How to Teach Beginner Piano Students [No Book Beginners]

How to Teach Beginner Piano Students [No Book Beginners]

How to Teach Beginner Piano Students

What is the best way to teach beginner piano students and to inspire, engage and motivate them in their first lesson?

Is it through opening a method book and teaching students how to read middle C?

Or, is it through:

  • Exploring the piano
  • Creating musical stories
  • Playing games
  • Playing by ear
  • Transposing
  • Harmonising, and
  • Improvising?

If you ask me, beginner piano lessons should be the most exciting, creative and engaging lessons you teach. It is your chance to help form the beginning of a life-long passion for music and piano in your new student.

And you can do it all without even touching a method book.

Let me show you exactly how to get started with my No Book Beginners Framework.

teaching beginner piano

No Book Beginners

Today, I’m going to show you exactly how to teach your beginner piano students in a creative way without opening a method book.

I call this my No Book Beginners (NBB) Framework.

It’s designed to give you enough ideas so you can teach beginners for 10-weeks (or more) without a book before you start to teach reading with your favourite method book.

There is a huge amount of evidence that suggests the best way to teach music is firstly through listening, copying, singing, creating and exploring well before anything to do with reading and writing.

It’s the same way that we learn to speak our native language. You’d never think of teaching a child to read and write before they can speak and improvise in their language, so why do we do it for music?

Related: Why I Teach Beginners Without a Method Book 

It’s why I’m so passionate about helping other teachers to immerse their beginners in an experience of music before they start trying to read.

The Framework I’m going to show you in the videos below is just that: a scaffold of ideas for your own teaching.

The Framework is about showing you what’s possible.

It will give you lots of ideas so that you can expand your current teaching methods by adding creative activities.

These activities will ensure your beginner piano students are:

  • Set up with the basics of technique, sitting position and knowledge of the keyboard
  • Immersed in creative music-making activities that will hopefully continue for a lifetime
  • It will ensure they are challenged to explore music and be curious about how it works
  • Your students will be given the fundamentals of meter, rhythm, beat and time and feel it in their bodies
  • They’ll be able to transpose tunes and hear and understand harmony
  • They’ll listen, sing and pitch-match from the beginning
  • And they’ll be 100% engaged and having fun with music before they start the next phase: reading

Things to Keep in Mind

Every student is different.

For some students, the 10-weeks of lessons I provide in my No Book Beginners Framework may take 6 weeks to absorb. For others, it may take 6 months, so make sure you’re flexible with your approach.

If it’s taking longer and you want to introduce some reading, you can do this at any stage and use NBB alongside your reading approach.

Make sure you’re always flexible and teach in a way that matches your student’s abilities and interests.

This Framework is designed for teaching beginner piano students around 7-11 years old, having 30-45 minute weekly lessons and is designed for teachers working 1-on-1 with students in a private studio setting, but could easily be adapted to work in classroom and group settings.

I call this a Framework as it’s designed to scaffold your teaching and provide ideas and direction. You don’t need to take it as gospel and I encourage you to explore, change, remix and edit it as much as you wish.

It can work alongside your current teaching style, or you could try it as a replacement for a student. It’s totally up to you how you’d like to use it. I’m not precious about how my ideas are used and you’ll need to adapt it to suit your student in any case!

Feel free to add your own ideas and teaching resources as much as you’d like.

FREE Lesson Plan Download

You can get a full FREE lesson plan download for NBB Lesson 1 below.

Make sure you print out your lesson plan below so that you can follow along. Feel free to pause this video while you get it ready!

Lesson 1 – Part 1

In this video, watch as I explain exactly how to teach Lesson 1. Make sure you’ve got your lesson plan download ready.

Lesson 1 – Part 2

Then we start improvising on the black keys and, as you’ll see when you download your lesson plan, I’ve included some accompaniment patterns to get you started.

 

Want Lesson Plan 2 & More Creative Help?

This training forms Lesson 1 in my 10-part NBB series for beginner piano students.

The series is available in full to members of my TopMusicPro community or as a stand-alone course here.

In this course, share all the activities that cover 10 weeks of creative beginner lessons including:

  • Technique and sitting position
  • All the notes of the piano keyboard and using the pedal
  • Listening and aural skills
  • Pitch matching
  • Singing
  • Playing by rote
  • Hearing, singing and playing harmony
  • Rhythm creation, tapping, chanting
  • Improvising all over the keyboard
  • Making up musical stories

It’s all the activities that we should be doing with beginners before they start reading, but that most of us don’t do!

