7 ways to connect with students in online piano lessons

When teaching online piano lessons, whether via zoom, Facetime or Skype, do you sometimes find it’s hard to maintain your energy and purpose? Over the summer the thought of returning to teaching online made my heart sink. I wasn’t surprised to read that other teachers were feeling just the same way and dreading the thought of giving more online piano lessons.


online piano lessons
So I decided to make a list of all the activities I could use in my teaching to keep my lessons positive and my teaching purposeful and engaging. Having attended a few online summer schools I had picked up lots of new teaching ideas to add to my toolkit. So I wrote down my list in Evernote and refer to it before each teaching session. And do you know what – it’s working! I am loving my teaching and lessons are proving productive and full of fun. My students and I are really connecting

I’ve taken my favourites so far and here’s a glimpse into 7 ways that you can connect with your students in online piano lessons (that also work for face-to-face!).

#1 LISTENING

Using a teaching song or a piece of music the student has to listen out for various aspects and respond according to your instructions. In this video of Tom Cats, Alley Cats CLICK HERE children have to listen for the word ‘cats’ then clap every time they hear it. Once established they can stamp on the type of cat. The series Songs with Sally can be found over on my igtv channel @drsallycathcart

Alternatively, play a phrase of music and students clap the rhythm pattern they hear. This could be the melody or the bass line. Take it further and add different movements for different rhythm values. This activity also works really well with adults.

#2 MOVING

Again, this is really about listening and responding through movement. Recently, I’ve been focussing on the intervals of a 2nd and 3rd with a number of students. They choose how they respond, through movement, to the intervals they hear me play. Standing up, sitting down, curled up like a hedgehog or wide open like a butterfly are some of the ideas.

It’s just as much fun in reverse when they play the intervals and I do the movement. It also gives me a chance to be really, really silly!

#3 FEELING

Help your students, young and old to feel a steady internal pulse by showing it externally on the body. For example, a metre of 3 can be done by the student touching tummy, shoulders and head, counting at the same time. Once this is established you call out one number – on the next repetition of that number the arms are opened wide instead of the usual movement. It really keeps the brain alert and attentive!

#4 IMPROVISING

I’ve been totally inspired by September’s Getting Started with Improvisation Curiosity Box in my lessons this week. CLICK HERE FOR ACCESS if you are a Community member (but remember you’ll need to be logged in first).

In particular Sharon’s idea of inspiring improvisation through images. Continuing with the 2nds and 3rds concept students have been improvising traffic jams and floating balloon music in their online piano lessons. You can try this out with your students by downloading the image accompanying the blog.

#5 PLANNING

One area of planning that has proved quite useful is the idea of having a central theme or topic running through all lessons. This might be related to the season or grouped around a topic such as Pirates and Princesses or Songs from the Shows.

At the start of the term, I set every one a Keyboard Kickoff Challenge that included creating a ‘nutty’ rhythm. Students went through a series of steps, finishing with a short, written composition. On the way though they had to collect nuts or pinecones and use them to write down a short rhythm. Here’s one of the creations.

online piano teaching

#6 PLAYING

With no ‘live’ students attending lessons for the last six months, it can feel a little lonely in piano lessons. So this term I am delighted that my friend Lulu has come to join in the lesson fun! Despite the fact that Lulu is a sock puppet she has made it so easy for the children to respond to with singing and so much fun.

Here’s a short video you can find on the Ready to Play Youtube channel where Lulu is showing off her good listening and solfa skills.

#7 GOAL SETTING

Whether lessons are in person or online, setting goals and having targets to work towards give purpose and helps motivation. I like to have online piano parties every half-term often using the themes discussed in #5. For some students, it might be important to set a bigger goal of working towards an exam, whether online or in person.

Connecting with our students whether in online piano lessons or face-to-face is a hugely important part of our job. It always has been but at the moment it is more important than ever. I highly recommend that you make your own list of teaching activities that really work. Write them down and keep them somewhere memorable and accessible, then as you are planning the week ahead you have instant inspiration all ready to go!

p.s many thanks to all the music educators for their inspiration over the summer with these various games and activities loads more: Lucinda Geoghegan from British Kodály Academy, László Norbert Nemes and Bori Szirányi from the Kodály Institute in Hungary, Monica Wilkinson, Leila Viss 

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers. For more instant inspiration and community support we are offering a one month, free membership trial.

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