improving as a teacher, Professional Development, Studio Business, Teaching Piano

Forum Q&A: Lesson Planning for Private Lessons

It’s been a while since we had a Forum Q&A!  Sometimes I run out of ideas for discussion topics, so if you ever have a question you’d like to see addressed here to get other teachers’ input, please let me know.  🙂

Last time, we discussed the role of the parent in private lessons.  We received some well-thought responses, so thanks for that!  Click here to read them, and remember, it’s never too late to add your thoughts.

Here’s today’s discussion topic: Lesson planning!  Here’s a few questions to get you thinking:

Do you create lesson plans for the private piano lessons you teach?  Why or why not?  If you do create lesson plans, what is your process?  How much time do you spend lesson planning each week?  Is your method feasible for even if you full studio of say, 20+ students? 

Although I’ve been teaching privately for over 6 years now, I still don’t feel I have a good system for lesson planning.  Fortunately, I have a pretty good memory for knowing where in their books my students are at any given time.  However, I have a feeling that eventually if I get over 20 students to keep track of, this would be become much more difficult.  I need to keep better records so I can be more effective in preparing to introduce new concepts to my students before the method book does!  I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this topic.  🙂

Photo Credit: Bright Meadow | CC 2.0

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14 thoughts on “Forum Q&A: Lesson Planning for Private Lessons”

  1. I keep weekly plans for my students. 30 minutes is just not enough time for me to waste doing the wrong thing or trying to figure out what to do.

    I have a 3 ring binder where each student has a page. On each student’s page, I keep track of if they’ve paid tuition, which performances they are planning on participating in (some students do events outside of my studio events), and then a weekly record of what they’re working on. Each week gets its own line, so I also track attendance (by writing a note on that line if they were absent or if they are planning to be absent).

    You can see the sheet I use at:
    I print these on card stock and then 3 hole punch. (I used to use a spiral notebook, but then students would switch lesson times so I couldn’t just flip to the next page when the next student walked in)

    I paper clip any items to give to the students to their sheet and stick post-it notes to the page if I still need that month’s payment or for other reminders (like if I need to give them a book)

    Most weeks, I plan out what I would like my students to work on. I write down song titles or page numbers before the student’s lesson and then during lesson I add to or cross out my notes if they change (like if a student needs another week on a piece or if a student gets to more material than I had planned). I play lots of games with my students, so also write down which game we played, so I’m not having them play the same game every week.

    Right now I have a bunch of students in Piano Adventures Level 1 – so this keeps me from getting confused about who has played which pieces. It also saves me from digging through books saying “did you do that song out of your performance book yet…?”

    It usually takes me about 30-45 minutes to write plans for 26 students, though some weeks I’ll spend more time because I’ll play through my student’s new pieces (usually if they are in a book I haven’t used before) or I’ll brush up on the teacher duet part that I haven’t played in a while.

    1. Some fantastic ideas here. Can you re post your pdf again. Can’t seem to open it.
      I’m thinking of doing a dip which is all based on lesson planning and demonstrating my pupils progress over 12 lessons
      Any advice greatly appreciated

    2. Hello, Erin! I love your insights and would love to see the format you use. Unfortunately the link doesn’t work anymore. Any chance of there being another way to view it? I’ve been in need of a system that holds and I’m curious to give yours a try. 🙂 Thanks.

  2. I don’t do much planning other than sometimes practicing or studying pieces my advanced students learn, or assigning repertoire (especially if there is a theme – such as this year, where my advanced students are all learning music of Prokofiev). I too am very curious about what exactly other teachers do for lesson planning.