You can access the full course right now by becoming a member of my community or purchasing the course here.

Got any Questions?

Do you feel this method of teaching beginner piano students will work in your studio?

What activities do you like/dislike? What other activities have you used that seem to work well? Leave your thoughts 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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How to Teach Beginner Piano Students
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  1. I totally agree with teaching playing and improvising without reading to start with. It really is the natural way to learn, just like we learned to talk before we learned to read and write. I leave it even longer, a year before students start the reading process. I use the Simply Music Piano method.

    • Wow – a whole year before reading?! That’s amazing… although I guess that’s also like Suzuki too. I see you’re using Simply Music – how’s it going?

  2. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for offering this course! I was wondering your thoughts on teaching this method in conjunction with a by-the-book method? In your opinion/experience, would that be possibly beneficial, or would it be confusing/frustrating for the child?

    My specific situation: I’m 41 and have played piano all my life. I started with traditional piano lessons. A mentor at church noticed my interest as I was able to play hymns and introduced me to chords. Although I’m sure I had theory lessons under my traditional piano teachers, I remember not paying attention to them and not really liking them. When my mentor (who played by ear) showed me chords and how to use chords in different ways to accompany singing and instruments, this opened the door to improvisation and composition which I hadn’t previously thought of. She didn’t know she was opening a door for me. She was just an enthusiastic and encouraging pianist who wanted me to participate in church music in a different way, and she wanted to show me how she does it.

    For me, that experience is probably what kept me interested in piano in the years to come. But I already had some basic knowledge of reading music at that point. I was getting the best of both worlds – but it came with traditional first, then improvisation, then simultaneous. When I went off to college, I rediscovered music theory and very much loved it.

    I have a 6-year-old daughter who is showing interest in piano. I vowed to myself not to force my daughters (x2) into piano or anything specific that I enjoy. I would rather them find what they like on their own. She has shown interest in piano on and off in the past, and I have showed her some simple tunes like “twinkle, twinkle.” Today, she spent 30 minutes trying to play a simple tune from a cartoon by ear on her own. The cool thing is I could tell by her cadence and distance of notes what she was trying to play! I showed her the correct notes a couple of times. I was working (from home) at the time, so I quickly recorded it on her iPad so she could watch and learn. She left frustrated because she couldn’t remember it. I asked if she wanted to learn how to play the piano. She said yes.

    I have never taught before, but I have enough experience to do so. I just need some guidance. I found your course and was intrigued, especially since it’s geared toward kids.

    So that’s the background in case it helps. Thanks, in advance, for any help/suggestions/guidance you have on that question I asked at the beginning of this very long comment. 🙂

    Sincerely,
    Roger

    • Hi Roger – thanks for the comment and apologies for my slow reply! I hope the lessons for your daughter have been going well and congratulations on not pushing her into anything! In answer to your question, there’s no issue using a method side-by-side with NBB, but just make sure the first 3-4 lessons at least at “no book” to really cement for students that playing an instrument is about fun and creativity and not all about being fixated on reading. Good luck!

  3. Hi Tim!
    I am possibly about to start a couple of 4-year-old students and wanted to try the no-book beginners course. I remember you mentioning on your podcast that there is a pre-K version of the course that is more geared towards kids below 7 years. Is that version included if I purchase the regular course? I can’t seem to find where is would be on your website, but didn’t want to assume it’s included. Let me know how I can try out/buy the pre-k version.
    Thanks!
    – Heather

    • Hi Heather. The preschool NBB is available only inside my Inner Circle membership. You can get access here: staging.topmusic.co/community. It’s designed especially to suit under 7s so would be perfect for you 4 year olds 🙂 You’ll get the full pack of lesson plans and can watch the teaching in action.

  4. I can’t find the lesson first lesson download. The one that is free

    • Hi Sandy. There is an opt-in box just above the headline “Lesson 1 – Part 1”. If you can’t see it, please reload your page. If you still can’t see it, please try another browser or use your mobile/tablet instead.

