Plan the Ultimate First Piano Lesson for a Five Year Old Beginner

One thing I LOVE about being a piano teacher in 2019 is how much of a global community we have to draw from. So many teachers are sharing their approaches, observations and methods freely online.

Plan the Ultimate First Piano Lesson for a Five Year Old Beginner

Great ideas for first piano lessons with preschool students. Practical and effective advice for piano teachers.

Note: This post was originally published in September 2016 but it was edited and expanded in May 2019.

We have access to so much information and combined experience through blogs, Facebook groups, and other online communities. It’s very different from when I started teaching in 2005.

When I started teaching piano, it felt like other teachers had secrets that I didn’t have access too. Maybe they had some greater purpose and plan than I did. Maybe they knew mysterious things that I had no comprehension of.

This was all quite true in a sense. I couldn’t look into other teacher’s lessons. Let alone the hundreds of studios all over the world that I can peek into these days!

Vibrant Music Teaching members, you can access this resource inside the VMT library. Not a member yet? Find out more about becoming a member here.

First piano lesson planning for a preschool beginner

The Mysterious First Lesson

I’m now a confident teacher with (ever evolving and developing) plans. And I want to share something that I think will help teachers out in what I know to be a sometimes terrifying prospect…

The very first lesson with a new student.

I’m going to be writing a series of these posts detailing how I approach a first piano lesson with different types of students, and I’m kicking off with the example of a 5 year old beginner.

There’s so much to think about in a first piano lesson, and this is just one way to do it. There’s no “right” or “wrong” here, but I know it would have helped me when I was starting out 11 years ago.

For me, there are two important viewpoints to consider…

1. What you want to know

The first side to look at when planning this first lesson or interview is what you want to find out about your new student. The more you know, the better you can plan for the next lessons, and the better you can match books and resources to the student’s personality and learning style.

In the first lesson with a young beginner, there a few key things I want to know.

  • How well they can see patterns of keys and navigate the keyboard.
  • If they have developed any aural pitch awareness.
  • Whether they match pitch when they sing.
  • How developed their fingers are, and how much control they have over individual fingers.
  • Whether they have yet developed a sense of pulse and if they can keep a steady beat.

There are definitely more things I’m paying attention to in my first interactions with a child. These are just the key musical abilities that I want to assess. The reason for choosing these particular ones is that they are the most common stumbling blocks for students this age.

dog hurdle

As we move forward, I want to be proactive and prepared so that I can put everything in place. That way, when we do reach the hurdle, my student will glide right over it.

2. How you want the student to feel

Now, all that said, this isn’t the way we want our new precious student to think of their first piano lesson. It absolutely shouldn’t feel like some kind of assessment or test.


I want this new student to leave with a beaming smile, impatient for the next lesson. Setting off on the right foot can set you up for a wonderful student-teacher relationship for (potentially!) years to come.

So, this is where the delicate balance of masking these little assessments and observations as fun and games comes in.


The key aural skills I want to find out about with a five year old beginning piano student like this are these basic opposites:

  • Loud vs Soft
  • Short vs Long
  • Same vs Different
  • High vs Low

At five years old, the toughest of these is usually high & low. Especially once you apply that to a piano where high=right and low=left. This just boggles the mind of some kids. Others will get it right away.

One of my favourite ways to practice these beginning aural skills are the listening paddles I made a little while back. In the first lesson, we might only get to one of these pairs, or we might do them all.

Aural paddles

Follow the child’s lead here. If they look at all concerned or stressed by the exercise, move on!


Some five year olds can already perfectly match pitch, and some are a long way from doing that yet.

I include lots of singing in lessons, it’s a big part of my teaching style. I want to know right away how much coaching this area is going to require.

It’s usually easier initially to match like with like. Start with getting your new beginner to sing along with your singing, not with the piano.


Two pitches are often enough to start with. I simply use a pattern of so-mi accompanied by the Kirwin hand signs. If I have a natural and enthusiastic singer on my hands, I’ll switch it up between so-mi patterns, and do-low la patterns.

Even if you don’t use a lot of solfa singing in your studio (Wait, why not? 😉 ) I’d still recommend some kind of singing activity. Even singing along with a CD from a method book can tell you so much about a child’s pitch awareness.

Finger Dexterity

This one is BIG at this age. There is a huge variance in finger strength and dexterity among five year olds.

I’ve met five year olds who are still grasping a crayon in a fist instead of a pen grip. Equally, I’ve met some five year olds who have as much control as an average seven year old.

This is why we tap it out. I get them tapping individual fingers on a table or closed piano lid. Call out “finger 2!” and demonstrate tapping this finger independently.

As with everything else here, this needs to be adapted to have a positive experience. Fingers 1 & 2 could be enough for the first day. Or, you might be able to utilise all the fingers, and specify which hand to use.

Keeping the Beat

Do you have a friend that claps along with songs in a sort of haphazard, erratic manner?

Does it drive you bananas?

Me too.

