How to Teach the First Piano Lesson Essay
CT ABRSM Plus: Written Assignments and Projects Your Name |Kristin Lien | |Instrument/voice |Piano | |Name of Mentor |Helen Krizos | |Date sent to mentor |9/2/2012 | |CT ABRSM Regional Centre |Manchester | |Assignment number/Project |Written Assignment 2 | |Title |The First Lesson | Please insert your assignment text (1,500 – 2,000 words) here, followed by your self-evaluation “The quality, content, and ethos of first instrumental lessons must have an enormous impact on how students feel about themselves as instrumentalists. (Janet Mills)  First, lessons can make a great deal of difference to how students feel about their learning and also how they progress in the future. “What does one do at the first lesson with a new pupil? “I think the wisest answer is “I don’t know! ”
If ever anything in our teaching is impromptu, it is that first lesson. The principle thing is that we are going to get to know the person, and that this person is going to form an impression of us. ” On how many occasions, do some teachers often reflect upon what they did in their own first lessons, and then continue to use similar strategies or the same tutor books to teach all of their pupils?
Of course, there are a few fundamentals in teaching that would apply to all pupils, but it is important to consider each pupil’s needs and personality so that we can adapt our teaching to their needs. It is very important to get to know your pupil in the first lesson and discover some of his/her interests. This kind of information will be invaluable later on when designing or explaining concepts by using topics or images which the pupil can relate to. Personally, I believe the first lesson is the best single chance I have of convincing a child that I am absolutely in love with the piano and they will have nothing but fun with it. It is also the first chance for them to speak the language of music, and I am determined to ensure they will enjoy it and want to do it more.
In the following sections of the essay, I would like to explore different teaching strategies when teaching that first lesson which will enable me to fulfill these objectives. There are certain factors to consider before the specific planning can take place. Age is one of them. There is no rule saying when the best age is to start learning the piano. The majority of students start piano lessons between 7 and 9. When a child begins his/her piano instruction during these years, it coincides with their physical and mental development making them receptive to this level of instruction. Moreover, the refined physical movements required for playing the piano are best built into the nervous system while it is developing.
Some teachers will arrange an interview or a consultation lesson for the prospective student and his/her parents prior to the first lesson. It acquaints parents and the student with the personality of the teacher, the teaching approach and the terms and conditions of the tuition. The first meeting is not, however, a one-way process. “The interview should also provide the teacher some useful information about the basic maturity of the student, musical aptitude including knowledge of basic musical concepts, rhythm readiness, the development of the hand and the ability to learn. ” (Jeanie M. Jacobson) All of these could also be included in the actual first lesson.
I personally do not have any objection to a trial lesson and always offer this as a matter of course; a one to one lesson starts a very personal relationship and it is important that both sides get on and can work together. I did however have one pupil who had had a trial lesson with just about every teacher in the neighbourhood! She did not sign up in the end, and I wonder exactly what she was looking for. Specific planning of the first one-to –one lesson is of crucial importance. We teachers need to devise a lesson plan before the first lesson, even though teachers will have to think on their feet if certain things do not go according to plan. In other words, know what you want to happen in the lesson and have a clear idea of the desired outcome, be alert of the responses you are getting and be flexible in your approach.
Being mentally prepared in your mind first will help you to be organised in your lesson. Paul Harris also suggested four factors which will influence the way the First lesson will unfold, which should be considered when planning the first lesson:
- The age of the pupil: very young, young or adult beginner
- The musical experience and intelligence of the pupil: Find out what the pupil already knew in terms of prior learning and class work as a great deal of the musical training is now done in the school music lessons.
- The practical possibilities that your instrument offers.
- The length of the lesson. Finally, what is the successful recipe for the first lesson?
I believe a good starting point for planning is to consider Paul Harris’s four “Ps” where he proposed the four principles of learning process which will infuse every single lesson that any pupil will ever have, literally from the start to the last lesson.  I am going to incorporate these four principles to aid my discussions regarding the content and materials suitable for the first lesson.
- 1. Posture
- 2. Pulse and rhythm: teaching pupil to internalise the pulse right from the start.
- 3. Phonology: Explore different types of sound created from the instrument and encourage pupil to associate with “nice” sounds right from the start
- 4. Personality: to associate different moods and feelings to create different kinds of sounds and this helps the pupil to make music instantly from the first lesson.