  3. It has been great to see young teachers such as yourself designing websites to help other fellow musicians in their field. I am 55 years old and have been teaching for a long time but it is so refreshing to be able to have such helpful resourses to use for my students. It wasn’t until I started researching what else I could do to make the lessons have a more connected and continued progress and goal, that made me develop a program that the students could use every week for the whole year and one that I could follow whenever a new student signed up. So I now have a binder that each student purchases in the Fall. I work all summer long on it because I have more time to devote to it. I create a theme and adjust to how and what I want to cover for the whole year. It has freed up much time during the music year for me. I occasionly tweak it because each student is an individual and learns differently. But it is one of those things that you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?” Anyway, planning ahead for me has proven to be effective for myself and the student. I will still continue to learn new things no matter how old I get. I want my students to love music and their music lessons so the effort is worth it. Jan

  4. I don’t lesson plan much, but that’s actually on purpose.

    One reason is that I am blessed to have quite a few students- enough that remembering exactly what everybody is working on from week to week becomes very difficult. Thankfully, the students have assignment books that serve as reminders for both of us once the lesson begins, but scripting and pre-planning lessons would take a LOT of time with the number of students that I have.

    The bigger reason, though, is that I don’t want the lesson plan to get in the way of teaching in the moment. I student taught in a public school band program, and my supervising teacher had nearly 40 years of experience when I worked with him. From time to time, he would end up directing a band that was normally the responsibility of another director. In those situations, he never had a formal written plan, but he always had a general idea of what he wanted to accomplish with the group, and so that general idea and his experience were the only “plan” he ever needed.

    I try to teach the same way. My goal is to be extremely reactive and quick on my feet with students so that I can troubleshoot problems as they occur. Basically, I figure that unscripted teaching/learning situations are probably going to occur anyway, so by not lesson planning, I’m relying more on my experience with the pieces in the books and sharpening my ability to come up with a strategy on the spot (because I have to!).

    Now, for my more advanced students, adult students and my composition students, some planning is necessary, and I do spend plenty of time researching and finding music selections for my students, but I try to avoid having a formal lesson plan so that I can teach more “in the moment”.

    1. My thoughts precisely, Jeff!

      I’ve been mulling this over since I saw this post yesterday, wondering why I haven’t followed through with more lesson planning. I do have a teacher binder with a section for each student where I include their contact info and a form where I record the yearly goals, but that’s about it. It’s the document titled Planning 2011-2012 here:

      I also have many students at every possible level, and individual lessons would be impossible to plan. But I realized last night exactly what Jeff just said! My best teaching has been “on the fly”, which sounds bad, but after years and years of education and experience, I feel a have a good bit of information on which to draw. The very best moments are when I hear myself articulating a solution to some technical or musical issue that I am realizing as I speak. It’s a rush!

      Also, we have the unique opportunity of responding to each student at the moment. Things really do depend on how well the student has practiced or grasped the concept. Thank goodness we do not need to follow a time-constrained curriculum (like school) where we teach to the average and those on either end are not well-served.

      Last week one of my early advanced students marched in, sat down, and asked if I had some funeral music she could play for her grandmother’s funeral in two days. That was a priority, and while she played her assigned pieces I had to think fast and quickly browse for something appropriate and easy enough to learn in 2 days. It’s a great example of being able to respond to the situation.

      Sorry for the length – and for what probably sounds like a rationalization! I must admit to feeling a bit of guilt sometimes when I hear of how much planning some teachers do.

  5. Wow, great discussion so far! I’ll also admit to feeling a little guilt, too, when other teachers talk about lesson planning. It doesn’t help that in my pedagogy classes, I’ve had pedagogy teachers mention “lesson planning” at times, but never actually address the topic in specifics!

    Currently, like Jeff, I use the student’s assignment notebook to help me recall what we’ve been doing and focusing on.

    I am beginning to come to the conclusion that lesson planning (on not) depends on one’s teaching philosophy. If the teacher wishes to incorporate lots of games and interactive activities during the lesson that will prepare the student for new concepts as they are introduced in the method book, lesson planning would be an invaluable resource (at least, keeping a record of what concepts are coming up at any given time for each student).

    My other conclusion is that lesson planning may be most effective for young/beginner students. Once the student is playing classical repertoire (I’m thinking intermediate to advanced levels), the focus during the lesson really should be about the student’s rendition of the literature at any given point. The teacher must be able to respond to the work the student has done over the past week, and it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what aspect of the music will need focus during the lesson. As Jeff pointed out, the teacher must be able to think on his/her feet.

