Teaching pianistic skills for beginners requires skills in-room preparation and student engagement throughout the lesson. In this paper, I will reflect on a piano lesson that I had with my student, Kirk, 35 years old. The reflection will be topically structured, starting with planning, which entails room preparation, lesson plan, and student involvement. Next, I will analyze my facilitation skills in meaningful communication, the extent to which music knowledge and understanding were taught, the skills developed, and the maintenance of positive energy during the lesson. I will then provide an overall evaluation of whether the learning outcomes were achieved and how effective the progress was since the first lesson. Lastly, I will conclude by giving final thoughts for the class and point out the areas which need further development.
Achieving optimal enjoyment and complete involvement of the student is easier when the teacher has a good plan to enhance confidence and flow. The implication is that for the lesson to be intense and full of energy, the student and the teacher’s preparation is necessary. I formulated a lesson plan in advance, placed all the materials in place, and made sure that the room was suitable for the class. In addition, the practicing environment had to be private and free from any distractions. Moreover, I involved the student in the planning process by informing him about the lesson, discussing the suitable time, and asking about any anticipated issues that he thought needed to be addressed before the class. In the following subsections, I will discuss in detail how I did my planning.
The teaching took place in a private house which is well lit, clean, and free from any noise. It provided a serene environment to do the practice and engage the student. In addition, there were no sharp objects underneath the piano or in any part of the room to enhance safety during exercise. As usual, Kirk used an acoustic upright piano which is placed in the corner of the living room beside an open kitchen. For comfort during practice, the piano has an adjustable stool that is maintained at room temperature. At the beginning of each lesson, Kirk independently adjusts the couch to suit his height. I also had a chair so that I could sit and observe Kirk during his practice. Notably, the piano that Kirk uses is well maintained and is tuned every six months. I prepared all the teaching resources before the class and kept them on the piano. However, the room is small and only allowed for minimal and less intensive exercise.
I prepared a lesson plan in advance so that it would guide me while teaching the student. Particularly, everything was presented in a table as recommended in the piano teacher’s course (PTC) 2020-2021. I have been following the same format from the time I started teaching Kirk in November 2020. Each element enables me to think of the aspects that I should focus on during each lesson thoroughly. Given its relevance, I often spend more time drafting the lesson plan than during the actual class. When everything is in order, the task is more exciting and engaging for both the student and the teacher. Moreover, I always try to find the best available resources to help with Kirk’s learning and progress.
It is vital to ensure student involvement throughout the teaching process. I was able to establish rapport with kirk from the beginning of his classes in November 2020. I asked about his aspirations, reasons for learning the piano, and expectations. In addition, I considered the work commitments and mutually decided that the lessons should be done fortnightly. My teaching philosophy is to enhance the student’s understanding while remaining flexible to suit the needs of the adult beginner.
Kirk clearly explained his desire to start with a simple repertoire so as to help him recall the basics that he had learned more than thirty years ago while he was in Grade 1. Therefore, I advised him to start with Alfred’s Adult beginner books 1 and 2. It was quite easy for Kirk to decide as he is motivated to learn any of his favorite songs. In December 2020, Kirk jotted down a few goals that he would like to achieve by the end of this short-term study period. With minimal prompts, along with Kirk’s goals, I made specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goals for the term. In addition, I have made it clear to Kirk that he can ask questions during the lesson if he needs any clarification on the concepts.
Typically, during most classes majority of the talk is by the educator except on rare occasions when strategies such as communication are used. However, merely giving detailed discussions without seeking feedback from the student may not produce the desired results. While teaching Kirk, I often use questions and prompts to provoke thinking and response. Asking rather than providing detailed lectures also helps me to assess if the student understands the concepts that I have taught. I also follow the guiding principles for warm-up, skill demonstration, and lecturing the musical elements. The consecutive subsections provide a detailed explanation of the facilitation skills that I used.
Facilitation Skills in Meaningful Communication
Guiding Principle No. 1
The guiding principle (GP) 1 urges teachers to ensure meaningful music-making and communication at the center of every lesson. When playing the piano, the intention is to make it sing, which explains the relevance of musical communication. I began the lesson with a warm-up and keyed the melodic tune of Do Re Mi (00:06-00:10) since the student had already been introduced to the sol-fa names. The warm-up song had easy to follow lyrics (02:15-02:50) so I asked the student to join so we can sing together.
Responding to demonstrations is also one of the facilitation skills that I used to engage the student during the class. The specific sections where the student is imitating actions from me is at (19:18-19:28) (20:01-20:10) (22:03-22:10) The moves such as the 123 beats of taping the hip, snapping, and then clapping were easy, and the student can evidently follow the tune and actions. The rainbow phrase helped to reinforce the steps and further engage Kirk. The other suitable example is the picture painting, which the student correctly identified as Down in the Valley (14:53-15:14), to provoke the student’s thinking.
When I asked Kirk to Sit down and show me how he had been practicing, he brilliantly managed to play the scales and arpeggio on C major scale (16:32-17:19). After Kirk did his three majors correctly, three separate times, I assured him (16:32-17:19). Given that in the previous class, Kirk had practiced improvising using one hand, in the current lesson, he demonstrated creativity by improvising and composing using the pattern that I had showed him (09:30-10:12) (11:23-11:54).