It is debatable what and how much to include in the first lesson and as mentioned previously, the majority of the decisions depend on the age, ability, attitude of the pupil and not forgetting teacher’s own teaching style. After doing a quick survey on the content of the first lesson in the teachers’ discussion forum, I found most valuable: There are some of the responses from the teachers regarding the first lesson: –“Building a good rapport with the pupil, the playing is not necessary in the first lesson”. -“Giving a questionnaire for pupils to fill in” and discuss expectations with the parents. -“Starting with the introduction with the instrument and follow by experimenting different sounds on hitting the keys in the different way” -“Starting with teaching the middle C position from the page 1 tutor book and attempt the first piece.
” “Starting with the geography of the keyboard and follow by a set of theory games” None of above suggestions is inappropriate, but none of them is all inclusive either. What I aim to do is to explore several ideas and furnish concrete examples whereby the beginner student can be introduced to the piano most effectively. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is necessary to establish two determining factors before the planning can begin: age of pupil and the length of the lesson. For the purposes of this essay, my first lesson is designed for a beginner pupil aged 7-9 for a 30 minutes lesson. Accordingly, the following order is the one I would prefer:
1.Introduce the instrument: “The first lesson must give some attention to the piano itself and how it works. ” I would easily open the piano lid, and show the inside to the pupil and explain its action briefly. I would then perform a piece of music and ask the pupil to listen. Next, I would ask the pupil to look at the keyboard and tell me whether they notice any pattern of the keys that the black keys are grouped in twos and threes. Moreover, I would then encourage the pupil to experiment using the entire keyboard, sitting or standing. There may also be an opportunity for some listening games relating to the different sounds that can be created on the piano. (High and low, happy or sad ……)
2.Pulse and rhythm: To introduce this, I would get the pupil to stand up and show them how to “mark time”, by creating any rhymes whose words fit into a regular pulse without subdivisions. It is useful to make the child say the words first before marking time with their feet, and then I would set the rhythm myself, keeping it all together. It is important to make sure that the pupil notices if any individual word has more than one walk and I would repeat the process several times if necessary. For example: [pic] Hetty Bolton suggested the following as the essential order of introducing the pulse and rhythm to beginner:  a) Listening. b) Joining in by clapping, stepping or beating time. c) Learning the name of a new sound, the note value. ) Writing down the rhythm: Notation or even just use the graphic score.
3. Posture: With the exception of the very young pianist, the main part of the lesson is at the keyboard. Therefore, it is important to introduce the correct posture to the pupil before trying to play on the piano. According to “The First Lesson” in Joan Last’s “ The Young Pianist”, the following tips are very useful:
- “Sitting at the correct height so that the arm from elbow to wrist slopes neither up nor down”. I would get the pupil to swing their arms separately in the shape of a cartwheel. This enables the pupil to relax and feel the freedom required to play the piano. “The arm might be lightly poised; it should support the hand and not drag it downwards. ”
- “Keeping an appropriate distance from the keyboard. The distance can be judged by the pupil trying to place the hand over a complete five finger group of notes with the left hand at a higher octave and with the right hand at a lower octave. ”
- “If the child’s feet do not reach the floor, it is important to provide a footstool. ” It may also be useful to provide a check list when teaching posture as the teacher can discuss this with the pupil, demonstrating a variety of both successful and less successful approaches from the list and asking the pupil to make observations through the process.
4.Establish good hand shape: “From the secret to a good hand position, page 5 of Alfred Premier Piano Course lesson 1A”
- Ask the pupil to stand up straight with the arms hanging loose at the side
- Keep the hands in the same relaxed position as you sit at the piano
- Place the hands on the keyboard—check to see your hands are slightly curved and relaxed and each hand is shaped like it is gently holding a bubble or a computer mouse.
- Use the opportunity to show the pupil how the hands are numbered.
5. The geography of the keyboard , sight –reading and composing: One way to introduce this is to invite the pupil to sit on the piano again and check if they still remember the pattern in which the black keys are grouped.
