Summer Teaching Ideas

Summer is a great time for piano lessons. Unfortunately, many students (and parents) think that summer is a time for taking a break from piano lessons! This is so sad to me, because not only do students lose ground (and have to spend the first month or two of the fall making it up), they also lose the extra opportunities that the summer provides. Make sure your students know that you will continue teaching through the summer, and talk to them about the fun things you will be doing in their lessons.

(On a scheduling note, what I do is ask parents to tell me up front the dates of any family vacations, summer camps, and other conflicts. Usually these types of things are scheduled well in advance. I then look at where the holes in my schedule will be, and put students in those holes when they are in town—which means they will sometimes come twice in a week or for a double lesson (more about those later)—to make up for when they will be out of town. This way my income stays fairly consistent, and I don’t have a huge list of makeup lessons to do at the end of the summer.)

Here are some of the things I do with my students during the summer that we don’t always have time for during the school year:

  • Composing: We have a composition recital at the end of each summer, and we also put together a book of everyone’s compositions as a keepsake. Having the students learn to notate their own compositions is also a valuable theory lesson.
  • Playing by ear: Make a list of well-known tunes and send your students home each week with a melody to figure out by ear. If this is easy for them, have them add LH chords and try different keys. If they master that, have them experiment with different arrangements—break up the LH chords, add harmonic notes in the RH under the melody, move the melody to the LH, etc.
  • Improvising: This is related to playing by ear, but more on-the-spot, and could use a familiar melody or a composed one. Teach about chord progressions and melodic construction. For beginners, have the student improvise the melody while you play the chords. Try having the student use only black keys while you play a repeating chord progression in the key of F#.
  • Jazz: Okay, I don’t really teach a lot of this, since I am not well-trained in jazz techniques myself, but I thought I’d include it since it’s a good idea. And you might have some extra time to take a class yourself and learn some techniques to pass on to your students.
  • Transposing: Start with simple folk tunes and move on to more complicated pieces. Students have to read completely by intervals which is great for their sight-reading as well.
  • Theory: Ha! Of course your students do their theory diligently throughout the school year, so why have I included this? Because even the best students occasionally get out of the habit of completing those weekly theory assignments, and the summer is a great time to set some new goals and re-commit. Theory is also an essential part of all of the things I have listed so far, so if you are teaching composition, improv, etc. your students need to understand the theory behind what they are doing.
  • Duets/Trios/Quartets: We have an ensemble recital every summer, which is a great opportunity for students to make new friends and experience the pleasure of making music in groups—something which the solitary pianist rarely gets to do.
  • Accompanying: For another type of ensemble experience, find a voice or instrumental teacher that you can do a combined recital with, and match up your students with soloists or groups that need an accompanist. The skills they develop will be among the most valuable they can gain in their time with you.
  • Sight-Reading: This is another skill that is extremely valuable, and will be the determining factor in whether or not your students continue to play the piano after they stop lessons (which 99% of students eventually do, even those of us who study it in college). Use the more relaxed pace of summer lessons to spend extra time on sight-reading skills.
  • Basic Skills: flashcard quizzes, review of intervals, counting, etc. If these skills are not completely mastered, what better way could you use your time? Use the summer to conquer them once and for all.

Regarding double lessons/multiple lessons in a week: there are so many valuable things to fill this time with! Use the extra time to practice with the student and teach practice skills in more depth than you usually have time for. Or spend the extra time working on a new composition, learning to improvise, doing flashcards, or working on sight-reading skills. These double lessons can be some of your best lessons if you use the time well and take advantage of the momentum you can maintain in a longer lesson.

I hope these ideas are helpful as you are looking forward to summer this year. Please share more ideas in the comments!

Jennifer Boster

2 Responses to “Summer Teaching Ideas

  • Bonnie, thank you so much for this post! These are awesome ideas! I love that you incorporate so much playing by ear and composing…and what a fun idea to put all of the compositions in a book!

  • Love these ideas. I use so many of them and yet it's nice to hear them fresh with your spin on them-thanks!