Piano studio setup for online lessons

The Covid-19 pandemic has required piano teachers from around the world to adapt quickly from in-person traditional lessons to online piano lessons. For  teachers like myself who had zero experience teaching online piano lessons, it brought some challenges. But these challenges were worth working through to ensure the safety of my students and their families.

When I transitioned to online lessons I made changes in my studio setup as well as how to keep track of assignments. Every organization change was simple so I can keep it up. Everything I use is movable so at the end of teaching we can use this room as a family room, and quick to setup because time is valuable. This post is going to cover the following

(1) Using Google Presentation to keep track of assignments

(2) Organizing piano books used most often during lesson

(3) Organizing individual student materials if they are separate sheets of paper

(4) Studio Setup during lessons

(1) Google Presentations as an Assignment Tracker

During in-person lessons I filled out assignment papers for students to use at home. It was a simple and effective method to remember what they were to practice. I needed a way to do this with online lessons that I could fill out during lesson and the parents could access and print out for students to use as a guide for their practice.

This led me to create a Google Presentation. Here are the details.

Setup
    • Slide size changed to 8.5″ x 11″ so it would print on a normal size paper.
    • One presentation per student.
    • Presentation shared with the parent/student.
    • A simple table that doubles as a place for me to type out instructions and the students to mark off practice.
How it is used during the lesson
    • At the beginning of each lesson, I open the student’s presentation and duplicate last week’s slide. This creates a new slide at the top of the slideshow. This becomes the current week’s slide. I replace things as they are ready to move on, or keep them on and change their practice goals if they need another week.
    • Background color indicates if it is current week or a past assignment sheet.
      • Background of Current week’s slide = Green
      • All past Assignment Slides = Blue.
      • This allows the parent to easily see which slide to print. Parents can choose “print black and white”. Once printed, the student can then mark which days they practice the piece.

I am happy to share this setup with you. In order to use it, you must click on the link below. Then go to FILE >> Make a copy. This will copy the presentation onto your own Google Drive. Once it is there, you can make any changes.

Click here to view the Google Presentation.

(2) Organizing piano books and materials

Book organization

Organization of things is something that does not come naturally to me. Any organization system I try to implement needs to be simple and should require almost no time or effort to keep it up.

I’ve tried bins with all my piano books separated. It took me a day to sort and put things away. And didn’t last very long. (The only thing still separated currently are wedding piano books because I use them about three times a year)

This three-shelf rolling cart has three separate categories.

  1. Top shelf is where I put my computer that I type on during lessons.
  2. Middle shelf is Piano Safari books (It’s my go-to piano curriculum that almost all of my students are currently in.)
  3. Bottom shelf holds everything else.

As you can see I don’t have a lot of books to keep track of so this works for me. If you had a lot of books this may not work or would work with changes. Top shelf you could put in some book bins and have books standing upright if you needed more organization.

Organization of Other items used

Some other items I use constantly stay on the top of my piano.

  • 11 x 14 magnetic dry erase marker board
  • dry erase markers and eraser (or a lone sock, depending on if I lost the eraser)
  • circle magnetic dots we use as a concrete way of showing where the beats fall.
  • Large-numbered Clock. It has the date and a USB port to charge a phone if needed.
(3) Organizing loose student papers

My own piano teacher showed me this idea. The inclined file sorter holds loose student papers, including if a student sends something they want to work on (free sheet music) or I need to print off sheet music for them, this is where it goes. Then, I can pull it out as needed. If I have studio copies of the sheet music that I print off and the parent needs to stop by and get it, I can place it here in their folder to grab easily.

(4) Studio set up during a lesson

(The first thing I noticed when I uploaded this picture is that the vacuum cleaner, a pack of toilet paper, and a random folded up area rug that we haven’t decided what to do with are in the background. Isn’t this picture just true to real life when you’re busy raising a family, taking classes, homeschooling, and teaching piano?)

This set up takes me less than five minutes to complete. It really is so simple.

  • Laptop 1 is used for FaceTime/Skype/Zoom. It is placed on the music stand for ease of moving around the view. I move it so students can see my large dry erase board. When not in use, the music stand just gets put up next to the piano.
  • Laptop 2 sits on top of the rolling cart and is open to table of contents of different versions of the books that I have and Google Drive for my assignment pages so I can type directly into them. The rolling cart holds all the books I need so I can easily reach them.
  • The piano bench is pulled away from the piano and doubles as a catch-all and beverage holder. Who else usually has a couple drinks — coffee and water? Or tea and water?
Small changes make a big difference

I made these changes slowly over the semester as I reflected on the deficiencies of my setup. There will likely be more changes to follow as I have announced that all lessons will be online for the 2020-2021 school year.

What changes have you made to the set up and organization of your piano studio so that piano lessons run smoothly and all studio materials stay in place.

Group Piano Class – Ideas from Spring 2019

Students experience the joy of music through folk dancing.

Group piano class is one of my favorite events of the year. About six of my students are able to make it, and we gather in my basement studio. During this hour, we enjoy each other’s company, listen to each other’s pieces, play a couple group music games, and folk dance.

