How to Teach Creatively Using a Piano Method Book

How to Teach Creatively Using a Piano Method Book

When you have a brand new beginner piano student, what do you do? Do you crack open a method book and start working through the book from the very first lesson?

Or do you encourage your students to be creative? Inspire them to explore the piano and make music. A fantastic way to do just this is with my No Book Beginners (NBB) Framework.

But after those initial lessons, when a student is ready to start a method book, how do you continue inspiring creativity?

Table Of Contents:

  1. How To Choose A Method Book
  2. Introducing The Method Book
  3. Starting New Pieces
  4. Getting Creative
  5. Conclusion

How To Choose A Method Book

While there are lots of books on the market, I’d encourage you to base your teaching on one that includes:

  • Improvising
  • Listening
  • Solid ground in technique
  • Engaging rote pieces with videos for students to watch at home
  • Movement all over the piano and use of pedal
  • A structured, intervallic approach to reading
  • Activities based on research
  • Flashcards for rhythm and note sight reading
  • Appealing backing tracks
  • Comprehensive teacher notes, videos and instructions

My recommendation for teaching beginner children to read after using my NBB Framework is Piano Safari which you can learn more about in Podcast Episode 71: Exploring Piano Safari where I interview the authors, Dr Julie Knerr and Katherine Fisher.

Piano Safari ticks all the above boxes and uses a similar approach to NBB in the creative way in which teachers are encouraged to use it.

PS. Piano Safari is also now distributed in Australia and Inner Circle members get a 10% discount on all Piano Safari purchases. Find out more about membership here.

Introducing the Method Book

My first rule for using a method book is: use a piano method book creatively.

Just because it says to do something, you don’t have to do it and once a piece is learnt, that’s often when the fun begins!

Just as exams are only a small part of piano teaching, the method book is just one tool that we can use for teaching.

If students are really enjoying exploring something or have started composing things, go with it. Feel free to explore and always be 100% supportive of their creations.

Never cut students down when they’ve composed something, no matter how “bad” or “simple” it is. Encourage and support. Positivity trumps everything.

Relish in deviations. Don’t rush.

Always start lessons with something creative. Resist the temptation to open the book right away. Doing something away from the tutor book turns on students’ ears, gets them focussed, gets them thinking musically and increases engagement.

Related: 20 Creative Ways to Start a Lesson

Starting New Pieces

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about starting new pieces.

You might not follow all these tasks with every piece, but they give you some idea of a comprehensive way in which you can teach a piece that connects the eye with the ear and body, rhythm with beat and involves preparing the student thoroughly for any new challenges coming up.

These steps are based on Music Learning Theory, Orff, Suzuki and Kodaly.

  1. Always feel and clap/tap a pulse before students begin. Get students used to counting in.
  2. Explore the rhythm. You might want to say the words for the piece first, perhaps while clapping the beat.
  3. Ask students to write in the counting – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 etc.
  4. Tap/clap the rhythm while counting aloud.
  5. Sing the rhythm while keeping a beat. Use neutral syllables like “Bah”, “Dah”, “La”.
  6. Teacher plays the tune so that the student starts hearing the melody.
  7. Audiation: Get the student to tap a steady beat and “hear” the music in their heads.
  8. Student sings the melody to neutral beats while tapping a pulse.
  9. Get your student to sing the words while tapping pulse.
  10. Student practising playing on the closed lid of the piano using correct fingers and hand shape, rhythm and pulse.
  11. Open the piano, student counts in and plays.

While this seems really arduous and comprehensive, it is vitally important to instil these skills from the beginning. If students get into these habits from the beginning, they’re going to be much better prepared down the track to tackle more challenging repertoire.

Getting Creative

Remember that once the piece is learnt, you can get even more creative!

Your student can then start exploring:

  • Dynamics
  • Tempo
  • Tonality
  • Expression: angrily, sweetly, red, blue, etc.
  • Range
  • Transposition
  • Harmonisation

When a new rhythm is introduced:

  • Improvise on it
  • Write it down
  • Clap backs/call and response
  • Split clapping between teacher and student. Eg. teacher claps dotted crotchets in 6/8, student claps quavers

Explore composition in each lesson, based on elements in their reading pieces. Could your student come up with a story that tells about the:

  • Battle of Monsters
  • Grumpy elephant and annoying mouse
  • Thunderstorm
  • Raindrops
  • Outer space
  • Clock goes wrong

These are just some of the ways you can continue to be creative while using the method book.

Remember, the book is just a guide. You can be as imaginative and creative as you wish!

Conclusion

I hope this has given you some ideas about how to get more creative in your approach to teaching with a method book.

I’ll finish with a more general list of things to consider in your beginner teaching.

Let me know what you think!

  • Get students to teach you what you taught them
  • Use echo clap/play/sing backs
  • Echo playbacks/call-response on the keys
  • Each lesson, get the student to try writing some music. Use big manuscript paper and teach them how to write the notes correctly. Don’t relegate this to a theory book – just base it on the pieces they’ve been learning. In this way, it’s more connected and relevant than a disconnected theory lesson.
  • Students love Rhythm Cup Explorations from Compose Create – you can use this every few lessons
  • Keep checking seating, posture and technique on a regular basis
  • Flashcards for rhythm pattern and music sight reading
  • Use rhythm cards to create rhythm patterns. Eg. Make a rhythmic pattern that lasts 4/8/16 beats. Clap it, improvise on it, etc.
  • Try asking the student, “What do you think this will do to the feeling of the piece?”. Then see if you agree after playing it.
  • When reading simple pieces on the white notes with one hand, start exploring harmonising with 5ths or just bass notes
  • What if you play the original melody of the piece but change a note while they listen? Can they pick the changed note? Can they play the changed version back to you?

Have fun!

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 just wanted to say that I’m quite impressed with this and all the other posts I’ve read since subscribing! As a pianist trying to prepare myself to give effective lessons to children, I’ve found this information helpful. I’ve learned quite a bit myself, too!

  2. Hello Tim! I was hoping you might have some method book recommendations for “older kids”. I have a 10 year old boy that is just starting out with piano. We’ve done about 8 weeks of lessons ( creatively, thanks to you and your work!) and Piano Safari seems a little to “kiddish” for him; though I’ve found it fits perfectly with 5-8 year olds. Do you use anything else besides Piano Safari, or has it worked out for the 9/10 year olds that you teach?
    Thank you for your time in advance!

    • I agree that 10 year old is pushing it for PS. I’d suggest checking out Piano Pronto’s new teen method and also Supersonic’s piano method – both are designed for older ages.

      • Awesome! I’ll look at both of those options. Much appreciated! Thank you , Tim.

  3. Hi Tim,
    Thank you for this! I LOVE these suggestions and will begin implementing them right away!
    One question: When you suggest incorporating writing music from the beginning (something I have failed to do and regret), how do you base the experience off their pieces? Do you use a piece as inspiration for building an original composition or do you copy parts of the piece…?
    Thank you!!

    • Good question, Kara. I’d do it as part of patterns/elements in the piece. Check out my podcast about using my “elements and activities” sheet based on Simultaneous Learning to get some ideas: https://staging.topmusic.co/category/podcast/

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