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.

    • 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.

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”

How “Decoding Music” Can help a Struggling Student to Confidently Read Music

I would love to be able to figure out why some students can latch onto reading music easily and quickly, while others take more direction, reinforcement, and time.This past year I had a couple students, who had been studying with me for a year, that were still struggling to recognize landmark notes as well as if it was a step up or skip up. Struggling with something basic can lead to a lot of frustration and stagnation in lessons.

Whenever a student struggles with a concept, I first assume that something was lacking in my instruction. And then I look to find ways to re-introduce and reinforce the concept. Continue reading “How “Decoding Music” Can help a Struggling Student to Confidently Read Music”

Assignment Pages – Whose needs are they fulfilling?

{Nothing Era.} My student’s assignment sheets have evolved quite a bit over the last decade. When I began teaching, I wrote nothing down for both myself or for my student. This is probably because I was emulating my childhood teacher.

{Notebook Era.} But as I took on the role of the piano teacher, I realized that I needed a record to glance at and know what needed to be covered in the lesson. It was supposed to also help the students know what to practice. Thus, it led me to my “notebook” era. The idea was to write which book, the page number, and title of song the student should practice. But my notes were never consistent – I’d forget to write the page number, or the book and the formatting was never the same. Continue reading “Assignment Pages – Whose needs are they fulfilling?”

Top Five Teaching Tools for Piano Lessons

When I look around at my local music store, Pinterest, and online, I find so many wonderful ideas to incorporate into my teaching. But even though I scour the net for the best ideas, I tend to always come back to some tried-and-true favorites. Every teacher tends to find their favorites. These are mine. They are the top five tools I use every week during lessons. Continue reading “Top Five Teaching Tools for Piano Lessons”