Use any three adjacent fingers and three black keys and then ask the pupil to compose a tune to the words learned previously and keep to the same rhythm. At the same time, I would encourage the pupil to write down his/her little composition (see diagram below) and it is important to tell the pupil that they can start from any of the three notes, and he/she can move by steps to the another note, skip from the bottom to the top note, or simply repeat the same note. This method is extremely useful as this will suggest to the pupil that you have to look at the ‘shape’ of the music and will pave the way for the teaching of notation and sight reading later on. Example 2: [pic]
At this point, the teacher can decide if they want to introduce the musical alphabet to the pupil in relation to the geography of the keyboard. Joan Last suggested the idea of teaching the note “D” first using the 3rd finger as it is easy to locate between the two black keys and then let the pupil ‘fly’ freely to find the same note in different octaves. Personally, I prefer only to introduce the musical alphabets without teaching the notation in the first lesson.
6. Play a piece by rote: “Learning by rote means learning by imitation and retention. It enables the student to memorise and reproduce certain aural impression and kinetic keyboard patterns without having to read or in a way refer to a written score. ” (Denes Agay) In my opinion, in the beginning, the student does not have to know the letter names of the keys or the notes on the staff. It is useful to select pieces with words as it will strongly indicate meter and rhythm, so in principle the pupil does not even have to count.
It is important for the teacher to demonstrate the piece first to give the pupil an idea of what it is and how it should sound. Then, the teacher can play the piece again, slower this time, breaking it down to sections and pointing out repetitive or other important features. Finally, the pupil can begin learning the piece, imitating the teacher’s demonstration phrase by phrase, section by section. Here are some examples for initial keyboard exploration which I have used in the past. 10] (See example 3 and 4 in the appendix)
7. Improvisation: Improvisation is a valuable tool for the beginner pupil to infuse the sound with feelings and it helps our pupils to play music musically. This can be achieved by simply asking the pupil to play a note to create a variety of sounds, such as a hot sound, an icy sound and so on. Young children will embrace this kind of activity enthusiastically. In addition, playing a short ‘musical conversation’ with the pupil is also fun to do and it is one of the best ways to introduce phrasing. This kind of creative work will ultimately have a marked influence on musical thinking at all levels.
8.Practice: How to motivate our pupils to practise? It is vital that our pupils perceive practice as a fun activity, so it is a good idea to give them some engaging and imaginative things to do and write down the instructions clearly in the notebook. Here is an example of what I might expect and want my pupil to do in their first week’s practice based on the above lesson content.
- Be the teacher and teach a relative or a friend how to sit properly at the piano.
- To remember the musical alphabet from C-G and get the pupil to practise finding all the C’s or D’s on the piano, trying to play the note in different moods: calmly, angrily heavily or lightly… To practise the first piece learned by rote in the lesson, and encourage the pupil to play with the best sound he/she can.
- Make up a piece using the black notes learned from the lesson and try to use both high and low notes to create the intended effect. From my personal experience, it is important to understand that all the teaching points mentioned above will sometimes better be introduced separately or together with carefully designed activities.
In addition, there are numerous modern music education systems (Dalcroze, Kodaly, Orff, and Suzuki) which will provide the teacher with a variety of teaching methods for introducing pitch and rhythm to the young beginner which is also worth considering. Other points to ponder regarding the first lesson:
Tutor book or no tutor book? It is important not to open the tutor book straight away from the first lesson as there is a danger to simply follow this type of teacher led approach, which can damage the creative learning we want our pupils to experience. Obviously, we cannot teach merely by rote as it will generate problems when the teaching method relies only and heavily by ear. So, what is the benefit of using a tutor book? It may be useful to introduce the pupil to notation and repertoire, but it is not the only way to teach the piano. In addition, there are many considerations when selecting a particular “method”
- Suitability for the age range Musical concept: how these concepts are explained and progression and what and how much is taught.
- Musical content: the quality of the pieces, appropriateness and the variety.
- Visual layout: is it appealing? Is it simple enough for pupil to understand?
