Teaching Music Lessons In 2023

The world has changed since you first started taking music lessons. Discover what’s working (and what’s not working) in music lessons in 2023.

Teaching Music Lessons In 2023

Think back to when you first start taking instrument lessons. Whether that was over 30 years ago, 20, 10, or even five, the world has changed so much in that time. And as we teach the next generation, it’s important that we adapt to these changes, creating music lessons that engage our students and help them develop their love and passion for music.

Table Of Contents:

  1. What We Do At TopMusic
  2. What We’ve Achieved So Far
  3. What ISN’T Working In Music Lessons In 2023?
  4. Okay, But What IS Working in 2023?
  5. What’s The Solution?
  6. I Don’t Think I’m A “Modern Music Teacher”

What We Do At TopMusic

For over 10 years, we’ve been working at TopMusic on expanding the mindset and abilities of music teachers around the world. We want to enable them to impact, motivate and enthuse their students to fall in love with music and keep that passion for the rest of their lives.

During this time, we’ve been able to work with thousands of teachers to assess what’s working and what’s not in their music teaching.

We’ve also…

At TopMusic we’ve talked a lot about the power of rethinking the purposes of music lessons and adding modern elements into the standard lesson. Elements such as pop music, improvising, chord-playing, and playing by ear.

We’ve long advocated for more flexibility for teachers and giving students choice in what they’re learning.

And we’ve also worked tirelessly to help teachers run a sustainable, successful business.

What We’ve Achieved So Far

We don’t just talk the talk at TopMusic. We also walk the walk. Or rather, our teachers and our members do.

We’ve seen and heard the power of our modern music teaching approach in action from teachers like Maryla:

Music lessons have improved with the help of TopMuisicPro

And Wendy:

Considering all the effort you have put in over the years to help other teachers especially someone like me who had no formal training so often felt a bit of a fraud. I no longer feel a fraud at all. I have so many more students sticking with me for at least 3-4 years before they might lose interest and quite a number stay for up to 10 years because I know so many different ways to teach and have moved away from the “exam express” route (which is how I was taught). One of my best successes is that I taught a student from beginner for 9 years before he went off to Universtiry to become a high school music teacher. I hear he has now started working at one of the local schools.

Wendy Love

And Pinky:

Music lessons have improved with the help of No Book Beginners

What ISN’T Working In Music Lessons In 2023?

From all of our research and discussions, we can see what is and what isn’t working in music lessons in 2023. And we want to share our findings with you.

But first, let us just say something. We know that there are some students who LOVE classical music, happily work their way through exams every year, practice daily, love scales, and are enthusiastic and engaged with anything their teacher gives them. In our experience, this type of student makes up around 1% (or less!) of our studio. If your studio is full of students like this – lucky you! Keep doing what you’re doing! This section is about the other 99%.

In 2023, here’s what we’ve found isn’t working for the vast majority of students:

  • A rigid “classically-trained” approach to teaching is no longer connecting with many of today’s tech-first kids and adults
  • Teaching that doesn’t follow a goal-based learning pathway or curriculum with regular milestone check-ins
  • Teaching reading in lesson one and working through all levels of a method series before branching out into other music and activities
  • Only learning repertoire created in the 1700s and 1800s
  • Making the focus of lessons about reading, performance, and classical interpretation to the detriment of anything creative
  • Students not having a choice in their repertoire or music activities
  • Being pushed through annual exams or performances
  • Being taught by teachers who continue to believe they have to have all the right answers
  • Having teachers who continue to teach how they were taught without regard for how teaching and the world have changed
the downfalls of not having a modern approach to teaching music

This approach is leading to:

  • Limited exposure to all the elements of music and what it means to be a musician
  • A lack of understanding how music is composed, the theory behind it, and how they can make it their own
  • Students quitting and teachers struggling with retention
  • A lack of rapport and connection between student and teacher
  • Teachers losing business and struggling for income
  • Teachers quitting

Okay, But What IS Working In 2023?