    I do think keeping records of student accomplishments over the year is a good idea. I have a form that I use with my students (available for download on the Printables > Studio Business page, “Record of Student Achievements”) to record things like finishing a method book, participating in an event or music camp, etc. I also like Jan’s method for creating an incentive program or over-arching goal for progress over the year in her studio — especially the fact that the majority of the planning time would occur in the summer rather than in the school year. I do spend a lot of time, as I’m sure many of you do too, choosing the materials and pieces I think will best suite a student at that point and time.

    To those of you who DO lesson plan each week, kudos! It sounds like Erin has arrived upon a time-effective method that is working well for her and her students. I admire that!

  6. My lesson planning is done once, in the fall, and I put my plans for each student on a Google Doc spreadsheet, with one worksheet per student. Each vertical column represents one lesson day, and assignments and other comments (just for me) are recorded during the lesson. Students have gotten used to me typing short notes into their spreadsheet. Having it on Google Docs came in really handy this fall, when I had a complete computer disaster and my laptop just wouldn’t boot up even one more time. It was reassuring that all my work wasn’t lost! What I list in the fall for each student is possible pieces from every historical era, and concepts I want to work on throughout the year. I admire teachers who do lesson planning every week, but that just isn’t me. Our state syllabus serves as a general guide to all the scales, chords, cadences, and arpeggios each student will learn, plus the repertoire that I choose from the repertoire lists. Additional planning may be done for seasonal music for Halloween and Christmas, but my students constantly have special repertoire that becomes performance ready as recital dates approach.

  7. I don’t actually do lesson planning for individual lessons. I do more long-term planning. I have a general idea the skills and concepts (and specific repertoire for advanced students) I want to work through with a student for the coming semester and/or year. In October, I make notes of each student’s level and select Christmas music for them. Then, after Thanksgiving, I begin selecting solos for the spring recital, so we can begin working on them right after Christmas. But that’s as far as I get with lesson planning. As far as planning for individual lessons goes, I do use an assignment book for each student. I’m pretty detailed in my lesson/assignment notes, so the student knows what and how he/she is supposed to practice for the week. This makes it very easy to know where to begin at their next lesson.

  8. Hi there. I have been reading this blog but never commented before.

    I do make lesson plans for most of my students. I have many young beginners, most using the same method book, so I find it helpful to spend a few minutes making a plan for each one before my teaching day begins. I’m not scripting every moment, but I do have a general structure for each lesson. At the end of my teaching day I jot down a few notes for each student to remind me about certain issues that need to be addressed. This allows me to also be sensitive to the pacing of the lesson, as some children thrive on many short activities while others prefer more time for thought and reflection.
    I have almost 40 students, so I don’t think I could rely on my memory to retain a course of study for each individual. As well, the notes I write in their lesson books are mostly directions for the student or parent, which are distinct from my own observations and comments.
    So that’s my system!
    I have enjoyed reading the discussion here.

  9. I personally would waste more time writing lesson plans than I would save. Since I teach about 1/2 of my lessons at a small school (I’m the only piano teacher there), I often have students forget their books. I have students in 3 different series, and I don’t have every level in every series, so I am often forced to improvise. I (almost) always bring something with me at the level of each of my students each day that I teach at the school, so we can at least read through some music together, even if it’s not the things they practiced that week. We can also work on scales, playing by ear, flashcards, etc.

    I also like the flexibility of being able to spend more time on a certain area if the student needs extra help with a concept or a passage in a song. I’m a young teacher (only out of college for 4 years), but teaching the piano comes so naturally to me that trying to tie myself down to a schedule would severely cramp my style.

  10. Mostly I’ve kept track of their lessons with the student bringing in the “teacher’s notebook” that I write in every week. There is a pretty good site for music teachers called Music Teacher Helper that helps teachers with the business side of things. Worth a look.


  11. I love this topic. How I wish I have the time and creativity to create my own piano lessons plan. Each student is unique and I think it would be a great idea to have a slightly different plan for each student.

    There are many good method books out there that covered different aspect of techniques; yet, each student has its own challenge, it is up to each piano teacher to design the individual lesson plan.

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