5 Piano Lesson Ideas for when Students Forget Their Books

5 Piano Lesson Ideas for when Students Forget Their Books

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Piano lesson ideas for ‘no-book’ lessons

Have you ever had a lesson where your student rocks up but has forgotten to bring his/her books?

No music, no assignment book/music diary, no notes from last week. Nothing.

As I predominantly teach teenagers, this seems to happen a fair bit and it is particularly an issue if you’re teaching at a school or institution where students have to make their own way to lessons.

If you’re teaching at home and parents bring their children to lessons, this tends to be less of an issue as parents tend to do the organising for child. But when this responsibility gets transferred to the student as they get older, things can sometimes go wrong.

So what do you do when all your plans have gone out the window?

Even if you luckily have perfect students who always remember their books and don’t often find yourself in this situation, the suggestions below will hopefully be of use to at the start of a new year or term or immediately after a big exam or recital program when you’d like to try something new.

Shouldn’t I just send them away?

While it would be perfectly reasonable for you to rant and rave and get upset about your student forgetting everything, I’ve found that this doesn’t really have a very positive impact on the student, the forthcoming 30 minutes or your ongoing relationship.

If you send them home or back to class, then you’re also missing a great opportunity to do something different with them, that you might otherwise not readily make time for.

Students generally don’t leave their books at home on purpose. It’s more often due to a lack of organisation and rushing around in the morning before school. Many households are absolutely frantic during this time and it’s incredibly easy for students to forget all sorts of things.

While I’m reasonable about the situation, I’m certainly not condoning this behaviour.

It’s of course very frustrating when you’ve got a lesson planned and can’t follow through with your goals for the student. So you need to make it clear that students must remember to bring their books (their parents are paying a lot of money for the privilege of lessons after all) and they need to take more responsibility in future weeks. If it keeps happening, you have every right to start getting frustrated and probably contacting parents who will need to help their child with their organisation.

How you can help them get organised

The best advice I offer my teen students is to set up weekly reminders in their phones to remind them to pack their books. We all know that students are glued to their phones 24/7 so why not use them as the perfect reminder device?

On iPhone, students can easily set reminders using the standard calendar app, by setting a repeating appointment the night before their lesson, reminding them to pack their music books. Set it to an alert at the time of the event and make sure it repeats weekly.

Laptops/iPads/tablets can also be used for the same purpose through the Calendar (eg Outlook) function.

Now, onto the good stuff!

Top 5 Piano Lesson Ideas

So here are the top five activities that I like to do with students when they forget their books.

You’ll note that most of these activities focus on creativity as this is perfect time to get creative. They don’t have any music to read and you’ve got some time up your sleeve. Why not try it out?


If teaching and learning about chords is not something that you normally do in your lessons, this is the perfect time to try it out.

  • If you’re not sure where to start, then I’d read about my BS Chord Trick which is a really quick way for students to find any major or minor chord anywhere on the piano.
  • I’d then read about the Top 10 Pop Songs that I teach students so that you can put some of these chords into action.
  • Grab a copy of my quick reference of Easy Chord Progressions to Inspire Creativity and explore some of these ideas in lessons (the students will love it). Note: This resource and accompanying video is available as part of my Inner Circle Membership. Click here to find out more about the benefits. 
  • You can even watch how I use chords and progressions when exploring scale backing patterns with students:


Another piano lesson idea is to explore some of Daniel McFarlane’s amazing creativity ideas from Podcast Episode 1.

I have Daniel’s “Composing Cheat Sheet”, which you can download from the show notes page, on hand with my Circle of 5ths next to the piano at all times!

A simple idea he gives is to explore major and minor pentatonic scales over simple chordal progressions which either you can play or the student can play with LH. He explains and demonstrates all this in the podcast so make sure you have a look on YouTube.

This is cued to the part where he starts talking about this:

You can watch the full episode above, on YouTube or subscribe and listen via iTunes.


I’ve previously mentioned how I love Diabelli’s 5-finger duets for working with students on phrasing and ensemble work. While this isn’t such a creative endeavour, the idea of using 5-finger music is that you can quickly form an ensemble piece that not only sounds good, but can basically be sight-read by students.

Another awesome activity that involves sight reading is to use the PianoMaestro app by JoyTunes. This app is basically a completely interactive library of music, exercises, backing tracks and method books that listens and responds to students’ playing, creates a video-game like experience for them (great for your teen beginners) and is just great fun to use. Best of all, it’s now completely free for teachers and their students. I can’t recommend this app highly enough – it’s without-doubt one of the best apps for beginner piano students on the market. Oh, and did I say it was free? What have you got to lose?!


Most of you have probably seen and read about how I teach students the 12-bar blues and what a profound effect in can have on students’ listening and reading skills and general musical understanding.

In my opinion, a no-book day is a perfect time to explore this genre of music as it’s so common in so much of the early teaching repertoire. Students will gain a greater understanding of the structure of music, making sure they feel and keep a steady beat and a little about improvising which you can then build on in future lessons.

