Teaching Tip Tuesday: Advice for New Teachers

I have often been asked what advice I have for new piano teachers just starting out. Today I’d like to share four basic suggestions that will help get your studio on its way!

Be Professional

When you present yourself and your studio more professionally, people take you more seriously. You are running a business! You are providing your expertise and knowledge to your students as a service; you have so much experience and knowledge to offer and you should present yourself as such. Here are some of the most important things your piano studio needs:

Have a studio policy!! 

I cannot emphasize this enough. In the very least, your students and their parents need to know what you expect as far as when tuition is due, if you require late fees, what your make-up policy is, and that you don’t want them to show up at their lesson with a contagious illness. Type up all of your rules and policies, print it out on some colorful paper and distribute it to new students.

Studio contract

Along with my studio policy I always have my new students and their parents sign a studio contract. This basically states that they will abide by the rules and policies of the studio, and that when they sign up for lessons they are committing to that lesson time (including the payment of tuition for that lesson time) for the entire semester. This protects you and helps keep your income more reliable. Do it.

Learn to say “no” 

Ok, so I started teaching when I was fifteen. It’s easy when you’re young and inexperienced to let people sort of walk all over you, but you’ve got to just remember that this is a business and you need to run it as such. You will have students who don’t show up to lessons, and they will want to not pay you for that no-show lesson. (Don’t let them do that! Have them pay upfront each month.) You will have people who want make-up lesson after make-up lesson, taking up all your non-teaching time. You will have people who don’t pay you on time. You will have people who want to argue your policies. Over the years I have come a long way in my dealings with students and parents. You just have to decide what your policies are going to be and stick to them.

Professional teaching environment

Keep your studio nice and clean and quiet! It’s not fair to the student if your children are in the room demanding your attention, or if it’s noisy and cluttered and hard to concentrate.

Dress the part

Admittedly I have taught many-a-lesson in jeans and bare feet. It’s not a huge deal. But think of the respect you will have from your students as you make the effort to dress a little nicer. A professional appearance and attitude will go a long way in a lesson.

Be Creative

Piano teaching today isn’t what you may remember from when you were a child. Piano teaching does not (or should not) consist merely of picking a piano method book and methodically going through each and every page and reading through and teaching each concept as it is presented. Use some creativity! Put some ingenuity and fresh ideas into your lessons to make your students want to come back! Pick and choose exciting and motivating challenge pieces for your students to learn to supplement whatever book they are using. Teach new concepts before they are introduced in the book if it is something that will excite their imagination and get them to love to play. Encourage creativity in your studio by having composition recitals and teaching students to play from a fakebook. Have a memorization or a sight reading competition. Allow more advanced students to mentor younger beginners in a class setting using creative games and songs. Create a star student wall in your studio and honor the best practicer of the week. Use your imagination!

Be Yourself

Use your strengths and individual background to enhance your piano teaching. Have a background in math teaching? Great! Use that knowledge to amp up your studio’s music theory and rhythm skills. Love to dance? Perfect! Get those students moving to the music as you teach meter, beat, rhythm, expression. Got skills in gourmet cooking? Amazing. Your students and parents who attend your recitals, group classes or end-of-semester parties will thank you! Maybe you are classically-trained. Maybe your favorite tunes to play on the piano are show tunes or pop songs that you can sing along with. Use these strengths to your advantage as you find your niche in teaching and as you guide your students to be well-rounded musicians.

Be Encouraging

Last of all, I think that positivity and encouragement are super important. Don’t forget to tell your students what they are doing amazing at! Of course you’re going to critique and teach and guide them to fix their mistakes and to improve, but don’t forget that a happy attitude and thoughtful compliments can go a long way in affecting the overall experience the student has with piano lessons – and that could have life-long consequences, good or bad!

What tips of advice would you give to new piano teachers?
Jennifer Boster

One Response to “Teaching Tip Tuesday: Advice for New Teachers

  • I was just thinking about this subject the other day when I was writing a blog post on questions parents should ask prospective piano teachers. It was sort of an opposite approach, but brought up a lot of the same issues. I think one of the most important things a new teacher should have in mind is how they plan to motivate students. So many students quit because they aren't motivated to practice, then they don't improve, then they get discouraged. Most children really don't have the discipline to practice regularly on their own, so motivating them might involve talking to their parents about helping them set a regular practice schedule, creating fun studio traditions, using incentives like stickers and prizes, giving them a picture of a piano to put up at their house as a reminder to practice, or having regular performances. You always have such fun ideas on this topic.