Imagine the following scenario:

Teacher to pupil: ‘Play middle C’. Pupil responds carefully and plays middle C. Teacher: ‘How did you know that was middle C?’. Pupil: ‘Because it’s by the keyhole’.



Maybe you’ve had a similar scenario with a pupil in the past – I know I certainly have. You believe that the pupil has secure knowledge of a certain concept or skill. Yet then, by chance, a question you ask reveals a very different picture.

The ‘How did you know that was middle C?’ question is what is called a metacognitive question. In other words it asks the pupil to explain in their own words what they were thinking.

These are truly powerful questions that can really help us gain insights into our pupils’ understanding. They do come with a warning however! Pupils have to know stuff before we can ask them to think deeply about it. We are not going to ask them to explain where middle C lives before we have taught them where it does live and the strategies to work it out.

As Doug Lemov points out:

You need to know a lot about pretty much anything to think deeply about it. [1]

So before using the type of metacognitive questions listed below you need to have taught the concept and strategies required for the pupil to think about it.


  1. What did you do last time to solve this problem?
  2. What are the steps you need to take to get that bar more secure?
  3. What are the 3 strategies you used to help you get that right?


The final type of questions to consider are emotional questions. These are questions that ask the student to empathise and to consider how they feel whilst playing. Of course conveying our emotions are important musically but also we know that emotions are directly linked to motivation.


  1. How would you feel if you played it slower?
  2. How would you feel if that passage was totally secure
  3. What would you have done differently
  4. Which section did you enjoy playing the most?
  5. What’s the story behind this?

The skill of asking both metacognitive and emotional questions is a challenging one for teachers to develop, especially in the intense and time-limited environment of a piano lesson. If you are still discovering what fat and skinny questions are – CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT – then these type of questions are definitely something for later.


[1] Teach like a champion 2.0. 2015, p. 243. Doug Lemov, Jossey-Bass.

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder of The Curious Piano Teachers

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