Here’s how it looks when I introduce it:


This is the best time to try exploring that new app that you heard about at the last conference and have been meaning to try. What have you got to lose?

Here are a few that you can try with nil or little up-front cost:

Rhythm Lab – this is my new favourite rhythm tapping practice app. As part of my students’ weekly lessons, I used to write-up rhythms on a whiteboard for them to clap; now I do it all on the iPad with this app. It has heaps of built-in rhythm patterns in all sorts of meters and students can tap right on the screen and get instant feedback. It even has example rhythms from some of the big classical composers built-in! Read more about this in my article here.

NoteStar by Yamaha has lots of recent pop music and has been a hit with my teen students in particular. While the app is free, you pay to download the songs you want (you get a free 30 second preview of any song you choose from the catalogue so you can instantly see how hard the music is). You then get access to on-screen auto-scrolling music, plus backing from a band and, the best part: vocals. You can change the key instantly, and slow the music down to suit your level. Brilliant app!

Chromatik is a free app for exploring pop music with your students. It brings up a score on screen and then links to the YouTube video of the song so that students can play along to the recording on YouTube. Pages turn automatically and you can read lead sheets or full scores. Great fun for when students have learn a song and want to try it out with the original band!

Try out any of the other ones you’ve heard about recently but haven’t had a chance to explore!

Don’t forget to follow-up!

Most of the above suggestions are activities that students will enjoy and that you can build upon in future lessons, so don’t miss the opportunity for follow-up with your student in the next lesson to see what they thought of the activity and how you can progress. For example, the pentatonic improvisations from Daniel’s cheat sheet could build into all sorts of great composing concepts; the 12-bar blues can be played in other keys; Piano Maestro can form a regular part of each lesson and the Diabelli Duets could be performed at a concert.

What’s your go-to activity for no-book lessons?

I’d love to know your main tactic when students forget their books.

Do you fall into one of these categories?

  1. I just run a normal lesson as best I can, often using my own copies of the music
  2. I try something creative: improv, chords, pop, composing
  3. I force them to do boring sight reading or practice scales all lesson so they don’t make the same mistake again!
  4. I’ve never had a student forget their books
  5. Other – please share your ideas 🙂

Which number are you? Please reply below!

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at staging.topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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  1. I clearly remember the one time I forgot my piano books during my first year of piano. It was probably the most fun lesson I’ve had in my life. My piano teacher was very experienced and she loved kids, teaching was such a joy for her. She got out a whole bunch of games and we played games, at the keyboard and also away from the keyboard. The whole 1/2 hour lesson was all games, and it was so much fun 🙂 haha. I think it’s nice to switch things up a bit for students, of course if forgetting the books is a regular occurrence then maybe this approach isn’t the best but how my teacher took that negative incident and turned it into a fun afternoon of music making will always be in my memory. These are great tips too by the way! 🙂

    • That is one great teacher you had. Thanks for sharing such a lovely story and I hope you’ll consider doing the same for you guys and girls 🙂

  2. Good ideas here. Of course I would hope creativity is at least a tiny part of every lesson for every student.

  3. Di Cross
    I know this isn’t a normal situation, but I had a student who continuously forgot his ABRSM Jazz Piano Book grade 1, and even said he had lost it 3 times. Each time his mother would buy him another one, as he was sitting for the exam. I really thought he was absent minded, as he loved piano lessons, and would run to my lessons after school. The thing is this kid was extremely gifted by ear, and passed the exam with flying colours. (the examiner even suggested he go straight to Grade 3 for his next exam book) .He was also exceptionally talented with his language skills. But his parents stopped him from taking further lessons, as they said his school work wasn’t up to scratch, and music must run second to his school studies. I found out a few years later that his parents and the school were totally unaware that he was dyslexic, and he had been covering it up. I too had been fooled into thinking he was reading some of his music. By grade 10 at school he was finding it hard to do any reading comprehension, and his problem was discovered. BY then he had missed out on valuable reading support, and had been classified as a lazy student. He also missed out on the music lessons which gave him such pleasure. I wish I had been aware of his problem, and could have fought for his continued music education. It was probably one of the few things he could do exceptionally well without reading. This is not the norm, but if a student continually forgets their music, just check if there could be another underlying problem.

    • Thanks for reminding us of these kinds of challenges, Di. Really important stuff.

  4. These were all my favorites! I’m always working on teaching improving improv and composing and it’s great to have them all in one spot now!

    • Cheers Jane – glad to hear that you’re also getting creative 🙂

  5. Love this post! I tend to fall in the category of running lessons pretty much the same as I have studio copies of most of my students books. But it’s definitely nice to change things up every once in a while too! Thanks for sharing, enjoyed the videos! 🙂

    • Cheers Jennifer – there’s certainly nothing wrong with that (and sometimes I pull out my students’ books too!)

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