I wonder if piano teachers all work too hard in piano lessons?

If you find yourself explaining things again and again to your pupils – wondering why they aren’t getting it – then you just might need to be a bit ‘lazier’!

I am in the lucky position of being able to watch many other teachers, both in the classroom and the piano studio. What has struck me is just how hard piano teachers seem to work in lessons.

And here’s what I mean. After listening to our pupils play, we give them feedback, tell them what to do next, explain the whys and wherefores, and generally are busy teaching throughout the whole lesson. I think piano teachers have a lot to learn from class teachers when it comes to the idea of how teaching less means that a pupil learns more!

Teaching less means that a pupil learns more - Dr Sally Cathcart
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This feeling was strengthened when I read The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook (written by Jim Smith and published by the Independent Thinking Series). I found that it contained many of the strategies and tactics that I had started to use over the years in my piano lessons.

However, ‘Lazy’ Piano Teaching isn’t about sitting back as a teacher with your feet up and just letting the pupil ‘get on with it’!

In fact – when we talked about this subject a few years ago at the Oxford Piano Group we all agreed that ‘Lazy Piano Teaching’ requires a lot of preparation and thought. The author, Jim Smith, proposes that ‘Lazy Teaching relies on the students beginning to develop skills in the process of learning and understanding which of these newly acquired skills to deploy with each new challenge’ [1].

Here are a few thoughts and strategies to get you thinking about how to be a little ‘lazier’!


Instead of thinking about what you are going to teach in the lesson, focus on what your pupil is going to learn. Ian Gilbert suggests that you should ‘do things with them, not to them’ [2].


  1. Do you always sit in the same place? Try standing up or moving to a new position to listen to the pupil play. Moving away from the piano can help the pupil to feel more freedom and helps to take away the sense of you ‘breathing down their neck’. It also means that you focus on listening to the music rather than reading the notes.
  2. ‘Mess’ up the order of the lesson. If the lesson elements always happen in the same order it can be refreshing for all involved to do it differently. You could write the different elements (scales, repertoire, sight reading, improvisation) on post-it notes and let the pupil choose the order. This really helps the pupil have a sense of ownership and involvement.
  3. Make them curious – starting with an activity that piques their curiosity gets the pupil thinking. One strategy is to ask the pupil to come up with a question to an answer you provide. For example, I will write an answer on a whiteboard or post-it note and put it on the music stand and say to the pupil “This is the answer. Can you think of what a possible question might be? Just think about it during the lesson and let me know when you have thought of something”. Ideally this relates to something that was covered in the previous week but you should also be aware that there will be more than one question that emerges.
  4. Make sure you tell them about the important stuff! If you want them to be aware of an important concept make sure you tell them it is important rather than just assume that they will realise.

In Part 2 next week, I will be suggesting ways that careful use of language can enhance the motivation, self-esteem and behaviour of your pupils.

[1] The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook, Jim Smith, Independent Thinking Series, Kindle edition, location 454.

[2] ibid, location 264.

This post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart | Co-Founder & Director of The Curious Piano Teachers

4 thoughts on “THE ‘LAZY’ PIANO TEACHER – PART 1

  1. Marian Smales.

    I can so identify with this – and will certainly be trying some of the ideas ! My pupils know that I will only go so far: I tell them that if I find I am making more of an effort than they are, there is something very wrong. I will meet them at least half way, but they MUST take some ownership of their progress. I remind them that you can lead a horse to water….. Even so, I’m often going round in circles with some concepts!

  2. Britney Wendel

    Love the article and look forward to Part 2! Could you give me an example of an answer to a possible question (point #3)? I need an example or two to spur my thoughts đŸ˜‰

    1. Sally

      Hi Britney, delighted to hear that this has given you food for thought. So possible examples might be:

      a) if forte [f] is the answer what could a possible question be?

      b) Phrase is the answer – what question could you ask ? For my pupils they would know that phrase is a musical sentence. So a question might be ‘what do you call a musical sentence’.

      This always has to be linked to a recently covered topic or concept. Hope that helps.

  3. Nicola Pomeroy

    Only yesterday I sat away from the piano, put my notebook and pencil down and half gazed out of the window so that my pupil understood that I just wanted to listen……!
    I know that I am one of those who puts body and soul into my lessons, and I wonder if I give too much! There has to be a balance – I have learned that!
    I do change position, choosing to sit opposite sides from time to time! This is essential for my own posture, but it enables me to have a different view of the pupil’s hands too!
    I like the idea of the post-it notes! Will try it!


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