How a 12 week learning plan can motivate your pupils (and you!)

Have you set yourself any new year resolutions this year? You’re just five days in so I hope it’s going well. I must admit I struggle with resolutions mostly because I find them so hard to sustain throughout the year. Things get in the way, life takes over and before I know it they’re gone, lost in the midst of time.

12 week plan for curious piano teachers

That’s why this term I am going to take a different approach to setting fresh goals with my piano pupils. Rather than tackle a whole year I am just going to focus on a 12 week period as the time span. I did this last year for the first time and it worked a treat providing everyone (including me) with a real boost.


The first thing to get clear is their big vision for playing the piano. At this point encourage them to dream big – this is not the place to be safe and comfortable.

Can they think of a pianist they would like to be as good as? What music would they like to be able to play in a year’s time? What do they want to achieve in the coming year? The answers will be quite varied.

Last year I had one pupil who wanted to be able to ‘play like Mummy’ (who had got to Grade 6) whereas another wanted to be able to play like one of my more advanced pupils who had played a ‘cool’ piece in the Christmas Piano Party. Whatever the dream help them to picture it in vivid technicolour and together frame a strong and powerful statement.


Then it’s time to address the 12 weeks of lessons. The secret here is to chose just a handful of clearly defined and achievable targets. By a handful I mean a maximum of five and the smaller the target the more chance there is of success. For example I have a pupil who is going to focus on playing securely and accurately without continually looking down at his fingers.

There is a good chance that your pupils might choose to learn specific pieces however, if you are not careful, this could end up being too broad and unspecific for any real sense of achievement to be generated. Ideally the targets should focus on pupil learning rather than on specific repertoire. If you want to consider how to narrow the target of learning a piece you might think about the level of accuracy and confidence in different areas such as rhythmic fluency, security of notes, tempo, dynamics, sense of flow etc.


The final stage is where you have to break down the targets into small, specific and achievable steps. These should be time sensitive and each step should push the pupil ever so slightly out of their comfort zone. Finally, when writing down each step accentuate the positive aspect rather than the negative. For example ‘Tony will be able to play 10 notes accurately in five finger position with his eyes within 25 seconds’. If you like you can use the SMART approach for this.


My pupils love having the next 12 weeks mapped out in front of them as it gives them a real sense of purpose. I think we forget that children’s sense of time is very different from our own. When you are just 8 years old, 12 weeks represents 1/35th of your life so far! To give them a really tangible sense of where they are going this term I am going to split the 12 weeks into 4 week segments (thanks to my friend Dr Marion Long and Rhythm for Reading for this inspiration).


You will find the 12 week plan will encourage you to become more proactive in your teaching. Instead of reacting each week to the work the pupil has or hasn’t done you will discover that the shared sense of purpose will drive the lessons and learning forward in quite a different way.

Sounds easy? Well yes, it is as long as the targets are small and achievable. If it starts to get complicated you’ve taken on too much!


6 thoughts on “How a 12 week learning plan can motivate your pupils (and you!)

  1. Christine G

    Great article Sally! Looking forward to trying it this term as I am documenting my lessons plans for case studies. Is there any app or piano practice chart you would recommend I can give my students so we can track the progress of our 12 week plans? They are 9 and 12 years old. Thanks 🙂

  2. Louise Manly

    I absolutely love this idea. I’m really looking forward to lessons recommencing this week and proposing this to my students!

  3. Susan Dennis

    Where would I find more about the SMART approach, mentioned in #3 of the 12-week Learning Plan? Thank you for this helpful outline.

    1. Sally

      Delighted that you have found this outline helpful Susan. If you now click on the SMART word in the article you will find it takes you to a definition of the SMART approach. Alternatively if you Google the word you will find many helpful articles about it.


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