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30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
#2985483 05/29/20 03:22 PM
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A 9-year-old student of mine who began piano this year is picking up quite well on the fundamentals of playing and reading. I want to present him with appropriate challenges to further his musicianship, but feel so limited in how much I can accomplish in a 30-minute weekly lesson.

I have encouraged the parents to consider a longer lesson -- he has the attention span to make the option viable -- but the parents want to keep him at 30 minutes.

How would/do you structure a half-hour lesson for maximum productivity and well-rounded musical experiences?

Right now, when performance music is not added into the mix, I generally do theory, sight reading, and creativity (improvisation, etc.) in the first ten minutes; hear the previous week's assigned repertoire in the next ten minutes or so, working on refining musical details therein; and spend the remaining time introducing new repertoire that supports a previously- or newly-introduced concept.

A 30-minute lesson goes way too fast! Especially with this kid. wink I'd love your ideas on best use of time when anything more than 30 minutes a week is a no-go with the parents.

Last edited by Andamento; 05/29/20 03:30 PM.
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Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2985553 05/29/20 06:55 PM
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I wonder if it's that they can't or don't want to pay for more time or they can't or don't want to spend more time?

If you are willing to do extra work, determine what kind of feedback/instruction doesn't need to be in real-time and do as much of that as possible via video exchange. You assign, he records, you send a video back. If it's something needs to be back and forth, at least you don't need to spend lesson time hearing a play-through and can get straight to the instructional point.

Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2985590 05/29/20 09:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Andamento
I.....feel so limited in how much I can accomplish in a 30-minute weekly lesson.

I have encouraged the parents to consider a longer lesson -- he has the attention span to make the option viable -- but the parents want to keep him at 30 minutes.

How would/do you structure a half-hour lesson for maximum productivity and well-rounded musical experiences?

Right now, when performance music is not added into the mix, I generally do theory, sight reading, and creativity (improvisation, etc.) in the first ten minutes; hear the previous week's assigned repertoire in the next ten minutes or so, working on refining musical details therein; and spend the remaining time introducing new repertoire that supports a previously- or newly-introduced concept.
When I was a student, piano lessons were all 30 minutes for the first few years, then forty minutes.

Now that I'm also teaching, I give 30-minute lessons to my beginner students too (actually, I don't have time for any more, as I have a full-time day job unconnected with music.....) and don't find I need more time. As I mentioned in another thread, I combine sight-reading (as an ongoing assessment) with introducing new rep; teaching theory as and when stuff crops up in the music the student is learning, rather than separately (so that everything ties up neatly and is relevant to what the student is currently learning); and aural skills combined with teaching new rep: the student sings the notes along with counting beats. (I sing along at first to encourage him/her.)

I don't do 'creativity' or teach improv: I leave that to the student by encouraging him/her to play pop or movie theme tunes etc by ear (which also forms part of the aural skills - knowing the intervals between notes, deducing their time signature by knowing where the strong beat falls etc). What I also do is something I learnt from my first teacher, who played appealing classical pieces for me as an added extra after every lesson - I'm also doing that for my students, thus tacking on a few extra minutes to the half-hour, which they eagerly look forward to. It opens their eyes to the sort of music they too could be playing themselves in a few years' time if they keep practicing assiduously; and being able to sit beside me while I'm playing, and watching my hands in close-up give them an appreciation of the pieces (in particular, the tonal nuances, voicing of melodic lines and articulation) they could never get from watching YT videos or even attending live concerts. Of course, it's as much fun for me as it is for them, and I only play appealing short pieces. grin

One thing is - I'm not into chatting, and I don't go in for long detailed explanations of concepts etc (which is something I've long ago learnt in my day job) so that every minute is productive, and the student's mind doesn't wander elsewhere. Also, I don't allot 'time slots' for separate things like you do, partly because they're already combined anyway; and if something crops up that requires more time to teach (e.g. legato pedalling), I give it.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
mostlystrings #2985605 05/29/20 11:13 PM
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Originally Posted by mostlystrings
I wonder if it's that they can't or don't want to pay for more time or they can't or don't want to spend more time?

You took the words right out of my mouth.

I have had a lot of wealthy clients who treat piano as a recreation activity. I used to plan lessons for these kids because all we had was 30 minutes, and we have so much to cover. Then, it dawned on me that there is an old adage: "You get what you paid for."

Why am I doing the extra planning? It's not my fault that the student's talent goes unfulfilled.


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Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2985614 05/30/20 12:28 AM
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I'd drop the theory and improvisation immediately. Sight reading is how they attempt any new phrase anyhow so that's not really separate. Theory is a very abstract concept and is achieved far more quickly if you wait until the child is the right age for it, maybe 11 or 12. I might wait even longer. Then it only takes nine months to complete rudiments. The parents by that time are willing to pay for the extra half hour of theory because there's a specific end goal.

