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How to make the best of the first month of piano lessons with a student with special needs.

Updated: Sep 20

“A good beginning makes a good end.” Louis L’Amour

Get to know the piano student.

When students walk in for their first piano lesson they’re not sure what to expect and their perception of the whole experience is flexible and in flux. It’s a new experience and they are hoping that it will be a good one.


This first month is the chance for the teacher to make sure that these new students get the feeling that they are capable of succeeding in this critical period before they form an idea that piano is difficult and beyond their reach, or worse, that it is boring and they don’t want to learn it.

A successful first month may not guarantee success, however, it is powerful and a sure big step in that direction.


Here are 5 goals that to make sure to give attention to during the first month of piano lessons to set the path up for success:


Goal #1: Get to Know Each Other.

Goal #2: Set the Tone for Safety.

Goal #3: Decide on the Best Structured Lesson Plan for that specific Student.

Goal #4: Start Building the Foundation.

Goal # 5: Teach the Student at Lease One Song.

 

Goal #1: Get to Know The Student:


The first month of lessons will set the path for a long relationship between the teacher and the students and their parents. It is the month to take the most mental notes, this is the month I am particularly paying attention and noticing my student's strengths and weaknesses, preferences, likes, and dislikes, and how my student learns best. I make sure to share my goals for the first month with my student so that he/she knows what is expected from him/her, and how to practice, and at the same time ask for their goals to make sure that they are realistic and within reach in order to avoid any disappointments in the future.

All of this helps my student feel at ease and in control of a new situation that may otherwise feel uncomfortable and intimidating.


Here is a list of some of the things to keep an eye on during the first month:

  • Fine motor skills and dexterity.

  • The presence of perfect pitch.

  • Communication skills.

  • Attention span.

  • Ability to focus on a task.

  • Visual tracking ability.

  • Sense of rhythm.

  • Ability to read.



Goal #2: Set the Tone for Safety:

Help your student feel safe.

This is the time to make the student feel comfortable, it is intimidating for almost everyone to try something new or learn a new skill that's why it is particularly important to make the student feel successful from the beginning. Paying attention to the following points will always set a safe environment for learning and help the student settle in as quickly as possible:

  • Using the student's name often.

  • Encouraging his/her input and treating the student as an important individual whose opinions matter.

  • Sharing the reason why we are doing whatever we are about to do and encouraging questions.

  • Keep the lessons light and not too serious.



Goal #3: Decide on the Best Structured Lesson Plan for that Specific Student.

Planning the best piano lesson.

By the end of the month and after knowing the student it is time to decide on our goals and make sure to share them with the student and the parent. Some of the decisions that to make during this first month are deciding on which method books to use and how to structure the lessons. 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. Deciding on a lesson plan and sticking to it contributes largely to a successful beginning.


Goal #4: Start Building the Foundation.


Foundation for a good piano lesson.

Playing the piano needs a solid foundation of basic skills without which it is impossible to be able to successfully play it. This is the foundation on top of which everything else can be built. Here are some of the important bricks in this foundation to focus on during the first month:


- Teach the 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.


- Teach rhythm basics and playing to a steady beat:

There is nothing that works more than teaching rhythm and playing to a steady beat through movement. Whether, you want to use maracas, rhythm sticks, a tambourine, or bongos and Jump to the beat of the music. It is a great way to take a break from sitting on the piano bench and move for 5 minutes during the lesson and refocus. The children love it and it makes the lesson more fun.

- Improve dexterity:

It is a great idea to start working towards this objective from the first lesson. It might take some students a few months to move their fingers independently and on demand. I like to primarily use three different activities to help my students with their dexterity:

  • 5-finger scales.

  • Hand exercises.

  • Playing with the correct finger, particularly during the first few months.


Goal #5: Teach the Student to Play at Least One Song.


After all, the student's main goal is to make music on the piano and play their favorite songs. If you manage to do this by the end of the first lesson, it will be considered a great achievement by the student and the parent, In addition to that, the student will be more motivated to come for more lessons.