What You Need to Teach Piano Successfully

Most of my readers probably don’t know that I teach piano. I like to call myself a writer, but in truth I’m a lot of things. And one of those things is a piano teacher.  I don't have a teacher's license, and therefore can't be called a "professional piano teacher," but for some reason people still seek me out (without me advertising) to teach their children music. I love to share what I know about music, and teaching kids (and adults) how to play the piano has a lot of rewards. Of course, I’ve been burned out several times before, and I know that teaching piano can be difficult.

Teaching piano doesn’t need to be all that difficult though. There are some things that you need to remember, that you need to keep telling yourself, if you ever want to see success from teaching piano. I’ve gathered from the harvest of my mistakes and deficiencies, and what I’ve reaped is a little experience. We all learn from our mistakes. So, here is what you need to have if you want to teach piano successfully.

Music for Little Mozarts is a good series to teach very young children

Imagination

When I say you need imagination, I don’t mean that you should become Peter Pan and fly away. Imagination means the ability to see outside of the box. When teaching piano, there will be many opportunities for you to get trapped in a ditch, the ditch of one-way thinking. Teaching requires at least two people: the teacher and the student. You need the imagination to reach out to the student where he or she is. Sometimes you might need to put the book away and just tell a story.

Knowledge

Obviously, if you want to teach piano, you need to know how to actually play the piano. If you are an experienced pianist, you might need to refresh yourself on the basics of playing before you start to teach. Remind yourself about the order of learning. Before you are able read a book, you learn how to recognize the letters. In piano, before you can play a masterpiece, you need to learn the basics of piano, from fingers to keys to notes.

Patience

Teaching anything takes patience, but teaching piano takes an extra measure. There will be times when little Jimmy will be more interested in kicking the bottom of the bench than in putting all five of his fingers in perfectly curved order. There will be times when Mrs. Jennings will want to talk more about her twenty-five amazing grandchildren than about how tempo relates to expression. There will be times, and you will need to breathe deeply, smile, and say what you need to say over and over again. Patience is a hard-earned virtue, not something you’re born with.

Optimism

You need to think positively when you teach piano. There is always a sunny side to look at; you just need to find it. Sometimes your student will get discouraged if he can’t accomplish something new right away. You need to encourage him, and help him to try harder. If your student is depressed that he can’t play a certain phrase without stumbling, praise how good his posture is or how wonderful the rest of the piece went or how great his determination is.

I have used the John W. Schaum series to teach elementary and middle school children

Time

Teaching piano takes a lot of time and effort. There is no easy way to do it. Take time to prepare yourself before each lesson, reading up on what you are going to teach. Each lesson will be same amount of time, but the rate of speed can alter a great deal. Sometimes a student will surprise you and speed through a lesson. Other times, you will need to take slow time to teach a student one small principle. Take the time to make it work.

Organization

One of the hardest parts of being a piano teacher is getting organized. Organization is very important however if you want to be successful. If you teach from home, make sure your piano studio is clean. If you travel to your students' homes, make sure you are punctual. Keep your schedule written down, not in your head. Keep track of how much people owe you. 

Professionalism

Never forget that you are the teacher. You are the one in authority. Yes, you can be friends with your students. In fact, I encourage you to do so. But never let the student take over the lesson. In a sense, you need to have your hands on the steering wheel at all times. Treat yourself with respect. If you do not act like a teacher who knows what he or she is doing, the student will not listen to you or respect you. Be professional in the way you act.

Kindness

Kindness is key. Your attitude changes the whole atmosphere of a piano lesson. Be sure to smile, to let your student know that you are on his side. There are teachers that hold to a law of structure and boundaries. Structure and boundaries have their place, but if a student is so scared that he is uncomfortable, he won’t enjoy learning to play piano. And if he doesn’t enjoy learning to play piano, he won’t enjoy playing piano and another musical soul is lost.

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Comments 46 comments

Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States

These sound like the same things required of a good homeschooling mother. Unfortunately for my children, my patience is in the shortest supply of all these things. I'm working on that. :-)


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Joy at Home, very true, these are good things to have for any kind of teacher. Patience can be very hard sometimes... I think we all have to work on that :)


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon

Great advice; I think I'll work on applying it when I'm teaching writing too. The one that stood out to me was Professionalism, and not forgetting or allowing myself to act like I am not in charge. That can be hard when I just want to sit back and watch my students be who they are, but there is "foolishness bound up in the heart of the child" so I can exert confidence and that extra effort to banish that foolishness when it appears, because, after all, I am the teacher. Thank you for this great article! I took away much to apply.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Jane, I had to learn the hard way how important "professionalism" is. If you don't act like a teacher, your students don't really listen to you. I know you are a great teacher, and I appreciate your feedback!


Laura Seld. 6 years ago

I loved the chocolate cake song! I can still remember the picture, with the shiny icing...


