The time has come: You’ve finally decided to teach piano to adult beginners. A lot hinges on the very first lesson plan for an adult piano student: If you get started on the right foot, then everything else will follow.
But what is the right foot?
This post was originally published in August 2017 and updated in September 2019. It was expanded and updated again in February 2021.
Before laying out the actual lesson plan, it’s important to know what you want to get out of that first lesson – both for yourself and for your student.
After their first piano lesson, I want my adult students to:
- Feel more relaxed and at ease
- Believe that it is possible for them to learn piano
- Be able to play something cool at home
While teaching, I’m also secretly working to:
- Understand their goals and expectations
- Learn about their musical tastes
- Evaluate current skills and abilities
Over time, I’ve landed on this 4-part formula which seems to work really well for the first lesson plan with an adult piano student.
Part 1: Connect with Your Adult Piano Student
Start by getting to know your new student. What do they do? What do they like? Why do they want to learn piano?
Adult piano students are usually very nervous. So keep that in mind when they walk in the door. This is a completely new environment for them and they might feel way out of their comfort zone.
Think about how you would feel going starting something completely new, knowing that most kids embark on this journey at 7 years old…
Combine that with the perception many people have of the strict piano teacher, and the mystique that often surrounds music notation. It’s no wonder they’re a bit on edge when they first arrive.
So put them at ease, make them feel welcome and – above all – make them feel heard.
For what to do after you make it through that first lesson, my Planning Piano Lessons hub page has loads of resources you’ll need for teaching adult music students.
Part 2: goals and expectations
This goes hand in hand with knowing why they’re taking piano in the first place.
Ideally, you would’ve already spoken with your student about overall goals during your very first conversation – before lessons even started. If that’s the case, take some time to review and further refine their goals.
Often that initial discussion about goals will get an adult student’s brain churning, and they’ll be able to articulate even more by the time the first lesson rolls around.
If you haven’t broached the topic of goals at all yet, now’s the time.
Do they want to…
- Write their own music?
- Learn a Beethoven Sonata?
- Sit an exam?
- Play their favourite Beatles songs?
Not all your new students will have an answer to this, and some may be too shy to tell you at first. But make sure you ask.
You don’t want to set them off on the path to classical music if that’s of no interest to them. And you don’t want to assume they’re not ambitious just because they’re an adult student, either.
Whatever goals they do give you, have a little chat about their expectations for when they’ll achieve these things. Be quite frank about what it takes to do what they want and how you would get them there.
If they saw an 8-year-old playing Für Elise, they might be quite surprised to learn how long that normally takes to learn and how many hours that 8-year-old had probably practiced to get to that level.
I delve into goal setting and expectations a bit more in A Practical Guide to Teaching Adult Piano Students, if you’d like further insights in this area.
Part 3: Remove the Mystique
If you don’t know what this “mystique” I’m talking about is, then ask a friend who has no music training at all what they see when they look at sheet music. Or what they think when they watch a pianist.
People who didn’t study music kind of think it’s….well, a bit magic.
So we need to take some of this mystique away at the very first lesson with an adult piano student. We need to show them that they were right to think they could learn to do this. There’s no magic or witchcraft at work here.
This is why I believe you should give your new adult piano students a full tour of the grand staff. Explain the relationship between the keys and the lines and spaces as clearly and succinctly as you can.
I wouldn’t be afraid of over-explaining either. Even if something seems a bit obvious, say it. Otherwise, you risk them not knowing – and not asking because of the aforementioned nervousness and mystique factors.
Once you’ve given them this tour, get them reading on the staff right away. Get them to put this to work so they can see straight away that this music notation stuff is decipherable by average folk.
Part 4: Something Cool
Finally, make sure you teach all new adult piano students something cool they can play immediately. The staff reading likely won’t meet this requirement, so I recommend teaching your student something by rote.
This really could be anything, as long as it:
- Is playable by a beginner
- Sounds great straight away
- Has a full rich sound and isn’t “childish”
The last rule is the only tricky one. While ‘I Love Coffee’ does sound great and is playable, it is just a tiny bit kiddy for the “something cool” part of the first lesson. (Definitely worth teaching to them later, though.)
My go-to “something cool” in the first lesson plan for an adult piano student is the chords for the verse of ‘Let it Be’. This is a simple four chord pattern, it’s very accessible and everyone knows it.
The other thing about teaching this particular chord pattern is that it’s quite easy to add little snazzy bits if they pick it up quickly. But it also sounds awesome with just a single note in the bass and an open fifth in the right hand if they need to keep it simple.
These visual chord pattern grids are a handy resource to use when teaching chords to adult piano students. Enter your email below to get yours free.
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Do you teach adult piano students?
What challenges have you found with these students? What do you find are the biggest differences between adult students and kids?
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