The first month with a new student sets up the student and teacher for either a successful or a bumpy road of piano lessons. Beginnings are very important, new students will decide very early, and within the first month, whether they like piano lessons or not, they will form an idea whether they believe that piano is easy or beyond their reach, and they will decide whether they are going to cooperate with you or ask their parents to quit. The following suggestions are shared to help guide you through a successful start.
1. Know each other
The first month of lessons will set the path for a long relationship with your student and the parent. Always be present, attentive, and take note of your student's likes, dislikes, talents, and difficulties. Make sure to let your student and parent know your goals for the first month, know what is expected from them, and how to practice. This will help the student feel at ease and in control of a new situation that may otherwise feel uncomfortable and intimidating.
Discuss your goals, the student's goals, and the parent's goals to make sure that they are realistic and within reach in order to avoid any disappointments in the future. I prefer to always under-promise and over-deliver.
It is very important to notice during this first month if your student has any particular talent or difficulties. Things to watch out for:
Fine motor skills and finger independence.
Perfect pitch and an excellent auditory memory.
Ability to focus on a task.
Sense of rhythm.
Ability to read.
2. Write down a plan
Hopefully, by the end of the month and after knowing your student really well you are able to decide on your long-term and short-term goals and share it with your student and the parent. Design their best possible plan and set it into motion.
Decide on which method books to use, I don't believe in the one size fits all. Each student needs a different approach. In the end, they will probably all meet at the same point, however, the beginnings do not always have to be the same.
Teaching children with special needs taught me that they crave routine and structure, the more structured and predictable my lessons are, the better they cooperate and perform. Decide on a lesson plan and stick to it to your best ability and if you feel the need to change it during a specific lesson, involve your student and explain what is happening.
3. Build your Foundation
Start by teaching the basics, the foundation on which you will build everything else. Make sure you have all the skills that you need to teach all the concepts that are going to show up during future lessons, check HERE to understand more about how to determine these skills.
During your first month of lessons you need to focus on the following:
- Geography of the piano.
The 3 black key 2 black key pattern is not obvious to all students. Some of them find it challenging to observe patterns and understand them, and will need more than one lesson to grasp the idea. You can do very little in teaching anyone to play piano without first teaching this white/black key pattern. I like to use colored popsicle sticks and turn this into a game that we play during the first few lessons. Check HERE for more ideas.
- Rhythm basics.
I found the best way to teach rhythm is through movement. Whether, you want to use maracas, rhythm sticks, a tambourine, bongos. It is a great way to take a break from sitting on the piano bench and move for 5 minutes during the lesson, refocus, sing, and move to a rhythm. The children love it and it makes the lesson more fun.
- Moving the fingers independently.
Start working towards this objective from the first lesson. It might take you a few months with some students. I primarily use 3 different activities to help my students with their dexterity, check it out HERE.
4. Teach your student to play at least one song by rote.
After all, the child is coming to you because she wants to play songs on the piano. If you manage to do this by the end of the first lesson, it will be considered a great achievement by the parent, and the student will be more motivated to come for more lessons.