everything from registration for studio events, shared family folders & keeping lesson resources at my fingertips. Plus, it’s a tool that my students were already familiar with, which meant less teaching how to use it.
Remember how I’m always on the lookout for efficiency hacks? Well, this has led to a lot of experimentation over the years in how my lesson planning looks. One of the benefits of moving my studio online was seeing if my system worked as well in a new setting. It did!
I go more into my weekly routine in TopCast Episode 257, but here are some tips to make the most of limited time.
And here’s something else to think about for student goals:
Yes, each lesson should flow from one to the next. But there also need to be milestones to show student progress.
This means balancing what a student needs to learn to be successful at their level and what they want to accomplish as musicians.
By keeping all planning digital, I can access it from any device. Plus, during lesson time, I can change small things & save a copy of the practice page in the last few seconds of lessons. My admin time becomes more about the big picture than planning everything.
Here is where it’s perfect to over plan. Students WILL take over if there is “downtime”. And, there is nothing worse than a rambunctious student that has taken over the group lesson. Suddenly there are kids everywhere & you’re wondering how to herd them all back together. Not fun.
In my studio, we have five multi-age/multi-level group lessons throughout the year. But, the overall structure stays the same, which means my students know what to expect. It also meant that I got rock star status amongst the parents when they saw their kids get right into activities & stay engaged for the entire 90-minutes. And, who doesn’t want to be a rock star in the eyes of their clients?
Hosting our regular group lessons online required experimentation. It is one of the things my students have shared as a favourite activity. They love the sense of community & connection with other students! They also liked that it’s a mix of activities.
To make online group lessons a success:
You can find some of my students’ favourite group lesson activities in the TopMusicMarketplace. (By the way, the “Jazzed About Spring” & “Travel Through Time” digital escape rooms are a big hit in group lessons!)
It turns out that lesson planning for online lessons wasn’t much different than planning for in-person lessons. A big part of this was because I’d already incorporated a digital element as a travelling teacher.
But, it’s more than going digital. This is only part of the equation. Getting off the bench is even more important when online.
Imagine having a conversation with someone that’s in your personal space bubble. And, they watch every little thing you do like a hawk & tell you how to fix it. Not so much fun, right?
As you plan, make sure there are moments you’re off the bench & don’t require eye contact. It creates a more natural, conversational feel to lessons. It also means everyone gets time to move around, which is much healthier for our bodies.
Lastly, make time for onboarding during lesson time. This is SO important … for both students & parents. The truth is you will have to make time to teach your families how to use the tools & systems you put in place in your studio.
Plan to cover everything, from using apps, printing off practice pages, purchasing new sheet music, checking the newsletter, and more.
Consider this: Would you rather teach during lesson time … or your personal time?
I choose during lesson time every single time, so onboarding is always included in my lesson planning!
My “top music” advice (pun intended) for lesson planning is to keep things simple.
Remember that including your students in those important decisions on goals & practice strategies takes the pressure off you. In addition, taking time during lessons to teach non-music skills pays off during the week. Lastly, be proactive about ensuring students have easy access to resources & practice help.
Our students can be an incredible source for lesson planning. You just have to include them in the process & put the resources they need in front of them. The added benefit of this is that it shortens the time you need to plan during the week. It’s a win for everyone!
So — what is your next step to streamline on this planning topic?
In TopMusicPro, I regularly host a Power Hour meeting where we set a clock and get things done for an hour, done together with you online! It’s a benefit available to members. (When are you ready to do a Power Hour with me?!)
If you’re not a member, you can check out membership options here and get access to upcoming Power Hours, and our flagship Lesson Planning full course for music teachers. Or let me know in the comments: what’s something you’ll be incorporating to streamline your lesson planning?
Rosemarie Penner is an educator, boutique piano studio owner & writer. She has a Bachelor of Education (with a focus on special needs education) and has been teaching for over a decade. One of the main things Rosemarie has learnt is that, as educators, we never really stop learning. Outside of lessons, Rosemarie enjoys reading novels, making a perfect cup of tea, and baking vegan goodies! Find Rosemarie at The Unfinished Lesson.