Hands On Teaching, Part 2 – Fitting it All In

Last week, I shared some thoughts on why I believed that games and structured play are so important in private music lessons.  This week, let’s take a look at how we can incorporate them into lessons on a regular basis.

If there’s one downside to using games, it’s that they’re time consuming.    Some weeks we’re hard pressed just to hear the pieces our students have practiced, introduce a few new ones and maybe squeeze in a little sightreading or a couple of scales.   By the time we look up at the clock, 30 or 45 minutes has flown by. 

Adding games and movement to lessons doesn’t have to take minutes away from other valuable tasks.   We can incorporate structured play into the things we already do.   Many times it’s as simple as turning verbal instructions into hands-on experiences.  For example, we could….

…Use a game to introduce a new concept

Instead of explaining a new concept while a student sits on the bench and stares blankly ahead at their book (or the ceiling, or their shoes…), take the opportunity to get up and play.  It could be as simple as a race up a floor staff by steps and skips, or a quick game of Simon Says.  Children absorb and retain new information best when they’re doing, not just listening.   Take a couple of minutes to let them experience a concept the first time and it’s likely that you won’t have to explain it again (and again and again) at each lesson down the road.  

 …Use a game to correct mistakes

When a student returns to lessons after a week of practice with mistakes in a piece, it’s a sign that there’s an underlying concept that hasn’t clicked yet.   Perhaps the student is insecure about a range of note names, didn’t notice a pattern of intervals, or hasn’t internalized a rhythm pattern.  Rather than sit and point out all the missed measures one by one, why not take a break to  “play” with the problematic concept, then return and guide the student to discover and fix the mistakes on their own?    

 …Use a game to start a lesson

If you know that Johnny is still working on learning his bass clef note names and Suzie always forgets to count her long notes, why wait for them to make those mistakes?  Meet them at the door, prepared with a quick game or activity to drill the concept in question.    You’ll get them engaged from the get-go, and start off on a positive note.  Later, when they’re working on repertoire, odds are good they’ll catch many of their own mistakes, or be equipped to combat any you might point out.  


The reality is, even with creative lesson planning, sometimes we don’t manage to squeeze everything in – and that’s OK, too.   At the end of the day, I would rather send my students out the door with a smile on their face and a firm grasp on the concepts they’ll encounter in the coming week of practice than hear every review song on their list.    Time spent on those all-important fundamentals will pay off down the road as our students grow into confident, independent-thinking young musicians!    


Hands On Teaching, Part 2 – Fitting it All In — 6 Comments

  1. Jen, I bought your Technique ToneUps last year but I want to make a few little tweeks to it for my studio needs. Would you be willing to publish an “editable” version of this as well as the PDFs you currently publish?

  2. Jen, I didn’t get the e-mail for the “editable” version of Technique Tone Ups. Could you please re-send if you get the time?

  3. Hi Jennifer!
    Thanks for your Hands on Teaching posts. It was very meaningful and inspiring for me to reflect on my own teaching.

    So true, why can’t piano lessons be fun? I’ve been adding some games to my lessons this year already but sometimes still get carried away to have to listen to every one of the pieces, technique or homework I gave each student. No wonder a few of my younger kids can’t seem to sit still this week — because they need to get up!

    I just started teaching full-time this year and I feel like I’m going through a lot of re-vamping in my approach in teaching as well as trying out new exciting things to teach!

    Thanks again!

Leave a Reply