How to Teach Piano: The First Lesson

The first piano lesson can be very intimidating for both teacher and student. Everyone knows how important first impressions are, and no one wants their first piano lesson to go badly. The piano teacher is anxious to start off on the right track - the student's musical future is in the hands of his teacher! The student is nervous about starting something new and completely foreign. All these nervous feelings combined can be rather distracting, and the first lesson can end up a mere show of education - simply a social introduction between student and teacher. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a little learning can never hurt. Here I've compiled some information for piano teachers to remember on their first lesson.

Put your nerves aside, breathe deeply, and plan your first piano lesson in advance. There is no need to "wing it." Remember, this is your first impression on your new student, and you want to begin your journey together headed in the right direction. Being organized in your mind first will help you be organized in your lesson. Know what you want to introduce on this first lesson; write it down if you need to.

The first piano lesson is basically an introduction to the keyboard and to music in general. Sit your student down at the piano with good posture and point out the pattern of the keys - the blacks on whites. The pattern is determined by three black keys (triplets) then two black keys (twins) then three then two, etc. Talk with your student about the number of keys, and let him or her play around on the keys.

Show the difference between high and low sounds by having your student play up and down the keyboard. Also point out which direction is "up the keyboard" and which is "down the keyboard." Have him or her play one key soft and loud alternately.

If you have a grand piano, raise up the lid and let your student look inside at all the workings while you play high and low sounds. Show how the vibrations are slower on the lower keys and so fast you can't see them on the higher keys. Point out the way the hammers hit the strings and the way the "brakes" stop the music.

Use flashcards to introduce notes. On the first lesson, you can introduce quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes. The quarter note is basic; it helps to explain to small children that the quarter note simply means to play once. Make flashcards that have different patterns of quarter notes and quarter rests, and have your student play these on the keyboard on any key.

Show your student where Middle C is. This is where the first finger position begins. Use your desired lesson book to demonstrate the first simple song, which will probably only use the first three fingers of the right hand. Also tell your student the finger numbers for each hand.

These tips will get you started on your next musical adventure. Every student is different, and sometimes you might not make it this far; other times you will need to go farther. Below I will list some recommendations for piano lesson books. You might also like to check out:

Music for Little Mozarts

Music for Little Mozarts music books are a lot of fun and are geared for little children 4 to 6 years old. They focus on finger coordination and move at a good pace for young children.

Alfred's Basic Piano Course

Alfred's Basic Piano Course is my favorite book series for elementary aged children. It starts off with teaching how to play before fully introducing staff reading. The books move at a good pace while introducing all the important concepts.

John W. Schaum

John W. Schaum piano lesson books work well for older children, around 6 to 12 years old. This is your standard piano course; it has worked well for me in the past. The Schaum series focuses on note reading.


A friend of mine recommends Bastien piano course. Please follow the link below.

Fletcher Theory Papers

Fletcher Theory Papers are a great way to teach your students theory. These can be given out as homework for your student to complete during the week.

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Comment and share your experiences! 20 comments

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon

This was great! I think you captured what all teachers and students feel when they first meet and begin to teach and learn together --no matter what the genre. I'm curious what you think about introducing scales early on? I had a teacher in college who said the first months is the best time to develop good habits about runs, scales, and especially the finger-tucking. I did not learn that way-- in fact, I still struggle with getting my scales to lay smoothly under my fingers, but what do you do, and have you found it to work? Thanks! (Great writing, as usual.)

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks, Jane! As to when to introduce scales - it all depends on the child. Little kids have small hands, and might take a while to feel comfortable playing scales. But I do think it is important to introduce scales fairly early. With the kids I'm working with now, I am slowing getting them comfortable playing up and down with five fingers. I think as soon as they finish the primer level, I will begin scales in earnest.

Myrllie 6 years ago from Ohio

This was very informative, I have a three year old who has been trying to play the piano since she could walk. She has never ever beat on the keyboard but instead walked her fingers across it as though she is playing. Sometimes it astounds me how much respect she has for the instrument.

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Myrllie, I'm so glad you found this helpful! Sounds like your little one has a lot of promise in being musical! That's so wonderful :)

theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

Wonderful hub! I took piano lessons for awhile when i was younger and then switched to playing the guitar. I still play my keyboard every now and then though. :)

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

theherbivorehippi, thanks for coming by! Piano is a great place to start; then starting any other instrument comes easier.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I like playing keyboard (an electric piano), and you have wonderful information. I'll learn piano someday. I liked this very much. Good work.

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

prasetio30, if you ever learn to play the piano, I'm sure you'll find it a rewarding experience. Thanks for coming by!

chasemillis profile image

chasemillis 5 years ago

Very helpful Rose!! You've given me enough reason to start teaching piano to my younger cousins how to play! We're going to be a super piano playing family!!

Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi chasemillis, enjoy that time with your family! Sharing music together is one of the best things in life!

nightflight9 profile image

nightflight9 5 years ago from Scandinavia

Nice! Teaching something important for yourself is ALWAYS fun.

You had here many of the KEYS for perfection... if only I had found this few y. ago when I started teaching (Boy that whas a mess :D ).

The first time Teaching som1 is UNFORGETTABLE!

Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi nightflight9, I too had quite a mess when I first started teaching. Oftentimes the best way to learn is to make mistakes though. Teaching is very important and rewarding, for both the teacher and the student. I'm so glad I get to teach! Thanks for visiting!

Ben Mathew 5 years ago

Hey! This was a good hub. Im also a piano teacher and I do my first lessons similar to what you explained. Its good to start off good and have a good relationship with the student! I also learned some things in here! Thanks for sharing. :)

Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Ben, it's always great to hear from a fellow teacher! Teaching piano is so much more than just relating facts. Starting off with a good relationship is essential!

Djenaba 4 years ago

im 11 and teaching my 6 yr old brother tried once and had no respect.but im hoping these tips will help!

Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Djenaba, teaching your little brother can be a challenging experience (as I know from experience). Just remember to be patient.

Niciblues 4 years ago

Thanks so much!!!! So nervous about teaching my very first student this afternoon... This tips is deffinetly useful, thanks again!!!! ;-)

Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Niciblues, I hope your first lesson went well! Thanks for reading - I'm glad you found this useful.

Samantha 3 years ago

Great suggestions on piano books. Do you recommend anything for a ten year old beginner? She is into contemporary music and also a little Classical and jazz.

hubsy profile image

hubsy 2 years ago

Wow, I'm a hubber too, but was simply surfing google when I found this article... what a coincidence, I didn't even notice it was on Hubpages until I finished reading.

I'm giving my first lesson to a beginner today and was kind of nervous, you gave some great tips, I even made alittle outline for myself, thank you!!!

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