On a more positive note, here is what we’ve found is working in 2023!

  • Flexibility in teaching approach and lesson content
  • Student autonomy in part of the decision-making process around lessons
  • Integrating music theory into practice through deeper exploration of the construction of pieces
  • Exposure to improvisation and composition right from the beginning
  • A broad-ranging musical experience that includes playing by ear, playing with backing tracks, singing, playing lead sheets, playing and singing, exploring chord progressions, and pop music
  • Helping students learn the way they want to learn in addition to teacher-led music
  • A move away from rigid teacher-student relationships to more coach/mentor
  • Using technology in lessons and including lots of modern repertoire

These are just a few of the exciting changes we’ve seen during the evolution of music teaching over the last 10 years.

We feel the best is yet to come.

What’s The Solution?

Many music teachers around the world have started realizing how fun and engaging lessons can be when viewed through a different lens.

Many have been totally inspired and reinvigorated by the materials we’ve shared over the years, particularly inside TopMusicPro.

Gone are the days of teaching every student the same music and waiting for them to play the same old mistakes and do the same old performances.

We believe this is an exciting time to be, or become, an independent modern music teacher.

However, we also know that old habits die hard.

It can be hard to reorient your teaching.

So we’ve developed the PRESTO framework to help you.

Whether you’re wanting to…

  • Freshen up your teaching styles and methods
  • Introduce students to new pieces, genres, and ways of learning
  • Encourage your students to be creative
  • Put down the method books and step off the ‘exam express’
  • Rewrite your policies so they work better for you and your students
  • Discover new and fun ways to teach technique
  • Fill the gaps in your teaching schedule with new students eager to learn

The PRESTO Framework is here to help you become a modern music teacher.

Read more about it here.

And listen to Tim talk about it here.

I Don’t Think I’m A “Modern Music Teacher”

“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a modern music teacher.”

“It’s too late for me to change my ways. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

“I know I should change, but I don’t know how.”

“I’m never going to feel like a proper teacher…”

Have you had any of these thoughts while reading this article? Or anything else along these lines.

We have something for you.

The TopMusic Certification.

Coming 2024, you can become a TopMusic Certified Teacher.

Our certification will allow you to sharpen your existing teaching skills and earn the qualification of a modern music teacher.

The July 2023 cohort is for TopMusicPro members only, with the certification opening up to non-members in early 2024.

Tim Topham

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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Teaching Music Lessons in 2023
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  1. I’m learning that I am not alone in this world of being “the older music teacher” with traditional hopes and dreams for my students. For the past 4-5 years I’ve noticed students, teenagers, wanting to stop piano lessons. In their words “I want to learn what I want to learn”. I’m an understanding person so I ask ” In your world, what is the ideal piano lesson?”. Answer is “I don’t want to do exams any more, (gasp) scales or theory, just songs I like”. “Ok” says me, trying not to raise an eyebrow, “Tell me what you want to learn”. Taylor Swift and someone called Ariane Grande. So, I start to investigate and listen to these songs. Eventually I find one that is not too easy, sounds reasonable and I set about learning to play them. I am a now a new convert to POV and My Tears Ricochete. Who would have thought !
    Well, its through these pieces that I introduce chords and theory ( which are heavily disguised within these pieces, also, patterns are rife) Thanks to Topmusic, I have developed confidence in myself and have found many different ways to teach piano in 2023

    • Hi Dawn! Your comment really made me smile 🙂 It’s so great to hear how you’re utilizing these new songs to teach theory and chords – your teenage students must be very appreciative of your willingness to find the songs they like to keep them engaged (I know mine always are!) Taylor Swift is always great for chord progressions, and I’ve found a lot of Ariana Grande songs use interesting chords that spark lots of conversation – one of the ones that pop to mind is “thank u, next” (but I’m sure you’ll have listened to that one!)

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