I would stick to just piano, working towards recitals bi-annually. In half hour, it's tough to work on exams or much else.

Last edited by Candywoman; 05/30/20 12:31 AM.
Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2985908 05/30/20 06:01 PM
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What curriculum are you using?

Many series use a Lesson Book, a Theory Book, Technique or exercises, or Sight Reading or other.

I often just write what pages in the theory book to do for at home. (I know what pages will need a bit of talk through)
And, for Performance, I might do a quick play through myself, just to give the student a flavor of the music.

Yes, I have been a musical babysitter, but when a student works, I start like this:
warm-up, from tech/art, or past music. (for the day, mood, how my piano and student feel for the day) and I choose something related to the upcoming concept/lesson.
we might play a scale in the key of the upcoming piece. various ways.
We might review arm weight, touch, or technique.
I confirm past work is done/understood.
Now, intro new piece/concept. student repeats it to me, and plays and says. We check different areas- books, pieces, what is needed.
May try another concept/piece, if time.
I check for understanding, and may flash the theory page(s) at them for what to do.
we might do some ear training "to check their ears."
End with an enrichment piece, or from performance book. Ask if they have questions. I'll say, so this week, I want you to focus on_______"
And that's it!

For advanced students, we may spend most of the lesson on just one piece, one section. We incorporate talk of chords, passages, developments of the piece, music history, technique, etc...

For non-working students (only time they touch a piano is during lesson) well, then I do the theory pages during the lesson, and toss lots of "horizontal learning" pages and songs at them. All the same level, but different pieces so the parents don't get bored hearing the same music each week.

Glad you have a good student.

Even if they catch on fast, you still need to check for concept understanding. Are they copying you, (rote playing) or can they follow directions and sound things out and work on their own?

I have a slightly older beginner who does great at the piano, but was "forgetting" to do his theory. Turns out he thought he understood it already, no need to take time to mark intervals, or whatever. But, I found that he did not have the concepts ingrained yet, he was still only surface level. I had him do the work, on his own, and he had the lightbulb moment of understanding!

Like a class in school, you may have a great reader, but do they understand what they are reading? They may have memorized math facts, but can they apply them?

good luck!


Learning as I teach.
Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2986146 05/31/20 12:17 PM
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Thank you for all your replies. You've given me lots of good food for thought. (Seems like I always say that, but it's one of the things I really appreciate about this forum in the limited time I can spend here.) smile

Missbelle, to your question about which curriculum I'm using, with this student it is Piano Safari. His Level 1 materials include the Repertoire book, Theory book, and Sight Reading & Rhythm cards.

For those interested to know, his theory is fully integrated with the repertoire he's studying, as is the sight reading, as it covers, unit by unit, the intervals and rhythms focused on in his repertoire.

It's all coordinated quite well, so though I "divide" the lesson time into different sections, it really isn't as separated as it sounds. The 10-minute blocks are approximations only -- the lesson is more fluid than I can convey in writing. Conceptually, nearly everything we do during a lesson is interrelated.

Improvisation is the only exception, but that is something I don't "teach." Instead, it's an opportunity for the students to simply create at the piano as a prelude to playing their assigned music -- to share the music inside of them before we launch into the intricacies of what someone else wrote.

It takes maybe all of 30-60 seconds, but when I first started having my students do this in lessons several weeks ago, I was amazed at the delight my students and I both took from the brief activity. At the time we began doing that, all of my students were still online, and their improvisations somehow gave us a greater personal connection than when we first started working through a screen. So, in my opinion, improvisation is time well spent.

However, to get back on topic now... there's still the matter of 30 minutes slipping by very quickly. Your comments have got me thinking, and one of my thoughts is to perhaps alternate weeks with theory and sight reading, instead of doing both every week.

Or, I could take my special Beethoven focus weeks (once a month for part of the lesson time to celebrate his 250th birthday this year), in which I play a Beethoven piece and they do a related activity, and then add theory and/or sight reading into the mix that one day of the month instead of into every week.

Thinking as I'm typing... wink Thanks for your thoughts, all.

Re: 30-minute lesson structure for promising beginner
Andamento #2989095 06/08/20 02:44 PM
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Andamento,

I like your idea of having them add an intro/prelude to a piece they are somewhat familiar with.

Sometimes I ask them to choose what they want as a warm-up, and I am surprised at their selection on occasion. Rough and tumble child liked a lullaby, or a hesitant child played a bold march...it does create a deeper connection.

And, no matter how well you set up your lesson plans, life gets in the way. Some concepts I plan most of the lesson to teach/demo/echo, and they get it fast! Or, the reverse. Something that two dozen other students on the same lesson took to in two minutes, this one student has spent ten minutes and is still unsure.

Keep it fluid, but DO keep a timer. (I find that for a 30 min lesson, a warning 7 minutes before end works for me. 5 min snooze = two minutes left for final review and assignment confirmation.)


Learning as I teach.

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