“An hour of planning can save you ten hours of doing.” Dale Carnegie
A lesson plan serves as a wonderful guide for the teacher, it gives the lesson a structure and sense of purpose, and it helps the teacher be more organized and stay on track. A well-designed lesson plan anticipates different needs and helps prepare for the lesson.
Compared with other subjects, piano teachers spend less time with our students. This limited time makes planning and designing the best lesson plan to fit all the material that we need to cover very necessary to guarantee continuous progress without stress and overwhelm.
I prefer to divide the lesson into the following smaller segments, which later I fill up with the activities and concepts that I am planning to teach:
Depending on the age, level, and needs of the student, a warm-up may include a wide range of possibilities. It is handy to have a few preplanned ideas ready. A quick rhythm and movement game might be a great idea to wake up a younger student who arrives feeling sleepy. Another student might prefer to start the lesson with a song. An older student might benefit from playing some Hanon exercises. I have one or two students who love to start their lessons by improvising for a minute or two. the possibilities are endless and the lessons do not need to start the same way every time.
The main segment of the lesson
Whether it is repertoire, theory, chords, scales, preparation for a recital, sight-reading, or a new concept to be introduced, this is where it goes. Depending on the student, sometimes it is a good idea to subdivide this section into two or smaller parts with short breaks in the middle.
Having a younger student for a stretch of more than 20 minutes straight on the bench or one single activity might not be an ideal situation. With most of them, 10 to 15 minutes is actually quite a long stretch. After that, it works better when I change the activity taking a short break in between. When I mention a break, I don't mean a time of no activity. The student’s time is limited and wasted time is not a good idea, on the contrary, these short breaks are spent learning something that doesn't involve intense concentration or reading a score, such activities may include a short ear training game, a rhythm game, singing a song, and playing a percussion instrument to a piece of music and so on.
Ending on a good note keeps the student looking forward to coming for more lessons and excited for the next lesson. If it is a group lesson, this is where I like to add some performance time. The students love taking turns sharing something they learned, either the piece they have been working on, or sometimes, something that they have learned on YouTube, improvisation, or anything!
Sometimes my students suggest ending the lesson with a competitive, ear-training game or rhythm game, my younger students love to end the lesson by singing a favorite song and playing the tambourine while I accompany them on the piano. Anything happy and positive can go in this segment of the lesson.
Next, comes the actual task of dividing what we plan to teach into the most suitable time segments of the lesson. What to include in each segment depends largely on what the teacher sees as suitable for the student on a particular day. Of course, “The perfect piano lesson” doesn’t exist and lesson planning depends on the preferences of the teacher and the student and depends largely on the following main elements:
1. The student:
Every student is unique and as piano teachers, most of us teach students either privately or in small groups, which gives us the luxury to design lessons that cater specially to our particular student or group.
Some of the important characteristics to keep an eye on while lesson planning is the age of the student, his/her likes and dislikes, disabilities, goals and ambitions, level of music and piano knowledge, need for routine, ability to stay on task, and attention span.
2. Delivering a comprehensive piano education:
In order to do this, we need to include the five main components, not necessarily in the same single lesson. However, always ensure to include all of them throughout the course of the student's piano education:
If the student benefits from using visuals, it is a good idea to create a visual lesson planner, in the visual lesson planner, I include a lesson plan card, cards that represent the different activities involved during the piano lesson, and some smiley faces to mark each activity finished.
I laminate and use these cards to display and rearrange the lesson routine on the lesson plan card according to the needs of the student. After each activity is finished I mark it with a smiley face. Most students with special needs appreciate routines and predictability. Providing a visual representation of their lesson helps keep them focused and calm. If this is something you may consider, I created the following visual lesson planner that you can download and laminate and use with your students.