Every good pedagogy student and music teacher knows that it’s important to teach more than repertoire. There’s lots of extra “stuff” that goes into a well-balanced piano curriculum. Stuff like theory… and sightreading… and rhythm, technique, ear training, music history, improv, composing… and the list goes on! During the month of July, I often find that my desk is buried under piles of that “stuff” that I’m tweaking and organizing for the new school year. With those piles of curriculum comes the question… “How does ALL of this fit into 30 minutes a week???”
I hear that question often from prospective parents and students, and also from other teachers who visit this site (“How DO you find time to play all of those games?”), so thought I’d share the system I’ve found useful in my studio for maximizing lesson time. Several years ago, I organized all of the supplemental materials I use into 3-ring binders for each student:
I’ve found that having everything together in one place saves us a LOT of time in lessons. I don’t have to fish through my bookshelves or a student’s bag for the level of sightreading I want that day, or an ear training worksheet, etc. – it’s all in one place. It also means that those activities go home with the student each week, and they’re able to easily find and complete assignments at home.
We keep all of their incentive program materials at the front of the binder – that’s a great motivation to make sure it gets to lessons each week. No points tracker or money bag… no points or money for the week!
The rest of the binder is organized into 5 tabs. The first one holds blank Lesson sheets:
The lines at the bottom match the tabs of the binder, so I can easily assign tasks to be completed at home. I also make notes to myself in the blank space to the left of the words at the bottom – if we work on Ear Training at a lesson, I’ll mark a quick “x” or note. That way, I can tell at a glance at the next lesson what we did the last time and rotate to different activities that week. ( can be downloaded from my studio site).
The rest of the tabs hold activity pages. Here are resources I use for these tabs, and where to find them:
Sightreading Challenge Packets: I use 8 levels of packets, each with 12 exercises. These start at the pre-reading stage, and advance to melodies with chord accompaniments.
The Friends of Free Piano Music site has some terrific short arrangements I often use for sightreading as well.
Several years ago, I created 3 levels of Ear Training books with corresponding recordings that my students could use at lessons, and also at home. Each activity is relatively short (designed to be completed in 5 minutes or less). We use them for mid-lesson breaks from the piano. Some students really get into the challenge of completing an entire book, and love that they can work on listening at home as well.
For beginners, I use a multi-sensory curriculum we’ve dubbed Hands-On Rhythms. We work on rhythm patterns using a variety of movement and sensory activities at lessons, then they have a workbook page where they draw or write the patterns at home.
After students have completed that, we move on to Rhythm Challenge Packets. Each week, we tackle a line of rhythms at lessons, or assign one for them to work on at home. We might choose to walk the rhythm, sway and clap, or even pick a line to use in an improve. Once we’ve worked through a whole packet, their challenge is to be able to correctly clap and count any line I choose.
I also use the rhythm worksheets from the ComposeCreate site in binders when students need more practice on a particular rhythm pattern.
Throughout the year, my students use blank Technique Sheets to write their own scale book. The writing process is a wonderful way for them to reinforce fingerings, accidentals, etc. and also practice written theory.
You may notice that there’s no theory tab in the binders. Rather than use a workbook, I’ve had lots of success in teaching theory almost completely through the use of manipulatives and hands-on activities. That’s where all the games come in! From time to time I do use worksheets to reinforce specific concepts, and can just tuck those into the front pocket of the binder. We also use that pocket to store improv ideas, compositions-in-progress and any other special project students work on.
During a typical lesson, we usually fit in one or two activities from the binder. We start lessons with either technique or sightreading (we rotate those on an every-other week basis), then take a break in the middle of a lesson to work on some listening, rhythm or theory (and also rotate through those through the month). If we find as we are working through a repertoire piece that a little extra specific rhythm or theory practice would be helpful, we’ve got materials right at our fingertips!
I’m sure many of you have other great ideas for organizing curriculum and materials. Please feel free to share with a comment below!!