You know those piano lessons that feel really, really good? Where both you and your student feel completely fired up and energised by the end of the lesson? Think back to these lessons and consider about what mades them so successful.
For me I have pinpointed these lessons to be the ones when I stop talking! Instead I allow the music to be the dominant language of the piano lesson. When I surround the student in sound.
This is so fundamental to successful and positive piano lessons that our No.1 Guiding Principle is:
Making music is at the heart of all lessons
It’s not without it’s challenges however! Here are some suggestions from teachers of The Community by The Curious Piano Teachers on how to put it into practice.
SOUND IS THE BASIS OF PIANO LESSONS
‘When the music (the sound, tone and rhythm) is centre-stage, all other skills and concepts are so easily transmitted. The sounds explain to pupils why we do it in a certain way (technique), why it’s not quite accurate yet (refinement), why it sounds the way it does (theory) etc’. Thank you Angie for this beautifully succinct statement.
Jill also puts the sound first and foremost now in her piano lessons. Her teaching shifted as a result of the Compound Time Curiosity Box. ‘It really brought home to me the difference between explaining as opposed to really feeling and experiencing music in lessons’.
Members can CLICK HERE for access the videos and printables.
IDEAS FOR A SURROUND SOUND LESSON
Making up stories through the piano works a treat with younger students.
For me it’s about turning words into music or vice versa. So talking with the kids about telling a story with music, how could you tell this story, what would make it more interesting type questions. Nina
My littlest students and I create musical stories with the piano – tiptoeing fingers dancing through the rain, watching the animals playing in the splashy puddles…..
Sometimes I draw pictures on the whiteboard and they create the soundtrack, sometimes the other way round… Elaine
Improvising is a useful way for engaging pupils with sound in lessons. According to both Hannah and Grace it can give the beginning of the piano lesson a really positive beginning.
I often start the lesson with some duet improvisation, e.g. Forrest Kinney, Create First, so that the students have a musical experience straight away.
I always aim for more music making and less talking. I often start lessons with some improv or offering a student to play their favourite piece to play at the moment to warm up and familiarise with the piano.
DUETS AND ACCOMPANIMENTS
Another way of surrounding pupils with sound is by playing duets or accompaniments with them.
Julie suggests ‘Playing the piano accompaniment alongside child’s part and no matter what happens keeping going’
Whilst Sharon comments that:
‘Playing duets allows for ensemble music making during the lesson’.
And of course one of the joys of duet playing, at all levels, is that 2 people playing together sounds so much fuller and satisfying.
ROTE TO READING PIECES
Another way to create surround sound for pupils is to teach some pieces by rote.
Elaine comments: ‘Rote pieces are a great way to put making music at the heart of a lesson – it allows students the satisfaction of complex sounding music without the perceived work element of reading the music’.
And it’s worth adding that reading from written notation can then be easily from rote pieces. As Professor Gary McPherson and Alf Gabrielson point out:
Acquiring competence in reading and interpreting musical notation is best achieved via a three-way process in gaining fluency in playing music, then reading it, and then putting the two together. 
For Community members the September 2019 Curiosity Box is full of practical examples of how to teach a piece by rote. CLICK HERE FOR ACCESS
A SIMULTANEOUS APPROACH
Sharon recommends taking a simultaneous approach, as advocated by Curious expert Paul Harris, to piano lessons:
‘Making music is at the centre of the lesson and everything else in relation to music such as theory, composition, aural, etc is all linked to it. Making music is the main road and the others are smaller roads feeding into making music’.
Creating a surround sound piano lesson is not without its challenges! Several teachers mentioned how easy it is to get bogged down with pieces and explanations, especially if practice has been on the sparse side.
Grace commented: ‘The challenge is if I get a bit bogged down in a particular technique or musical concept – it often requires some forward thinking of ‘how can I teach this in a musical way rather than by talking!?’ I don’t always succeed but I do always try!
Finally, Angie points out that it is easy to fall into ‘performer’ mode whilst doing all the activities mentioned and forget completely about being the teacher! She recommends thorough planning:
‘Musical lessons have to be well planned – otherwise, it’s very easy to lose focus’.
Huge thanks to all the teachers who have contributed to writing this blog post. They are all members of The Community by The Curious Piano Teachers.
CLICK HERE to find out more.
 From Sound to Sign, p.111. The Science and Psychology of Music Performance, 2002. Oxford University Press.