Let’s Get Going! Tips for Getting our Students (and Ourselves) out of the Doldrums and Back into Action

It’s only Tuesday and it’s been a real challenge this week. Even some of my best students seem to be in Lala land. Forgetting notes and rhythms, losing music, playing scales with the wrong fingering. It’s enough to make even ‘the happiest piano teacher in town’ well…not so happy.

I’ve talked to some other teachers and I know I am not alone. Times are anything but usual right now and I believe our students need us more than ever. More than they need us, they need music. So how can we take the pressure off and make piano lessons a bit more fun while at the same time making sure that our students are actually learning something?

First things first teachers. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and musically.

Physically – Be sure to eat well and get some exercise, even if it’s just a walk out in the fresh cool air or a ride on a stationary bicycle. Do your best to sleep well and regenerate.

Emotionally – Stay calm, focus on the present moment. Keep a nice soothing cup of tea nearby. I also like to keep a pad and some colorful gel pens handy for writing notes. I like the colors and the smooth feeling of the gel pens. I keep my teaching place decorated nicely so I have something pleasant at which to look.

Spiritually – Let the music lift your spirit. If like me, you are a person of faith realize that there is a bigger picture and somehow everything is under control.

Musically – You and I are first and foremost musicians. Love the music! Enjoy it. Play, compose, listen, and learn.

Ok, now that, that’s out of the way let’s talk about our students. How can we get them a little more “jazzed” about their piano lessons?

Ask them what they want to play. Some of my student are taking a detour into some popular music, blues, and jazz. This is a great time to learn to read a lead sheet, improvise, or play by ear. All valuable music skills.

Play some games. Take time mis lesson to play a quick musical game. (We have lots of games at palomapiano.com)

Watch a video. I love to have my students watch great piano performances. It may be Lang Lang, George Shearing, or any other great pianist. I always ask them to imagine how they will feel when they can play well. I remind them to keep going, that at one time even these great artists were beginners and had to practice.

Play for your students. Show them what you are working on. I like to do a screen share and show them the score. We talk about key and time signature, musical terms, etc. I ask them if the music looks difficult. I talk to them about seeing patterns in the music and never thinking about note names while I am sight-reading. Playing for our students inspires confidence, and helps them realize that they can learn to play well.

Assign shorter pieces. Having a sense of completion is motivating. Students and parents will appreciate being able to finish music quickly.

Assign easier pieces. If students are really struggling easier music may be in order. Several less advanced pieces may be helpful if students haven’t been keeping up with their practice and need some review.

Assign a “reach piece”. Depending upon the student a more difficult piece that your student is dying to play may be just what the doctor ordered. Maybe it’s time to tackle that Chopin Etude your student has been dreaming of playing.

Schedule an informal recital. Having goals is usually helpful for students. A recital may just be the push a student needs to get up and get going.

Have meet-ups online. We were doing Saturday meetings on zoom twice per month. I plan to continue with this my students got really excited about this it totally lifted their spirits and mine.

Implement a practice challenge. I got this idea from one of the teachers on my Facebook group. Piano Teacher Apprentice. Challenge your students to increase their practice, and set goals for them to meet.

Invite parents to attend online lessons and even do a little playing if they’d like. This can be super fun and provide lots of laughs, not to mention bonding between parent, student, and teacher.

The main thing is to keep going. I really believe we piano teachers have something very valuable to offer our students and their families.

Take heart, I believe that things will get better. Hopefully, things will return to normal before long. I sincerely hope you and your families and friends are well. If there is anything I can do to make your teaching easier please reach out.

Godspeed.

Thank you for reading.

Doreen