It isn’t always easy to keep students engaged throughout their lesson. With so many other activities in their lives, it can feel like piano is just one more thing vying for their attention. Or, in this time of a pandemic & social isolation, students can feel unmotivated by much of anything since they are dealing with a world that suddenly looks very different.
But, what if we could have our students ask this …
“What do you mean lesson is over already?”
This is the question EVERY teacher would love to hear at the end of each lesson. After all, a student who feels lesson flies by is much more likely to continue taking lessons & even tell their friends about how awesome piano is. Sure it can get a bit awkward when you get to listen to the following conversation.
Student: “Mom! How long has the lesson been?” (Inwardly you’re cringing because let’s face it, it just doesn’t sound good.)
Mom: “30 minutes.”
Student: “That’s what Ms. Rosemarie said! Are you sure? I’m sure it was only 15 minutes!” (A sigh of relief since that sounds SO much better.)
When this happens, I’ve chosen to take it as a compliment & use it as an opportunity to talk to parents about how much their child loves their piano lessons. And, yes, I have had students who regularly have this conversation with myself & their parents. Needless to say, they re-register every year without fail.
Maybe you already routinely have students complain about how short lessons are or maybe this is one complaint you would like to hear more of. If you fall into the latter category, here are some ideas to help you keep students engaged each & every lesson.
4 Ways to Keep Students Engaged
1. Embrace short memory spans.
Children, and many adults for that matter, have short attention spans. So, rather than bemoan this reality embrace it. On average, children have an attention space that is their chronological age plus 1 minute (i.e. a 5-year-old would have an attention span of 6 minutes). Unfortunately, this does not seem to hold true for adults. Sorry!
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, I travelled to my student’s homes, so everything I need for a lesson needed to be with me & this required a plan.
When planning lessons, I focus on 5-minute segments with a 5-minute buffer at the end of each lesson. The buffer gives flexibility if something is going really well or needs more time. That being said, sometimes throwing the lesson out the window is the best thing you can do. Thank goodness for a wide variety of apps on the iPad to reinforce concepts to keep students engaged on those especially distracted days!
2. Make a recipe for each song.
By breaking a song down into it’s smallest components (or ingredients) you will always be able to reach your student where they are that day. Since applying this to lessons, I have seen huge strides in my student’s ability to see patterns & apply them to multiple songs. Plus, technique exercises became a whole lot more applicable & enjoyable for students to practice when they see over & over how it shows up in their music!
The approach I take to keep students engaged is a combination of the Suzuki Method & Paul Harris’ Simultaneous Learning. To learn more about these approaches, I highly recommend:
- “Studying Suzuki Piano: More Than Music” by Carole L. Bigler & Valery Lloyd-Watts. I read it on a road trip as I eagerly shared ideas with my husband while he drove. (This is an affiliate link that does not increase the cost to you. It just provides a very small benefit for me.)
- Tim Topham’s episode on Simultaneous Learning with Paul Harris opened up my eyes to what this approach can accomplish during each lesson.
3. Why teach (on the bench) when you can trick them into learning?
This is one of the biggest changes in my personal teaching style since I started out as a teacher. Games, apps & manipulatives are just a few of my favourite things! (That IS how the song goes, right?) Even my most book-oriented learners light up when they get to move off the bench.
This is also something I have enjoyed adding to my online teaching. It tends to be a wonderful, unexpected surprise for students & parents. It also means that neither of us is spending yet another 45-minutes just sitting at a screen.
If you are just starting your game & supplementary music collections, many of the blogs I follow have both on their sites. I also recommend joining the Piano Book Club & Piano Game Club with TeachPianoToday. Getting new resources each month keeps the excitement up for students & teachers alike!
One of my students’ all-time favourite off-the-bench activities is our rhythm warm-ups. There were zero problems with keeping students engaged during this unit!
4. Have fun!
Go into every lesson with more energy than your student. It doesn’t matter how tired you are or what may be going on outside of the lesson. If you have lots of positive energy & are excited about what you will be sharing, they will catch onto that excitement as well.
In the time of COVID, our students need more positivity. They may be scared, overwhelmed or sad. The best thing we can do for our students is to be that ray of sunshine in their week. Our lessons can be the place they can escape from everything else that is going on.
I will concede it is difficult to have more energy than a 4-year-old but do your best. If they are looking forward to their lesson all day because they KNOW you will have fun with them for 30-minutes, those are the students that stay with you. And, those parents become huge converts who advertise for you.
Bringing fun into our lessons means our students are eager to learn from us & eager to experience what we have planned for lessons each week.
What do you mean lesson is over?
All of these ideas have created a healthy, happy studio for my students. My hope is that you will be able to incorporate at least one idea into your lessons (whether in-person or online) & that this positive complaint will be one you hear week after week.
I’ve created a 3-month set of warm-ups that will get your students up off the bench, playing & exploring rhythms like they never have before!
P.S. This article was originally published on November 21, 2015. It still has all the same great content but has been updated to reflect studio teaching today.