The first four lessons for any beginning music student — regardless of the instrument being learned — are critical in many ways. These first four lessons help define what a music lesson is for a student. They set all kinds of standards for all subsequent lessons. And most of all, these first four music lessons form the foundation of the relationship between student and teacher.
Since I spend most of my time these days teaching music teachers how to be better, I always talk to them about the importance of these first four lessons with a new student. I stress that if my teachers can get the first four lessons right, they’re likely to keep their students — and keep them enthused and learning — for a very long time.
In this article, I am going to try to give you a glimpse of ways you can conduct yourself with your students in each of these first four lessons. The dialogue is fictional, of course, but based on actual lessons I’ve given through the years.
Lesson #1 – Establish Expectations
Hello Billy! My name is Mr. Jay, and I’ll be teaching you piano. Have you taken piano lessons before? Can you play the piano for me? Awesome! Well, it looks like you’ll be very easy to teach. Ok, lets get started. What color keys are on the piano? Good. Can you play a white piano key for me? Nice! Ok, this is the way your hands are supposed to look. Can you make yours look like this?
That’s how Lesson #1 goes. By the end, I’ve accomplished a number of objectives. For one thing, I’ve reinforced my name so the student will know who I am. (If you’ve never taught private lessons, you might be thinking this is an obvious and silly thing. Believe me: it’s not!) Also, I have given the student a written assignment, which establishes how he’ll know what to do each week. Finally, I’ll say goodbye to Mom or Dad (remember, at Lessons In Your Home we give lessons in our students’ homes!) with a quick demonstration of what we did and how the student should practice to prepare for the next lesson.
Lesson #2 – Reinforce and Explore
Hi Sarah, how did you like playing your violin this week? Great, lets take a look at your lesson book to see what was on your lesson plan. Sarah can you show me how hold the violin? Looking good, remember not to press your chin to hard on the instrument, stay relaxed. So we are going to play the open D string pizzicato, do you remember how to do that? Good, you really are going to be an excellent violinist, I can tell.
I’m not sure how the above demonstrates the pace, but pace is very important. The idea is to keep moving, repeat and reinforce, then introduce new ideas, teach, write down a lesson plan, and end the lesson. Baby steps really.
Lesson #3 – Start Building Repertoire
Good afternoon Rachel. Did you try to clean your Saxophone like we talked about last week? It’s still very shiny. Let’s hear page 6 in your saxophone lesson book. You’re doing so well. Have you tried playing this piece for anyone? No? Well, being a musician means you play songs for people. Will you try playing this song for your mom and dad, or anyone who comes over? You might also try playing it for your grandmother over the phone one night! How does that sound? I’m going to write down that I’d like you to continuing playing this piece so you’ll always have something to play for others or just for fun.
That’s right, it’s time to start teaching that playing an instrument means you play the instrument even if you don’t know much more then the basics. Becoming proud of what you do starts with what you do. What musicians do is have a repertoire — a group of songs they enjoy playing. Take this lesson to establish something the student can show off and be proud of. I like to make sure this won’t go away. I ask the student to show it to her parents, houseguests, or anyone else she can think of. It’s the beginning stages of performance; it’s a lot more natural if you don’t make it a big deal.
Lesson #4 – Stepping Outside The Box
Hi Sam, how’s the drumming going? Are you making too much noise for mom and dad yet? Today maybe we can close the drum technique book for a couple of minutes. Have you ever just played a beat you made up? Great! I’d like to hear it. That’s a really cool beat Sam. Do you know that what you’re doing when you do that is improvising and composing music? Lets talk about that and do some more.
Music teachers have the same need to get comfortable that their students do. I think lesson 4 is always a good time to take a breath and enjoy being part of a new student’s life. If I haven’t yet done so by lesson 4, this is where I’ll do a little something outside the box. I’ll take a few minutes out of the normal lesson routine to do something new, almost always by making up a song. I’ll use the notes and rhythms that the student has learned so far, and we’ll try a little improvisation on what they know. This lets the student know that creativity is expected and appreciated.
The Importance of a Good Start
The first four lessons represent the foundation for the relationship between teacher and student. This article suggests an approach designed to make sure that relationship gets off on the right foot. We hope it helps.
Remember, we welcome your comments!