Individuals have unique personalities and diverse learning styles. While every student is unique, all students can benefit from certain considerations during their first piano lesson. I believe that a successful first piano lesson provides answers to at least the following four questions.
Why piano lessons? Motivations for taking piano lessons are varied and it’s good to know why a person finds himself or herself in front of my studio’s keyboard. Some students know just a little about music but are very interested and excited to begin lessons. Perhaps others already can play whether by ear or by reading music and want to learn more songs. Other students are taking lessons because their parents want them to study music. Whichever category a student falls into, it’s helpful to know what motivates them to study the piano.
Any hobbies? Knowing if someone does many activities or has many responsibilities helps me have an idea of how much time the student is able to dedicate to music. Knowing a person’s interests is also useful because I can use analogies that the student will understand. For example, someone interested in art would appreciate the comparison of dynamics in a piece of music to hues of colors in a painting.
How much musical knowledge? Everyone knows something about music. Even a toddler experiences rhythm by marching or moving to a piece of music. Students can quickly learn a few basic things about the piano: that it is a percussion instrument (which has a variety of sounds based on how quickly the notes are played), that the notes have a repeated pattern and that the notes have high and low sounds. The first lesson is also a good time to assess how much a student knows about rhythm and music notation reading.
Rhythm needs to be felt in ways such as clapping, tapping or counting from the very first lesson. A good example of natural rhythm is by having a student hold their hand over their heart to feel it’s rhythm. A picket fence is a good analogy for explaining the consistency of rhythm. Each beat is the same distance apart and some notes have one beat (“picket in the fence”), others have a few beats of duration. Note value and time signature flashcards are visual helps. The website “Color in my Piano” has a free download of flashcards for both simple and difficult rhythms http://colorinmypiano.com/wp-content/files/Rhythm_Value_Cards.pdf . A nice aspect of these flashcards is that the dimensions of these cards change based on the length of the notes. If I am teaching an absolute beginner I want them to learn three note values by the end of the first lesson: semibreves, minims and crotchets (whole, half and quarter notes).
Flashcards of notes are also helpful. A simple set of flashcards is two sets of the C/do scale which can be hand-made and laminated. Set the scale in order so that students can match their mixed up notes from the second set of flashcards on or near the scale that is already in order. Alternatively students can place the flashcards in scale order without any aids. If students already can read notes a little, show them individual flashcards and ask them to play those notes for you. If someone is an absolute beginner I like to teach at least 3 note symbols to students: middle C, D and E/do, re and mi.
If I am teaching transfer student I don’t assume that they have a good understanding of notes or rhythm values. I isolate concepts to better see a student’s strengths or weaknesses (example: reviewing only note names will give an idea of how well a student can read notes) . Sight reading a piece of music is also useful for assessment. If students bring music with them, I ask them to play something that they have already studied in the past.
What can they take home? I either want to teach students something they can practice at home or help them with a piece that they have already started learning. If a student has brought no music along I typically teach the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (I plan to explain steps for teaching this in another article). It’s important that a student goes away from the lesson having achieved something while also realizing that there are many other things to learn.
If you are a teacher, perhaps some of these suggestions will be helpful to incorporate into your piano lessons. If you are browsing this site and are considering lessons, this article should give you a general idea of the first piano lesson at Flynn Piano Studio.