The beginning of piano lessons can feel like a deluge of work and administrative tasks: scheduling, emails, reminders, check-ins and meetings to get everyone set up for success.
Plus there’s figuring out where each student is in their development and planning just the right material to pique their interest for the coming year. In short, lesson start-up can feel overwhelming and exhausting.
But this special time need not be such a mountain to climb.
Here are three truly innovative scheduling ideas that could help you guide your students and their families through the first weeks in a more relaxed and responsive way.
1. Start only beginners the first week, everyone else joins the second week
Universities often welcome students in waves in order to give special focus and attention to each group. For example, students in helping positions are welcomed first, international students arrive several days later, then first year students, then everyone else.
I tried this idea last year. In my first week, I taught only beginners. Then in week two I welcomed returning students. It went so smoothly, I’m planning to stagger my lesson start-up from now on.
If you want a schedule that is easier on you, the teacher, consider the benefits:
- For the first entire week, you’ll be able to focus entirely on beginner lesson planning and materials. You’ll have time to be a specialist in your beginner’s needs.
- You’ll feel more grounded and less frantic to make sure you have something new for every student in your studio all at once.
- You’ll be able to meet your little beginner students at the door and guide them as to how your entrance and waiting room work, without also having to say goodbye to a student scheduled before them.
- Then, when the second week rolls around and your beginners are established, you’ll be able to truly focus on creating programs for everyone else.
In case you’re wondering what to do between beginner lesson time slots, you can plan their lessons but also be free to do administrative work for your returning students. In other words, instead of being pushed to have all of the administration complete for one big start-up, this work is spread out as well. You’ll simply have more time to get it done.
2. For the first several weeks, beginners get two lessons per week
Have you ever considered how short a beginner’s first few pieces of music are? Would the average piece be fifteen seconds long? Or shorter?
And as much as beginner method programs try to make the music seem fun (usually with cute titles, words and illustrations) — the music itself is usually pretty basic.
Then consider how quickly a child can master that music. After they’ve practiced it for two or three days they might get…bored. Who wants bored beginners?
Several piano teachers that I admire teach twice a week for the first several years. In my area that’s not an option (parents simply couldn’t afford it). But I’ve come up with a hybrid schedule that works in my location. It might work for you, too!
My beginners come twice a week for the first several weeks.
This plan offers a turbo boost in foundational concepts. It’s much more than fast-tracking (because that sounds rushed), this scheduling strategy simply gives beginners more time with their teacher at a stage when they’re covering so many important things: how keys sound, steady beat, notes, finger numbers, and much, much more.
Because short pieces can be learned in half a week and the music keeps getting better with each new foundational concept learned, twice-weekly lessons are energizing and timely.
Once you try this, you may never go back.
If you’re not sure how to pitch this to parents, you might say that teachers are doing this with great success and that beginners thrive when they learn the first concepts with more frequent contact.
If you wonder how you’d schedule some students twice a week in a full studio, that’s a good point. If you taught only beginners in week one, overbooking wouldn’t be a problem. Here’s how I’ve done it, for what it’s worth: for the first three-to-four weeks, I add days I don’t normally teach (Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings). That does make me busier for those first few weeks. But once the “beginner start-up schedule” is finished, I get back those days off. It’s worth it!
3. Start the week before school starts, give students the first week of school off
If you begin teaching piano the same week that school starts, you may notice how tired and overwhelmed your students (and their parents) look.
In the past, I avoided this busy week by starting lessons the week after school started — but this delayed lessons for some students until September 16th, and by then the month was half over.
One of my piano teacher friends, Marilyn Loosemore, has a brilliant solution for this problem and I can’t wait to try it! Marilyn says:
“Ten years ago, I took the advice of a colleague and began fall piano lessons the week before school starts! I love it!”
Marilyn has outlined the benefits to her students and herself:
- You avoid the busy first week of school for families, but instead of waiting for the second week of school to begin, you start up a week ahead.
- Taking a break the first week of school gives children and families time to settle in to the routines of the first week of school.
- You start receiving tuition payments earlier. “As I don’t have many summer students, the e-transfers, and cheques coming in late August are welcome.”
- With payments, you’ll be ahead of the lineup of extra-curricular recipients. Get paid first! Parents are prompt!
- This early startup gets you organized, and materials are passed out early.
- The students are fresh and eager to get started.
- By the second lesson, student and teacher will be raring to go and you’ll have had two weeks to ease back into the piano practice routine. By mid-September you’ll be well on your way into the new year of music-making.
- If for a valid reason a student is unable to come the week before school starts, their lesson is scheduled during their first week of school.
Marilyn says, “I really like this August start up time. The kids are fresh and ready for some return to routines. I feel better mid-September to be already underway. This decision has been a win-win for my students and for me!”
Creative scheduling solutions
These three scheduling ideas have the power to transform how you and your students experience the start of your piano lesson year. You could mix and match which ones you want to try.
Starting your beginners a week before everyone else gives you a break from trying to start everyone at the same time.
Giving your beginners twice-weekly lessons for the first several weeks considers how they actually learn and optimizes their true potential.
Beginning to teach the week before school starts and then giving your students the first week of school off gives your students a head start and the chance to settle in to one thing at a time.
Each of these solutions is people-friendly, and makes the transition into piano lessons a little easier.
If you have any other alternative piano lesson start-up ideas, please share in the comments!
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Video of the Week
The Way Back Home (Intermediate, Level 5). This piano solo captures the feeling of making your way back home. Composed in a lyric folk style in Aeolian, this piece develops beautiful phrasing, scale runs, smooth thumb tucks and textural balance like an Intermediate sonatina would, but with a more contemporary sound. Available as the studio-licensed The Way Back Home eSheet!