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Piano Teacher Temptation #1: Fill Time

Glancing at the clock, you see that you still have 17 minutes to go in in your 11th lesson of the day. You're tired. Your piano student seems unmotivated. You feel unmotivated.

Your student clearly doesn't want to play the piano any more, and you really don't want to teach any more.

And so, because you are a piano teacher of the human variety, you then think one of the deadliest thoughts ever (for a piano teacher, that is): What can I do to fill the time?

(Do you hear the funeral bells tolling?)

Ok, you might think I'm being overly dramatic here, and I probably am, but it is for good reason. Here is why you don't want to think of your lessons as a place to "fill time":

"Filling time" becomes a VERY slippery slope.

I have talked with well-meaning teachers who constantly felt like they needed to fill time. So, their reaction to that was an endless stream of games, extra worksheets, or other "time fillers." Before you know it, the actual piano instruction and piano playing dwindled in the lesson and everything else overtook it. And, don't get me wrong -- games, worksheets, and other activities certainly have a place in the piano lesson, but those things shouldn't be THE lesson.

Of course, we know that our students deserve better than that, but, the funny thing is that the person who is most penalized by this mindset is the teacher! Why? Because in an effort to "fill time", the piano teacher has to think of and prepare for all of these time fillers ahead of time. Right?

How many hours have you spent searching for more games for your studio? You search blogs like crazy, finally find something you really like, print it out, laminate it, cut it out, prep it, etc. I'm not exaggerating when I say I have spent 45 minutes prepping something in order to fill 5 minutes of lesson time.

Um, yeah, that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Instead, let's try a different approach. Be deliberate.

Be deliberate about what you are aiming for with your students. Be deliberate about what extra things you might get to if you have the time. Be deliberate about the structure of your 30 minute lesson or your 45 minute lesson, and stick to it as much as possible.

I can tell you right now what I do. You see, I have three areas that I think my students need crucial training and further development in, and so I always have that on standby in case we have time. The three areas are:

1. Note identification (usually staff, but it could be even the keyboard if they are a very new student). So, I have a couple of activities -- games, teaching tools, etc. that drill note identification.

2. Rhythm development. I have a binder full of rhythm drills that vary from single measures with four quarter notes to complicated rhythm lines, full of sixteenth notes and 5/8 timing. I pull that binder out, and depending on the student's level, we clap the rhythm or play it on the piano.

3. Technique memorization. I have a stack of flashcards with technique markings on them. We will take those out, pull a card, and apply that specific technique to a full line of music. This is challenging but really rewarding when the student "gets it."

See the difference between filling time versus deliberately adding value to your student's lesson?

I want to encourage you to think of your student as your child, or your friend, or your parent. Would you want their piano teacher to just "fill time"? Or would you rather their teacher be deliberate, moving toward a specific goal, with a lesson structure and planned activities that get toward that goal?

A game is a great idea in a lesson if it is specific and deliberately planned. Extra worksheets can be a great idea in a lesson if you deliberately use them as a teaching tool. Again, I'm not bashing games nor worksheets-- I think they are great and I use them in my lessons.

But, I'm asking you to think carefully about how you utilize those things in your studio.

All of the extras you want to do, if you do them deliberately as part of your philosophy of teaching, awesome. If you do them because you are tired, or your student is cranky, or you just are trying to fill time, watch out.

After a while, your client will notice that you're not really getting much done in a lesson.

After a while, you will lose your passion for teaching because you aren't getting to the important things.

After a while, you may even gain the reputation as the teacher who "does fun stuff", but the students don't really learn anything. (I knew a teacher like that -- so unfortunate!)

"How do I fill time?" is a slippery slope. Trust me on this. Avoid this mindset, and be deliberate instead. You'll be glad you did.

#methodology #bestpractices