When Students Forget Their Books

Have you ever had a student arrive at their lesson, only to announce that they accidentally left all their books at home?

As ridiculous as it sounds, I think we all have experienced this in our studios at one time or another. The question is, how do you respond to a situation like this?

Get annoyed?
Send them home?
Teach them anyway?
Schedule a make-up lesson (which really isn’t fair to you, since it’s their fault they forgot their books in the first place)?
I recently had a student call an hour before a scheduled lesson to tell me she forgot her books that day so she would just skip this week and come next time (she had already paid me, so it wasn’t my loss). Do we just let the student miss a valuable week of lessons and slow down in their progress?

I have gotten to a point in my teaching where when something like this happens, I no longer panic and instead see it as an opportunity for a great piano lesson!

There are oh so many things you can teach a student without their books! In fact, shouldn’t we as piano teachers have enough musical knowledge to teach a student a great lesson without needing to rely on a method book as a crutch? It may be wise to try and keep a copy of your students’ method books in your own library to pull out in these types of situations…but even if you don’t have their exact book, there are SO MANY things you can do at a lesson instead.

25 Things to Do at a Piano Lesson When a Student Forgets Their Books


Sight read.


Have a 30-minute theory lesson.


Work on scales/technique.


Try some fakebook playing/harmonization exercises!


Transpose a hymn.


Teach them about your favorite composer and listen to a piece.


Show them a YouTube video of one of the GREATS performing a piece the student is working on.


Play duets.


Talk about how to accompany.


Teach them how to conduct music.


Listen to music from your iTunes and practice finding the underlying beat.


Using their knowledge of primary chords, help them figure out how to play “Happy Birthday to You!”


Get out a piece from your own library and have an entire lesson on how to learn a new piece.


Teach them about good practicing tips.


Show them the inside of your piano and teach them how it works.


Teach them about the damper pedal and let them play simple arpeggios while holding down the pedal.


Do some ear training.


Make up some musical question and answer phrases.


Teach them about major & minor, then have them listen to excerpts of pieces and identify if it is major or minor (or sounds “happy” or “sad”).


Teach them about simple transposition by changing from one five-finger position to another.


Improvise a song about a thunderstorm. Or a train. Or Halloween.


Have a lesson on a new technique, such as staccato or legato.


Teach them the blues scale. Improvise some blues riffs!
Have a few music theory games on hand to pull out in situations such as this.


Quiz them on flashcards.


Have a flashcard “spelling bee” and see how quickly they can spell words with their flashcards (cage, face, age, facade, ace, etc.)

Have confidence in your experience, your training, and your musical knowledge, and don’t even flinch – teach them a stellar lesson on something you usually don’t have much time for during the lesson! After all, are we not trying to produce well-rounded musicians? Use this opportunity to round out their music education a bit and focus on something other than their repertoire for one week.

Jennifer Boster

10 Responses to “When Students Forget Their Books

  • I have a copy of all the method books my students use. But if for some reason I didn't, then I would definitely use the opportunity to do some different activities.

  • I am reading your post having just taught a "forgotten books" lesson! It turned out to be a great lesson because my student discovered that she pretty much had her pieces memorized and we were able to really get into the music by figuring out the passages where she was less sure. It forced her to use her ear more and to really think about and analyze her pieces!

  • Jennifer – definitely a smart idea! And Luba – that is awesome! What a great opportunity to work on memorization.

  • Oddly enough, I have never had this happen. However, if it did I would not be at a loss for things to do! I usually spend at least half of the lessons outside of the books anyway. And I find myself running out of time- so much to teach, so little time! I have tons of review games, sight reading and ear training exercises, etc.

    Good post!

  • I have this happen periodically and never get too annoyed. Some students claim that they have their songs memorized and we explore just how far they can go. It can be a problem if I can't recall the piece but I have copies of most of their pieces and books. What is the most disconcerting is that we lose the ability to write notes in their music. Thank-you for your added suggestions.

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing your ideas.


  • Anonymous
    6 years ago

    I forgot to thank you for the ideas – I printed it off right away to post close to the piano. I have LOTS of printed games, etc. which I try to incorporate into games, and loved your suggestions, too!

  • Thank you for these helpful tips! Today, one of my students showed up with his books. He is five and just beginning to learn to read notes on the treble clef. Fortunately, I already had a big staff drawn on a poster and we "played" a game where he had to arrange letters on the staff as quickly as possible.

    Next, we took some simple note id worksheets and color-coded notes. We colored middle C red, D blue, etc. Then we took a new piano piece and colored it as well and from there we started learning where the notes that we colored were on the piano. It worked pretty well, but I think perhaps it would be good to have a piano that he could color as well. Perhaps I'll make one for next time.

    I'm a new teacher and, oddly enough, I'm more accustomed to teaching adult beginners than small children. So there's a steep learning curve.

    If you get a chance, please check out my blog. It's new too. http://nolapianoteacher.wordpress.com/

    I also have a website: http://www.neworleanspianoteacher.com

    I'd appreciate feedback and guidance! I have so much to learn!

  • What if this happens repeatedly? I have a student whose parents are divorced and is at a different house every week. She frequently doesn't have her books because they are at the other parent's house. I am very flexible at these times, but at this point she isn't making any progress and I'm starting to feel guilty about taking her parents' money! How should I address this?

  • Lauren – that is a tricky situation! When a student occasionally leaves their books at home it's really no big deal, but if it becomes the norm then I think you're right…their progress can really slow down and it can become a problem. I wonder if the student ought to keep two copies of her books – one to keep at each of her parents' homes? That way no matter where she is, she will not only have her books to bring to lessons but also to practice with. Another issue might be her assignment notebook – if she leaves her assignment notebook at one house, she may forget what she is supposed to practice. Maybe making a copy of the assignment sheet at her lesson would be smart – then you could have a copy in your studio, and even email a copy to each parent to have at each house? An interesting topic….thanks for sharing! I wonder if others have similar issues or experience in resolving them? On a side note, I also wonder if other students in this situation ever struggle with having consistent practicing help from a parent?