- Other content: games, theory and other musical activities
Personally, I believe none of the tutor books will be “perfect” and suitable for all our pupils and we as teachers should have the confidence to create our own teaching programme including repertoire or exercises from different tutor books or even simply creating these by using simple compositions as our teaching materials. I feel we should always be mindful of the following: “Telling them all about it is not teaching…. aking them observe and discover is teaching” (preface to the ninth edition of Mrs Curwen’s Pianoforte Method, 1900 How to cope with parental expectation? Whether the parents are amateurs or professional musicians, or has no musical ability, they hire us because they have faith in us. Gratefully, our culture acknowledges the importance of music education, and piano is a standard instrument for beginners. Parents are not expecting us to produce a little Mozart in six weeks, and they probably know that their child’s success will depend on them helping their child to practise. What they do hope for is that we will be sensitive to their child’s needs and personality.
They want us to make music fun, and to bring the instrument alive for their child. The parent is our employer, so we should not forget them. It is important to communicate with the parents from the first lesson so that our objective is clear to them- to create a life- long love of the music and the confidence to be musically independent – an aim which is fairly difficult for the parents to disagree with. In addition, I find it very rewarding to encourage parents to sit in the lesson from time to time so that the child will not feel musically isolated in the family environment. Clearly, parents should play a key role in supporting the learning of their child. 
In conclusion, I thoroughly believe that whatever method we choose to teach our beginner pupil, the approach should encourage music to be felt and enjoyed. When we start to develop the musical competence of our pupil, we can begin with an intuitive feeling for the music before moving to the analysis or learning the facts. In other words, we should try not to load too much theory in the first lesson, but aim to let our pupils feel and experience music first through a variety of activities – composing, improvising and playing by rote. This approach will embody exploration and discovery, encouraging our students to experiment and develop independence, thereby building confidence.
Teachers must always keep in mind that the lesson plan or curriculum programme must be adjusted to correlate with student’s aptitude, experiences, learning preference and learning capacity. Let us give our pupils chances by teaching them to be musicians, and not be too quick to label them from the start as musical or not. We should simply give them a chance to explore music through our instruments and enjoy the experience of learning. As a mindful thought, I would like to end with a mantra, which embodies my philosophy in learning: “Pleasure is the state of being brought about by what you learn. Learning is the process of entering into the experience of this kind of pleasure. No pleasure, no learning. No learning, no pleasure” (Wang Ken-song of joy)
Bastien, James |How to Teach Piano Successfully, Third edition, California: Neil A. Kjos Company. | | |On Teaching the Piano. Novello, 1954 | |Bolton, Hetty |We Piano Teachers. London: Skeffomgton and Son Limited, 1946 | |Booth, Victor |The Art of Teaching Piano: the classic guide and reference book for all piano teachers. | | |Yorktown Music Press, 2004 | |Denes Agay and Hazel Ghazarian |The Joy of First-Year Piano. New York: Yorktown Music Press, 1972. |Skaggs |Group Piano-Teaching: Oxford University Press, 1974
Keys to the Keyboard: Oxford University Press, London, 1950 | |Enoch, Yvonne |Improve Your Teaching! Teaching Beginners, London: Faber Music, 2008 | |Foldes, Andor |Principles of Teaching: William Elkin Music Services: Norwich | |Harris, Paul |The Young Pianist: London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1954. | | |Instrumental Teaching, Heinemann Publishing, Oxford. | |Langley, Enid |Professional Piano Teaching. Edited by E. L. Lancaster, Alfred Publishing Co. Inc, USA, | |Last, Joan |2006. | |The Young Pianist Guide to Play the Piano: Faber Music, 1966 | |Mills, Janet |The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher: Second edition, Schirmer Publications, USA | |Jacobson, Jeanine |On piano teaching and performing, Faber music, London | | | | |Sidney, Harrison | | | | | |Uszler, Marienne | | | | | |Waterman, Fanny | | Appendix:
Example 3: “The Art of Teaching Piano by Denes Agay: the classic guide and reference book for all piano teachers. Yorktown Music Press, 2004, page 46 [pic] Example 4: “Piano Magic” by Jane Sebba tutor book 1, page 4. A&C Black, London [pic] Self-evaluation All written work must be accompanied by a completed self-evaluation, which is a powerful step towards moving forward in your teaching. You are required to write a self-evaluation of all written work PRIOR to handing it over to your mentor for assessment. Your critique should be constructive, demonstrating your ability to recognise the virtues and limitations of the piece of work you have completed.
Guidelines to students for self-evaluation of written work Identify and record:
- The positive aspects of the work.