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Laura, thank you so much for reading! It's always a good thing when you remember learning piano to be a good time :)


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

nice information. I agree with you for someone who interest with music.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Thank you for reading, prasetio30! Nice to see another music lover.


Mirna Nieves 6 years ago

Great points, I'm currently teaching my 2 older kids using the Bastien books. I have Level 1-4 but felt they needed something before Level 1, therefore I purchased Piano for the Young Beginner Primer A & B. Do you think it's necessary to puchase the next series in line which is the Primer books or can I just move on to Level 1?


SwiftlyClean profile image

SwiftlyClean 6 years ago from Texas

I've always wanted to play the piano but think I was to much a busy bee and passed it up.still wished I had learned.

This a gret Hub thanks for sharing.It's not to late is it.:)

Sharon Smith


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

SwiftlyClean, it's never too late to begin! If you want to learn, I say go for it! You'll love all the rewards of playing the piano.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Mirna Nieves, if I'm not mistaken, "Piano for the Young Beginner" is actually from Bastien; it is just designed for younger students. I don't think you have to buy the regular primer book. I would say, using the books you already have, just teach the primer books, and then move on to Level One. Of course, I haven't taught out of the Bastien books, so I'm not altogether familiar with them. If you follow the above link to the Bastien review page, you could ask Jane Grey more about them. Thank you for reading! I hope this helps, and feel free to ask me anything else.


MEjones profile image

MEjones 6 years ago

I really like this post! I am currently involved with piano and I love playing. I have became one of your fans. Will you become one of mine? Thanks :)


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

MEjones, thank you for reading! It's nice to meet a fellow musician.


calicoaster profile image

calicoaster 6 years ago

great hub. I too love to play piano, though never got a chance to learn it professionally. Still, I can play pretty decent. Thanks for writing this hub.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

calicoaster, thanks for coming by! It's how you enjoy playing that really counts =)


itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

I love to play the piano,and have always found it a great de-stresser:)Well done on teaching-I just don't have the right temperament!


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

I didn't know you play piano, itakins. The piano is a great place to just vent. If I'm angry or sad, my emotion is bound to come out in the music I play. As to teaching, I never have seriously pursued teaching (because it's not my favorite thing to do), but by word of mouth, the students just seem to come to me.


WildIris 6 years ago

There are piano teachers and there are people who teach others to dabble and express themselves while playing the piano. A neighbor can teach a child to play piano on very basic beginning level, but that child will probably never play a Chopin Waltz. Practicing piano is hard, lonely work. A Piano teacher should help students learn how to practice, to play a passage over and over again until the fingers remember their places as if by magic.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

WildIris, thank you for stopping by. True, a teacher who does not know what he is doing, can give a student bad habits that can be hard to break. Nevertheless, a college degree is not what separates a good teacher from a bad teacher. I've had several teachers over the years, and they all had different perspectives and different approaches that combined to lead me to where I am today. So maybe there are different teachers for different levels, different stages of learning.


traderx profile image

traderx 6 years ago from Las Vegas

thanks for the tips on music for mozarts, my son is interested in piano, perhaps I will check those out


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

traderx, you're very welcome! If your son is five (or maybe six) or under, I would highly recommend the Little Mozarts series. There are accessories to go along with the books, too.


lilian_sg profile image

lilian_sg 6 years ago from Singapore

Totally agree. I considered once about teaching piano but realised that I wasn't suited for it.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

lilian_sg, thanks for reading! Not everyone wants to teach piano. I have never aggresively sought after piano students; they just find me somehow. But I'm all right with that :)


NickSimpson profile image

NickSimpson 6 years ago from Jacksonville, Illinois

Excellent info Rose, thanks for putting this interesting hub together for everyone to enjoy.

- Nick


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

You're very welcome, Nick. Thank you for stopping by!


scardy cat 6 years ago

I'm so glad I found your website. I have very little training, but play at an intermediate/advanced level. Every time a friend hears me play, they ask me to teach them. Now I'm 51 and a client of Vocational Rehabilitation and they've asked me what I'd like to do. I don't know if it's appropriate for me to teach little children with very little training of my own or if I can obtain adequate training at my age. Could you give me some advice?


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi scardy cat, I'm glad you found me too! Well, it can never hurt to try teaching. Maybe you could study up first if you've never done it. I, for one, don't think a college degree is a requirement for teaching piano, but I do think that you need some level of expertise in playing and understanding the basics of music. If you feel you need more training, you could try some courses at a community college or university. Just teach what you know and enjoy teaching - that's what's important. Little children might be a good place to start teaching, because they're learning rate is slow and they start at a very basic level. I hope this helps, and let me know if you have any more questions!


alexinohio profile image

alexinohio 6 years ago from Cincinnati, Ohio

Always great to hear from a fellow piano instructor! Thank you for your practical (and inspirational) tips.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan Author

You're very welcome, alexinohio! Glad you came by!


my-success-guru profile image

my-success-guru 5 years ago from Upstate NY

Hey Rose West,

Great tips on What You Need to Teach Piano Successfully!