The students usually bound out of the house with big grins on their faces, and anxiously await the next group piano class. I think it’s because I usually pick a rather lively folk dance, but maybe that’s my bias talking. I used to teach in a general music classroom and would jump in and do the folk dance if someone needed a partner. It has always been a favorite of mine. Continue reading “Group Piano Class – Ideas from Spring 2019”

Creating an Effective Progress Report

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I am always looking for ways to make something better. Perhaps it comes from all those years of piano lessons where we ask ourselves the question “What can I do differently next time to make it better, more musical?”

My latest project has been to create a progress report that was considerably better than the one I tried one last year. Last year I just wrote in narrative form what each student had done throughout the year, along with things they were doing well and things they would be working on. It was too cumbersome for me (it took over an hour to do fill one out), and I don’t know if any of the parents looked at them because it was too much to read. Continue reading “Creating an Effective Progress Report”

Steady Beat Part 2: Beyond the Metronome – Movement Activities to Establish Steady Beat with Piano Students

These are bean bags I made for steady beat games.

Steady beat used to be a concept that I used to assume all students just kind of knew. I didn’t understand the deep necessity for students experiencing it, and how a strong sense of the steady beat would improve other areas of a student’s performance in piano.

I talked more about this in the importance of establishing a steady beat with piano students in the first post of this series. You can read it here: Steady Beat Part 1: The Importance of Establishing Steady Beat in Piano Students.

Today’s post will detail the different steady beat activities that I use frequently in my studio. I am a firm believer that when teaching music to young children, we must first allow them to experience a new concept before asking them to intellectualize it (Choksy, The Kodaly Method I: Comprehensive Music Education. 3rd Edition. p10). Because of this there is always a couple steady beat activities in every lesson for the first few years they take lessons. Continue reading “Steady Beat Part 2: Beyond the Metronome – Movement Activities to Establish Steady Beat with Piano Students”

Steady Beat Part 1: The Importance of Establishing Steady Beat in Piano Students

My first two years as a classroom music teacher, I had my students do rhythm drills. We started with rhythms of half and whole notes, while students used traditional counting (1-2-3-4). From one lesson to the next, they could not accurately clap the correct rhythms and count. They could tell me that a quarter note got one beat and a half note got two, but there was something missing. It was frustrating for my students and for me. I was failing them somehow, but I could not understand why.

My music education experience centered on telling students about music. We explained it intellectually and then expected the students to be able to do it. Continue reading “Steady Beat Part 1: The Importance of Establishing Steady Beat in Piano Students”

Adaptations in the Piano Studio

Even though I graduated with a music education degree, there are some things that you just don’t fully understand on their importance until it smacks you in the face while you are teaching.

For me, learning adaptations for students with disabilities was more of an abstract concept than something I fully grasped. But when I was faced with teaching multiple students with common disabilities like dyslexia, I decided it was time for me to find resources to consult, and learn how to adapt teaching music.

In the past I have had a couple students with learning disabilities who became frustrated in music lessons and stopped. I find this to be a failure on my part and I am bound and determined to do a better job at adapting music so that every student feels the joy of learning music.

Continue reading “Adaptations in the Piano Studio”

Catholic Mass “Cheat Sheet” for New Musicians

I grew up in a Methodist church where the only song we sang unannounced was the Doxology. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Then I started playing at Catholic Mass, where there are so many songs that musicians know when to start simply based on the words said by the priest. It was so nerve-wracking starting out and I made so many mistakes. I definitely know the Mass so much better than I used to, but kind of wish I had had a “cheat sheet” to refer back to when I was starting. Continue reading “Catholic Mass “Cheat Sheet” for New Musicians”

Too Slow, Too Fast: 8 Things to Remember as a Guest Musician at a Catholic Mass

I love going to different churches and contributing to Mass by playing piano. Each church has their own way of doing things and as a guest musician you have to do your best to follow their traditions. But playing at Mass as a guest is always just a bit more complicated than it seems. Let me explain some of the things that musicians have to keep in mind while they are playing. Continue reading “Too Slow, Too Fast: 8 Things to Remember as a Guest Musician at a Catholic Mass”

Wichita Area: Summer 2018 Music and Arts Events

Enjoying the bluegrass music of the Steel Wheels at the Bartlett Arboretum in Bel Plaine, KS.

Sunday, my husband and I attended an outdoor concert at Bartlett Arboretum where we heard the bluegrass music of the Steel Wheels. If you haven’t heard this group, go to Amazon Prime Music and listen. They are seriously amazing. Not only was the music amazing, but the location was beautiful. You are surrounded by trees that seem to touch the sky. And another amazing part is that the tickets were only $10 a person, and kids 10 and under are free. They have many concerts throughout the summer. Continue reading “Wichita Area: Summer 2018 Music and Arts Events”

Analysis of Beginning Piano Literature Series Part Two:

Knowing how to sequence the materials and literature for a student ready to learn beginning standard piano literature can be difficult. As I talked about in Part 1 of this series, this question of how to sequence led me to begin analyzing beginning standard piano literature, using an analysis form. This post, Part Two in the Analysis of Beginning Piano Literature Series, goes into what each individual section means and in general, why I have included it in my analysis form. Continue reading “Analysis of Beginning Piano Literature Series Part Two:”