- The limitations of your work.
- The relevance of this assignment to your work as a teacher.
- How and where you might apply the insights you have gained from this assignment.
- Your learning from the assignment in terms of the process (e. g. , time management; planning; collecting and collating relevant material, the action you took to complete the assignment – for example, who you talked to about the assignment).
- How you will apply the above learning to subsequent pieces of written work.
- How you reacted to completing this assignment.
This is not an exhaustive list and you are invited to be creative in adding any other issues which you believe will help you with your own professional development throughout the course. Self-evaluation Students: please insert your text here Self- Evaluation Of second written assignment: Positive aspects of the work and relevance of this assignment to my work as a teacher: It is important for us teachers to challenge ourselves in trying out new ideas to teach our pupils at the formative stage. This essay has given me the opportunity to research deeper into the different approaches and issues concerning the teaching of beginners. In addition, this particular assignment has allowed me to evaluate my own learning and teaching experiences so I can improve my own teaching by reviewing issues that emerged during this process.
Very often we teach the way we were taught, so it is important to evaluate and review carefully how it is done, so we can learn from our mistakes and use them to adapt our own teaching styles. Process of completing the work: For this particular essay, I decided to use a slightly different method to carry out my research as I had a title to choose from as my focused study. This enabled me to save time in my planning as I knew what I was looking for and what was needed in my research. I started the process by making a list of the information I needed under separate headings, and under each heading, I wrote down brief notes about what I wanted to find out.
Therefore, I was able to read selectively from my resources. I decided to research into different models of teaching the first lesson and eventually evolved my own way of teaching it with reference to the literature. It was difficult for me to decide which direction I should take in terms of writing this essay. At one point, I was prepared to present a case study where I compared two methods of teaching beginners of different ages in the first lesson. However, after careful consideration, I decided to focus on the principles of teaching the first lesson and used this thesis to both support my version of how the first lesson should be taught and discuss issues concerning the teaching of beginners.
Compared to my first assignment, again, I did schedule and plan my essay, redrafted it at least three times and once I had finished writing, I left it for a few days to do more research before completing my final draft. Limitation of my work:
1. Thesis of essay: As the topic “The first lesson” is such of broad subject I felt there was a need to be specific in my writing to provide a clear direction of essay. For example -The first lesson of a beginner age 7-9. On the other hand, did I need to consider the teaching of the lesson for an adult beginner or an inherited pupil? How could I be broad enough in my writing without losing the focus of my thesis? I questioned if I had covered enough areas of study in my essay?
2.Conclusion: From the feedback I received from my mentor for my first assignment, my conclusion was not very successful as in the summary I could have drawn my comments together more clearly rather than begin the section with a quote. I hope that this time, I was able to connect the purpose (thesis) of my essay to the “big picture. ” This technique can be especially useful in the conclusion of an essay.
3. Personal teaching and learning experiences: Did I provide enough personal learning and teaching experiences to help me illustrate my topic?
4. The fluency of my writing: I wanted to improve my fluency and structure of my writing as the paragraphs did not flow well from one to the next.
5.The style of my writing: I tended to use similar ways to construct my sentences, so perhaps I need to have variety in terms of my writing style.
6. The use of vocabulary: I needed to try writing in a more articulated manner and use a variety of sentence structure. In other words, I needed to use short and longer sentences to add sophistication to my writing. After I received feedback for my first assignment, I tried to apply it using the following tips:
- Read your essay again and ask the following questions: What sticks out? Do you remember it differently now? How do you feel about it as a reader? What feedback would you give yourself if you were marking the essay? Note down areas you’d like to improve and what you want to do differently next time – This marks the start of preparation for your next assignment and I decided to do my research in a different way. The sooner you spot what’s holding you back, the quicker you can tackle the problem.
- Note down what you’re especially happy with so you can work in a similar way for future essays – As with the weaknesses, I feel it is equally important to focus on your current strengths, otherwise there is a risk forgetting how to shine consistently. Assessment criteria for written assignments 2, 3, and project 2. Mentors and Course Leaders will use the following criteria when assessing students’ written assignments and projects. Note that the assessment criteria for Written Assignment 1 and Project 1 are to be found elsewhere in the Handbook]