Take Care!


Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

my-success-guru, thanks for reading!


Tracey 5 years ago

I really liked your comments on piano teaching since they basically describe the way I teach piano. I started teaching pipano while I was still in high school and although I am highly educated with a PhD and classroom teaching qualification I never went past 7th grade piano and don't have have formal qualifications in piano teaching. Frankly, I loathe piano exams - they are too stressful - although that doesn't stop me from helping many people achieve great success in piano exams from beginner to 8th grade. But only those students who want to.

Piano (and music theory) teaching is my job and I love it. I am always searching for new ways of engaging students at all levels (hence my stumbling onto your page).

Here's a little tip for any other piano teachers out there who need a little help - ask at your local music shop about free seminars run by Music Book authors. Pedagogues and composers like Dennis Alexander, Elissa Milne, Nancy Faber and Tom Gerout (just to name a few) usually speak annually in capital cities and have some wonderful teaching tips and ideas. Ultimately they run the seminars to sell books, but they can be very informative and inspiring and you get to meet other teachers in the process.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Tracey, thank you for reading and commenting! It's always nice to hear from another piano teacher. Teaching is such a rewarding experience, and although I think piano exams have their place, they shouldn't take away the essence of teaching.

Thanks for the great advice about the free seminars! I've never been to one, but I'm sure it would be a very helpful experience.


chasemillis profile image

chasemillis 5 years ago

This was actually very helpful! I love the piano and have considered teaching it to my younger cousins, but I have never thought about the process and what I would need for it. You have basically done all the "research" work. I think I might start now! Thanks for this!

Btw it's a good thing you included the idea of optimism because that's something that you just don't think about - or I didn't at least


Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi chasemillis, I'm so glad I could be of help! I hope teaching your cousins goes well. Teaching is a great thing; it's sharing a beautiful gift with others. Optimism is very important for a teacher. A student can easily pick up on a teacher's bad attitude or pessimism, causing him to think negatively.


Ben 5 years ago

Great information, I am a piano teacher and tuner myself and found your information very useful.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 5 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Ben, thanks for your visit! It's always great to hear from a fellow piano teacher!


Ben Gessel 4 years ago

This is a great hub page! :) I have found that teaching private music lessons takes a lot of different skills and abilities... It is often demanding, and especially with younger children, there must be, within the teacher, great, almost endless reservoirs of patience, optimism, charisma, intuition, ability to problem solve, think on one's "feet" and improvise/be flexible, and an adequate knowledge of child developmental psychology-this definitely helps. I also use the Bastien piano series when teaching (chiefly), and learned how to play the piano from the Bastien series when I was younger. The main additions to the 4-5 core Bastien piano books that I prefer to use in my own teaching, are adding in between 1-3 extra/new tunes per student every 1-3 weeks or so (sometimes up to a month for beginners/elementary level students) from other books outside the Bastien books (Classical, Popular 5-finger, big note, easy piano books, etc.), music for piano that I personally write for each individual student, existing music that I transcribe/arrange for the student, some extra work on theory and composition (depending on the student's interests), using flashcards, and using some of the supplementary Bastien piano books as well. I have found that any weaknesses in the Bastien piano series are mostly made up for by adding additional repertoire that students find particularly enjoyable and challenging. All the best. :)

-Ben Gessel


Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Ben, I think you've quite summed up the life and times of a music teacher :) Yes, it is challenging yet so rewarding. I think we probably have similar teaching methods. I enjoy using course books, but like to prove extra material too. Private teaching can be such a fun job - it's always changing, and you get to listen to music all day long! Thanks so much for your visit!


renee21 profile image

renee21 4 years ago

I love playing my piano! I have been playing for several years and have reached an early advanced level. I would like to teach and your tips are very informative.


healthwealthmusic profile image

healthwealthmusic 3 years ago from Everywhere Online ~ Fingerlakes ~ Upstate New York

I love piano and keyboard and play a bit for my own enjoyment. I have had others asking me to teach them... but I never had the nerve.... thanks for the tips and ideas!


Martin 2 years ago

Thanks for this article. I really need to learn how play a piano. I just bought one at http://www.yourinstrument.com and now am going round the internet to check for helpful articles like this one.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 2 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Martin, thanks for reading! I hope you found this helpful :)


C Walker 2 years ago

I rarely comment on blogs, however I would like to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you! I have searched all over the net trying to find advice on teaching piano, and it is your blog which I have found most helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write such interesting and helpful articles.

God bless you! C Walker


renee21 profile image

renee21 14 months ago

I am currently a piano major at college. I also teach piano and these tips are so true! Great hub!

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