  5. Aloha, My grandson shows interest in learning music. He goes on our piano to randomly play notes and just makes up some tunes with the keys. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve played but may play with books by reading notes that I’ve had back then from time to time and very rusty. I want to teach my grandson and think this a great way as I have no teaching experience nor can I play like you. Lessons are expensive, too and with sports and school I’m going to try to fit in the time with him. I’ve downloaded the first plan you have and will begin there, as I have to relearn as well. As I follow you on all your social media I will benefit from that and hopefully can join in the community at a later time. After a few times, I will then purchase the one coarse and see how that works for now. Thank you for sharing. This is a helpful beginning way for me to teach him.

    • Hi Lee – lovely story and I wish you all the best. Take it in small steps and see how you go. Things will come back to you 🙂

  6. I like the valuable info you provide in your
    articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and test again here regularly.
    I’m relatively sure I will be told a lot of new stuff
    right here! Best of luck for the following!

  7. I just downloaded the first free lesson. I’m very interested as I am going to start teaching my 6 year old granddaughter. But I don’t understand the “backing tracks” you refer to.

    • Hi Kate – thanks for your interest in the NBB approach. If you’re an Inner Circle member, you get access to fully orchestrated backing tracks for these improvisations. If not, I recommend recording yourself playing the accompaniments on the piano and then sending that file to your students to play long with. Good luck and I hope you enjoy it!

  8. Hi Tim, this framework is great. You mention this is for beginner students ages 7-11. I have 2 new students starting who are 12 years old. What method or framework would you suggest?

    Thanks!

    • HI Miriam – it’s up to you. You can certainly take the ideas from NBB and manipulate to suit the slightly older age. 12 year olds can be tricky because sometimes they can be like 14 year olds and sometimes like 9 year olds, so you’ll have to play that by ear.

      I’d definitely approach this openly for this age group and find out what they are keen to play/learn. Perhaps do some pop/chord composing (staging.topmusic.co/chords) – just flexible is good. They’re almost teens, so will enjoy some autonomy.

      Hope that helps,
      Tim.

  9. Hi Celeste, If you are in Australia I sell them through my website at http://www.music4all.com.au and I am sure Hal Leonard sell them as well. If you are in the USA they are often in the dollar stores or you can google them as stress toys/balls and that should find them for you. Regards Lynda

  10. Love Linda the Ladybug and how she travels down the forearm! I’ve searched for soft toys like that in stores and on Amazon several times and have not hag much luck. Do these toys have a specific name or do you have a particular place or link you normally use? I often use a soft hair band to gently affix the toy to the inside of the student’s hand. That way they can move around on the keyboard with the sensation of the arch without having to grip. Thanks!

  11. Hi Tim, love this article, makes sense to me.
    I’ve never taught piano and have thought about it a few times. I was recently asked if I would teach someone, an adult (20yo). I don’t know where to start. All I know is I don’t want to teach the way I was taught 30 yrs ago. I’ve always been a sight reader and envied those who could play by ear and improv, be more creative. Suggestions?? Thanks.

    • Hi Jaques. Lovely to read your comment and I’m so glad that you’re not going to teach the way you were taught! For adults, I’d start with looking at chords and what THEY want to learn. Check out staging.topmusic.co.chords to get started.

      However, if you’re serious about this, please do consider joining my membership at staging.topmusic.co/community.

      I have lots of full teaching courses for beginner teachers and we can support you with any questions in our community 🙂

  12. Hi! Did you try the Mango Piano Method for Grade 1? I find it quite good. My little girl is enjoying it a lot.

    • Hi haven’t heard of it, Fatima. Will check it out online.

  13. Hi Tim. I live in the U.S. but have been unable to download your free pdfs the last two days. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sarah – we were having some technical difficulties, but all back and working now. Thanks for your patience! Tim.

  14. Tried to download “NO BOOK BEGINNERS; LESSON 1” but I kept getting “An error occurred while submitting your data. Please try again” No matter how many times I tried. Just giving you the heads up. Brent

    • Hi Brent. Sorry about that. Can you please email support@staging.topmusic.co if still having issues and let my team know what’s been happening for you? Thanks!

  15. Hi! I am starting a new student this summer, a 15 year old boy! He plays the saxophone so he reads some music. Where do I start with him?

    • Hi Krista. The above article’s not going to work for him. Instead, find out what music he likes and help him learn it while you do the fundamentals. Teach him about chords – search my blog for “chords”. I’ve got a full 30 minute training called a “crash course” on chords as part of my Teaching Pop Piano course inside my Inner Circle – I think it’d be really helpful for you 🙂 Find out more: https://members.staging.topmusic.co/inner-circle/join-the-community/

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