Let’s not inflict this on the next generation. If we catch them at this age, they’ll never become those slightly out-of-time adults we all know and…love in spite of their clapping style.

hands on drum

We don’t want to confuse fine motor skills with actual sense of pulse either so don’t start with clapping or playing. Get your student marching, jumping, stomping, and playing percussion instruments. Develop and assess the gross motor skills first, and you can go from there.

Navigating the Keyboard

This is really about visual pattern recognition. To find our way around the keyboard we need to see it as a series of two and three black key patterns. Not all five year olds will see this right away.

To assess and develop this area, I use games, improvisation and rote teaching.

My favourite game for the first lesson is Dogs and Frogs. At later lessons, we’ll cover this more in-depth with other games too.

Dogs and Frogs in preschool piano lessons
Dogs and Frogs in preschool piano lessons

There are lots of great easy rote pieces around, such as those found in the wonderful Piano Safari and Roadtrip! books.

Improvisation can also help with beginning navigation. Even simple specification such as “Let’s play only white keys.”, or “Let’s use only three black key groups this time.” can prompt exploration and understanding of the keyboard geography.

How might all this look?

Every individual lesson is different and every child is different. However, I think it can be useful to see all this laid out in specific terms.

The plan below shows the general focus of each activity, a brief description of what that activity consists of, and the time estimated for that activity.


You can download this lesson outline as a pdf by filling in your details below.

Vibrant Music Teaching members, you can access this resource inside the VMT library. Not a member yet? Find out more about becoming a member here.

It is not meant to be a prescriptive and exact lesson plan, more of a guideline. I hope it provides you with a starting point and inspiration for your first lesson with a very young beginner. Use it in any way you find helpful!

Want to know where to go from the first lesson with a preschooler?

I have a course in the Vibrant Music Teaching site that will take you through the first 40 weeks with a new young beginner.

It’s called the Tiny Finger Takeoff and you can access it right now if you become a Vibrant Music Teaching member.

This is comprehensive but flexible enough that you can put your own stamp on it and fit the ideas in with the way you teach. Join today to access this great course (plus lots of other goodies!).

What does a first lesson look like in your studio?

I’m excited to hear how everyone approaches this important first interaction!

There isn’t one perfect first lesson for a young beginner. I believe we can all learn so much by sharing how it works for us.

Share your favourite first lesson activities for young beginners below!

19 thoughts on “Plan the Ultimate First Piano Lesson for a Five Year Old Beginner”

  1. Totally love this, Nicola. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I’m putting together my beginner course at the moment and we do lots of similar things. Love how creative your teaching is – I bet the kids love it!

  2. This is awesome! This is my first year with my own true studio, and first year teaching piano. I’ve been teaching violin for about 6 years but never had more than 4 students at a time! I wish I had seen this post a few months ago! I started with a 4 and 5 year old in march and though they are TONS of fun I’ve definitely been finding it challenging!! I’m now going to backtrack and do more of these kinds of activities!!

    • It’s definitely a new challenge to start with the really little fingers at the keys, but tons of fun too for sure! Glad you found the post helpful, best of luck with your new studio! 🙂

  3. I’ve just discovered your blog and am loving everything that I’ve read! This sounds almost exactly like a first lesson / interview for young beginners in my studio. When you start off with lots of aural activities & improvisation, students are much more inclined to follow the dynamics & articulations in their reading pieces. I had a beginning student get upset yesterday because I asked her to experiment by playing a legato piece (one of her first with slurs) staccato instead. “No, it’s not supposed to be staccato! See? There’s a slur!” exclaimed the child. This particular child is not a Type A perfectionist, but she’s noticing all of the musical details in her score.

    • Delighted to hear you’re enjoying the blog! I have several who would’ve had that reaction too. Good that they’re noticing, but maybe a little more creativity is sometimes in order. 😉

  4. Wow, all this in first lesson. I feel if can teach finger numbers, where middle C is, show how finger numbers on sheet music, teach music alphabet, place hands correctly with thumbs on MC, have them play some scales saying numbers, then letters then assign them first two songs. It’s been a full and rushed 30 minutes.

    • I get what you’re saying Dave, I think it’s all about our priorities – that’s what this post is really about. You’ll notice that a bunch of the stuff you’re mentioning there I didn’t include in my plans, that’s no accident. I start with a blank plan and don’t assume that certain things “should” be taught if they don’t serve my purpose.

  5. Hi Nicola! Thank you so much for your wonderful and helpful posts. How creative you are in teaching! I am learning a lot from you post 🙂 I appreciate teachers who truly cares about their students and make the effort to guide them in a fun and efficient way of learning. Thank you again!

  6. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years but usually start kids at 8 and up. I just started at a music school where all 6 of my students so far are under age 8 two of them being 5 I was freaking out – Thanks for this I have some great ideas to go with now. For me keeping their attention for a full half hour was very difficult with all these options I might even run out of time – Cheers!!


  7. Thanks so much for guiding me to making my very first lesson for my very first students! It has made me less stressed since everything you explained was so clear and interesting!

  8. Nicola, I have received many great ideas from your podcast and blog, thank you! And thanks for the wonderful outline and reminder of how a first lesson for a young child should look. Excellent information and reference!


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