10 Tips for Teaching Transfer Piano Students

Transfer Piano Students

“Hello…Ms. Hall?” “Yes, this is she” “My name is Sherry I am looking for a new piano teacher for my daughter Angie do you have any openings in your studio for  new piano students?”

“Hmm, a transfer piano student,” I think to myself. Am I excited because I may get a student who can play well and is ready for some great repertoire? Or am a filled with trepidation thinking about all of the remediations I may have to do? To be honest, a little bit of both. But transfer students are part of the game so here are 10 tips that will help you book those transfer students have great success.


  1. Have both the potential student and her parents attend the first lesson. You really want to be able to speak with whoever is responsible for booking the lesson. Ask that the student bring along any music on which she is working. Let them know that you will be expecting the student to play for you so that you can place the student at the correct level.
  2. Be well prepared and ready for anything. Make sure your teaching space is neat and free of distractions. Have many levels of music on hand for the student should he show up without any music to play.
  3. When potential transfer piano students first enter the studio have the student sit beside mom or dad while you sit at the piano. Take this time to get to know them a little. I always ask how long the student has been playing, how much practicing they are normally doing and most importantly whether or not they enjoy playing the piano. I want to make sure the student feels at ease and not as though they are at an audition.
  4. Be ready to play something yourself. Parents love this! A nice, short but flashy piece is sure to impress both student and parent and set you up as the expert.
  5. At some point, it is time for the new student to play something for you. Ask him to play something he likes and knows very well. Be sure to point out all of the good things you see and hear. Does he have great technique? Perfect rhythm? Does he sit up straight and tall? I am sure you can find something good to say. After that, do some teaching. Dive in and show your stuff. Parents want to get an idea of your teaching style and your expertise.        Read the post about “Sight Reading”
  6. Refrain from asking questions about the previous teacher or criticizing his or her pedagogy (or lack thereof). Keep everything positive. You will have plenty of time to remediate problems and teach new concepts later.
  7. Assuming things go well. Five or so minutes before the end of the lesson be sure to book the next appointment. Now is the time for them to sign up. Have your schedule ready, any parent materials you want to give them including your studio policy. If mom or dad is not prepared to pay your monthly or semester fee at that moment let them bring it to the next lesson. There is always a chance they may not come back but you have a much better chance of getting the student if they have an appointment set up. Read the post “10 Ways to Make Your Piano Studio More Profitable”
  8. At the second lesson, it’s time to get to work. My number one most important tip for working with transfer piano students is, always assign repertoire that is about two levels below where you think they should be playing. There are two reasons for this; first, most transfer students have some gaps in their learning and second it is much better to speed through some easy music and boost a student ahead then it is to have to pull back and assign an easier piece. Working through some easier music builds confidence and gives the student a chance to review some skills and fill in some gaps while having to step down to something easier is discouraging.
  9. As you work with your new student you will discover her strengths and areas that need to be worked on more. You will most certainly find things that you would have done differently than her previous teacher. I recommend reserving judgment and gently steering your new student in the direction you would like to see her go.
  10. Keep an open mind about everything. It will take time for you to develop a relationship with your new student. There are many reasons students change piano teachers. Some are wonderfully trained and are coming to you because of a move or because the former teacher has retired. Others have had a bad experience with a teacher or may have been dismissed from a teacher due to a lack of practice or some other situation.

I hope that these tips will be helpful when getting started with transfer piano students. I have had many over my years of piano teaching. By and large, they are a pleasure to teach and do very well. I find that I am challenged and learn a lot from each and every one.

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Teaching Piano Students to be “Let Go” Players

Boy-jumping-off-a-cliff1Piano Students Need to Let Go!

Nicholas was playing the Beethoven Minuet in G Major when he suddenly lost his place in the trio section. “Ms. Hall where am I?” he asked. “Second line, second measure” I answered. My student then did something rather strange. He pointed to the measure with his nose. “You mean right here?” he asked again. I have seen this behavior before. This boy doesn’t want to let go of the keys. He is hanging on for dear life as though he may never find them again.

There is definitely a fear among less experienced players that they will lose their bearings on the keyboard. They feel that by being in close contact with the keys they will lessen the chances of making a mistake. It’s kind of like walking on a winding mountain trail, hugging side as closely as possible for fear of falling off of the edge. Just hang on and everything will OK.

But will it? While may or may not increase the chances of playing accurately this overly cautious playing can’t be very much fun for the player or an audience. In the end, this “Hang On” playing is not very musical and it’s not what I want for my students. I want my students to be “Let Go” players.

Playing the Piano is Fun!

I tell my students that in order to be a “Let Go” player you have to let go of the idea that playing the piano is something to worry about. Playing the piano is supposed to be fun! With some careful practice and the right mindset it can be. Let me explain how I teach my piano students to be “Let Go” players.

Right from the start while teaching piano students I teach beginners to lift and relax their hands. We practice playing a note using the pad of each finger and then lifting and gently closing the hand as if picking something up. After that, we work with several notes at a time, and them all five fingers. Playing, lifting and relaxing. I remind my students to relax and have fun. If I see a student getting nervous or hanging on to the keys I have them go back to their simple “Let Go” exercises.

For more advanced players I believe the key is to choose appropriate repertoire and practice letting go. If a piece is too difficult it is natural for a student to become stressed. Stress causes the student to be fearful of making mistakes, resulting in a stiff or “Hang On” style of playing. To combat this I intentionally have my students practice slowly with relaxed arms and hands. I use a “place and play” technique for practicing. This is especially effective for left-hand jumps. It works like this; play a note then go to the next note or chord as quickly as possible, place your fingers on the keys before depressing them. This allows muscle memory to come into play your hand and arm will remember just how far it has to go to get the right notes.

Something else that really helps is demonstrating “Let Go” playing while working with students and having the watch great concert pianists. This way they can see what “Let Go” playing looks like. I point out to them that music is a performance art and performance is about watching as well as listening. How we sound, look, and feel while we play determines the experience our audience will have.

I also make it a point to refer to my students as “pianists” from the very first lesson. I want them to see themselves as real musicians. I let them know that it doesn’t matter if they are playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or a Chopin Etude their job is to make the music they are playing beautiful, interesting and meaningful. Because that is what the art of music is all about.

Read the post, “Love Will Keep Us Together Helping Students Fall in Love With the Piano”

Playing the Piano is About Letting Go!

It was Beethoven who said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant, to play without passion is inexcusable”. Making music is not about perfection. As much as we all strive for the error-free performance, mistakes happen. Sometimes big ones! But playing music is about being human, about connecting with others. It should be something that makes people happy, and that includes the performer.

So, in conclusion, being a “Let Go” player is about preparing the music well and then enjoying the experience of playing the music. Playing the piano is awesome! That’s why (almost) everyone wishes they could. I encourage my students to have fun let go and play!

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