Teaching piano is a fun and rewarding job. A lot of people associate piano teachers as the “church lady” or a neighbor who happens to play the piano. But, those of us immersed in the field of piano teaching know that it’s a serious and important profession.
Whether you’re new to teaching piano or if you’ve been at it for a number of years and feel like you’re in a rut, there’s always room to become a better teacher.
Becoming a better teacher has little to do with improving your musical skills and a lot to do with your mentality surrounding your job.
Never Stop Learning
One of the best ways to be a great example and inspiration to your students is to adopt the mentality of a life long learner. Always be open to learning new things and considering new ways to look at things.
There are a number of areas this applies to as music teachers:
There is always more music to learn. If you’re feeling plateaued in one genre, find a new genre of music to explore. Maybe you’re classically trained but have always wanted to play jazz. Or, maybe you’re strong with chord charts, but you’d love to know more classics. It’s never too late to expand your own skills, even if you already have students who look to you as an expert.
Plus, there are always specific skills you could improve on:
- Chord Chart Playing
- Broadening Your Repertoire
Putting yourself in the position of a learner helps you to relate to and understand what your students are experiencing even better.
Technology pairs wonderfully with teaching piano. From digital pianos to apps and computer programs, there are so many possibilities for new things to learn.
Using new technology can be a bit of a learning curve if you feel intimidated by it. But, you don’t have to learn it all at once. You could easily find one new goal to work towards at a time, then incorporate what you learn into your piano lessons.
Here are some things you could try:
- Challenge yourself to produce an excellent, high-quality video or audio recording of yourself or your students performing.
- Find all of the best educational apps and start using them with your students.
- Teach your students how to create music using an app like Garage Band.
- Help your students create their own compositions and notate them with notation software.
- Start using digital sheet music apps to store, mark, and practice music with your students.
All of these ideas will definitely require some learning on your part if you’ve never done it before, but it will put you in a position to share something new with your students and learn something alongside them. And, chances are, your students will teach you a lot along the way, too!
(If you’re looking for apps, here are 9 excellent apps for piano learners.)
There are countless ways to approach teaching piano lessons. Many piano teachers default to teaching the way that they were taught.
Both music and education are ever-changing fields and it’s vital to stay current on the most up-to-date approaches in both of these areas.
Kids can quickly recognize when music sounds current versus dated. They can also recognize timeless music that hasn’t gone out of style. Music that was fresh and exciting to students in the 2nd half of the 20th century doesn’t necessarily appeal to today’s kids.
More importantly, the way kids are learning changes year by year. We know more and more about special abilities and disabilities when it comes to learning. We have access to more resources than ever. As teachers, we must stay current on these topics to help our student have the best possible experience at the piano.
Consider taking classes at your local university, taking private piano lessons with another teacher or continuing your education online through webinars and online conferences.
The Upbeat Piano Teacher’s webinars are excellent and well worth their cost. They are full of practical and useful tips that will impact your teaching immediately. You can find out more about them here.
Connect with Other Piano Teachers
Teaching piano lessons can be a lonely profession. Many teachers teach from home or a small studio. With the majority of our work time spent one-on-one with students, it can be hard to feel like we’re a part of something bigger.
Connecting with other piano teachers helps inspire us, keeps us accountable to a high standard of teaching and connects us with others in a similar position.
There are a number of ways to be in touch with other piano teachers.
Local Music Teacher’s Organizations
Many cities have groups especially for music teachers that meet regularly and hold events for teachers and students. These groups often have monthly educational and business meetings for teachers. They also host performance opportunities and competitions for students of their members.
Some groups are affiliated with MTNA (Music Teacher’s National Association), while others are independent. Some areas might have multiple groups and each group have a slightly different mission or flavor.
You can visit MTNA.org to find a group near you.
If meeting with other teachers in person isn’t feasible for you, there are plenty of ways to connect with other teachers online.
There are a number of Facebook groups dedicated to piano teaching. These are a great place to get ideas and advice and to get to know other teachers all across the world. Here are some groups that are worth checking out:
You can also join online communities like NAfME’s Amplify Community. Amplify allows you to connect and converse with over 60,000 other music educators, leaders, and advocates. The platform also gives access to countless resources and community forums; perfect for young educators seeking information and advice from their peers and perfect for seasoned teachers looking to mentor the next generation of music educators across the nation.
Attending a conference specifically for piano teachers is a fun and valuable experience. Most conference feature a mix of informational panels and talks, piano performances and masterclasses, plenty of networking and exhibits of the latest piano-teaching products and services.
National conferences such as the MTNA conference, the NCKP (National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy) conference, and the NAfME (National Association for Music Education) conference, are well worth traveling to.
State affiliates of MTNA often host their own annual conferences, and while they are much smaller scale, they’re definitely still worth checking out. Dedicating a couple of days to absorbing as much piano information as possible and meeting other teachers will always pay off in your teaching.
Stay in Touch With Kids
Tune in to what kids are interested in, even if it doesn’t interest you
If you’ve spent any time around kids recently, you’ve probably noticed that Harry Potter and Star Wars are almost universally loved by kids. Even if you’ve never seen the movies or read the books and have no interest in them, you can still relate to kids by being aware of them and having a general understanding of what they’re about.
Younger kids, especially girls get excited by unicorns and mermaids.
Legos will probably always be a staple for elementary and middle school-aged kids.
Find ways to incorporate these general interests into piano lessons.
- Star Wars fans love to drill note names using the app Staff Wars.
- Use a Harry Potter wand as a pointer to point to your student’s music.
- Reward students with some shiny unicorn and mermaid stickers.
- Use Legos of different sizes to demonstrate rhythms, intervals, and chords. Click here to learn how to incorporate Legos into piano lessons.
Taking the time to find simple relatable materials will make your students love learning with you.
Pay attention to music that is current and relatable to kids
Along these lines, stay in touch with current music, even if it’s not your favorite. Take note of what kids are listening to and what catches their ear. Check out soundtracks of new movies to hear what kind of music your students are hearing.
If you’re comfortable teaching modern music like current hits and movie themes you should absolutely make space for them in piano lessons.
There are plenty of accessible arrangements available that even beginning students can play. This current music often ignites an interest in kids and gets them excited about practicing and learning more.
Don’t feel discouraged that today’s kids are different than kids from your generation.
It’s easy to say things like, “kids these days”… They don’t pay attention like kids used to, they don’t learn like kids used to, and so many other negative observations about kids.
It’s just a reality that kids, how they behave and how they learn, will change from generation to generation.
Embrace who kids today are. Focus on finding ways that today’s kids excel, rather than noticing how they fall short compared to past generations.
Be More Than a Teacher
Piano teachers have a unique opportunity to impact their students in meaningful ways. We get to spend consistent one-on-one time with our students on a regular basis. Students often trust their piano teacher and are willing to share parts of their life with us that they don’t share with others.
This means piano teachers have a big responsibility to be a role model and mentor alongside their teaching.
This is something that piano teachers need to be prepared for and to think about regularly.
Plan for life lessons and non-musical skills that you’d like to instill in your students. Things like treating people kindly, staying true to your word, telling the truth, and being helpful are easy skills to incorporate into piano lessons. These are the important things that will stick with your students beyond piano lessons.