Guiding Principle No. 2
This principle helps to explore the extent to which knowledge was taught musically and effectively. For example, Kirk was able to identify three beats in a bar and phrases through aural perception and practical activity (01:08-01:24) (01:53-02:03) (02:22-02:50). I also effectively guided Kirk on identifying the musical elements. For example, I asked the student to tell me whether my pitch was going up or down when singing Apple Apple, and he was able to give the correct answers (18:10-19:00). Kirk was also able to convey music structure, as he recalled cadences such as perfect from 1 5 2 1 and playgroup cadence from 1 4 1. Kirk managed to use this knowledge to improvise his song (08:56-09:13). I think I did well in comparing cadences with the punctuation rules when writing sentences to understand how it applies in music.
Guiding Principle No. 3
From the time that we started the piano lesson in November 2020, Kirk has significantly developed his pianistic skills through continuous practice. The student has developed a substantial understanding of the keyboard aurally and visually. After telling him to sit down from the beginning of the practical session, he maintained a relaxed posture, with his back straight and shoulders well spread, which gave him the left/right balance. Kirk is now able to produce strong three beats in a bar rhythm and understand the phrasing of the repertoire with some prompting (18:35-19:00). Moreover, Kirk can identify rhythmic patterns and use appropriate sense of style and interpretation in his own improvisation (08:17-08:32).
During the lesson, I asked Kirk if he did practice the C chords, and he responded by playing the C major scale (03:25-05:00). In addition, we devised the practice strategies, and the student took notes (22:39-23:16) (25:00-25:24). Kirk has developed the technical skills and was able to improvise C major scale (09:56-10:11). Although he stated that he was nervous, I urged him to play slowly and sometimes with the left hand. Although his pianistic skills have significantly developed (20:56-21:56), I discussed with him more practice strategies so he can perfect (26:49-27:32).
Guiding Principle No. 4
Positive energy was maintained throughout the class since Kirk showed interest in learning new concepts. During the warm up session, while singing the Apple Apple song Kirk was able to quickly learn the tap, snap and clap rhythm, and he followed through the song even though he does not have a background in music. Furthermore, Kirk was able to feel the song Down in the Valley much better than the first case study video using his imagination and prompt of a calming picture. It is also interesting that we laughed during the lesson, and Kirk felt comfortable to share that he was feeling a little nervous when playing the C major scale.
One of the areas I think I made improvements on is being firm on everything I say, unlike the previous lesson. In addition, I made sure that I repeated the explanations on the different chords while asking the student to touch them on the keyboard to enhance understanding. There was sufficient evidence that the student had learned and achieve. For example, Kirk learned how to improvise his own song using the primary chords learnt from Down in the Valley (11:18-11:54). Furthermore, Kirk explained that it is necessary to use musical sense whilst playing Down the Valley (23:04-23:15). Last but not least, Kirk demonstrated strong 3 beats in a bar in this lesson compared to previous lessons. (16:33-17:18).
Reflection on Teacher’s Effectiveness
As recommended by my instructor, I prepared a lesson plan in advance for each piano class to serve as a guide for my class and encourage student insight. The objectives and expectations at the end of the session were listed to help in assessing if both my student and I had achieved our desired goals. I think that we did a great job and covered all the concepts that were scheduled for this plan. In addition, the guiding principle for each activity and skill development were well stated, such that it was possible to remain objective throughout the class.
Kirk is a great student, as evident in his enthusiasm to learn and follow the instructions. In his last evaluation, he stated that his aspiration was to play on a steady beat. Kirk learned to play a C major key song-down in the valley and the g major in the previous video session. The other thing I loved about Kirk is that he asks questions for clarification. For example, during the first case study, when teaching the G major and the D7 chord, he asked, “sorry, seven chords?” and I had to explain how to count then he exclaimed and pointed it on the notes, indicating that his concerns had been clarified (07:20-07:38).
The fact that Kirk demonstrated progress in learning music structures playing different beats, and even improvising a song shows that I was a good teacher. For example, in the first video he was able to use Cuckoo song G chord and D7 chord to improvise a G scale song. Nonetheless, I think there are a few improvements that I needed to make from the past video. First, I was fast in explaining how adding a fifth chord creates a dominant seventh chord that puzzled Kirk (07:27-07:58. However, upon suggestion by my supervisor, I went and taught him again to enhance his understanding. The other drawback that I noticed from my previous video was that I was not speaking confidently. For example, there are two instances when I responded to the student with “it doesn’t matter” (12:55). However, with the final case study, my choice of words was firm.
The course was interesting, mainly because I had a chance to apply theory in practice. I enjoyed working with Kirk because he was intrinsically motivated to learn. He had his objectives for the class, most of which he has achieved. I have also managed to help the student meet the learning aims. I have learned the value of preparing a lesson plan to enhance time management and objectivity during class. Engaging the student is also essential to ensure that there is positive energy throughout the course. I used several teaching strategies, including asking questions, picture imagination, body movement, and discussion. In the future, I will improve in explaining the music concepts slowly and distributing them in many lessons so that the student can understand better.