This blog post about using tech in piano lessons was written by Rosemarie Penner. Rosemarie is an educator, writer and composer. She has a teaching degree and teaching diploma in piano pedagogy. Over a decade of teaching has taught Rosemarie we never really stop learning. At The Unfinished Lesson, she shows how to get balance for your life and creativity for your studio.
I believe technology has the power to bring people together and make learning more engaging.
While using tech in piano lessons can certainly make teaching and running a studio much easier, it’s the very human side of these zeros and ones which really excites me.
The programming in apps and programs may give us functionality, but it’s the choices we make as educators which determine the impact this technology has in our studio community.
We want to meet our students’ needs at each moment and, hopefully, encourage them to explore the music they’re interested in. And if creating lifelong musicians is the goal, then we need to make use of the tools that best help us do this.
Enhance, Don’t Replace
Technology of any kind should enhance our teaching, not replace it. It allows for flow between the teacher and student throughout each lesson.
Enhancing Teaching with YouTube
Let’s say your student comes in incredibly excited about their latest favourite song. 🤩
Pulling up the song on YouTube can give a quick snapshot of the piece. It can give us a new appreciation for the vision some musicians have in the covers they create, something we tend to want our students to do when it comes to ‘new-to-them’ music.
For example, one of my students wanted to play an alternative/indie song for our studio recital. When we looked at the video online, I didn’t think it would translate well. But it turns out the original video wasn’t the one he loved – he actually loved the piano cover, and it was awesome!
Without YouTube, how would he have conveyed the piece to me? And how long would it have taken before we found the right version of the song?
Enhancing Teaching with Apps
What about when we pull up an app or website to review notes on the staff? Or when we pull up a game to play on Google Slides? (Nicola has a fantastic tutorial for that here.) These are certainly ways technology can enhance our teaching.
Heidi Neal shares 10 fabulous ideas about enhancing your teaching with technology in her article here.
Put Relationships Before Technology
Without solid relationships, our studio families don’t stay for the long term. We become just another extracurricular activity which to be switched out for another at a drop of a hat.
Don’t Be an Interchangeable Teacher
Back when I travelled to my students’ homes, this was a real problem. The lure of having a piano teacher who came to them meant I got students who didn’t want to see anything beyond that. That makes it easy to leave after only a few months.
I’ve always tried to make the transition easier for the student. One former parent informed me, memorably, “It’ll be fine. He’ll go to whatever teacher we tell him to go to.”
Clearly there was no relationship built up there. It was a good lesson on the importance of being clear in my marketing and using technology to build up those client relationships as quickly as possible.
Be More to Your Students
There are times when our students and their families go through hard times. We can stay in our lane and just teach our instrument. But when life gets too hectic or stressful, guess what gets cut first?
Choose to be more than “just” a teacher.
Be the person your students and families want to share wins with. The person who is part of their team, and who makes their life a better one each week.
When we do this, we impact their whole family in a positive way. And it doesn’t have to take a lot from us.
Technology Can Reinforce Relationships
We want to build lasting relationships with our clients and students. So how do we do this in a way that doesn’t take too much time, money or energy?
Create Lifelong Musicians with Technology
My guess is you and I have the same goal: To help our students become lifelong musicians.
That’s true for students that pursue a career in music, play just for themselves or something in between. That means making an effort to follow that love through the meandering path it takes our students over the years.
Technology Recipes for Strong Relationships
I love testing out new recipes. It’s something I’ve encouraged my kids to do as they make meals for our family (with me as their assistant/taskmaster). It means we have some real hits…and, invariably, some real duds. But we wouldn’t have known which was which without trying them, thus giving rise to our family motto: “You don’t have to like every recipe, but you have to give it a real chance.”
You don’t have to like all the music your students like. But you have to give it a real chance.
This applies to trying new genres of music, new activities, new apps and everything in between. You never know what you or your students will like unexpectedly!
This willingness trying to explore with your students will create experiences that bind you together. “Remember when we…” is a phrase I often use with my students to continually remind them of all the great times we’ve had during lessons.
Some ideas to try:
- YouTube music: Check out a student’s current favourite song.
- YouTube tutorials: Figure out the patterns in a song (falling keys are awesome for seeing chord progressions).
- Apps: There are so many fun options available to help students practice a wide variety of skills.
- Google Docs/whiteboard app: Create a customized worksheet with your student (great for reminders during the week.)
- Digital practice page: Help your student come up with weekly goals for each song/activity.
- Backing tracks (or instrumental YouTube videos): Get off the bench for whole-body movement or pull out rhythm cards to do both away from and at the bench.
- Composing: Use an online app (e.g. Noteflight) to let students see the creation happen right in front of them.
- Camera angles for online teaching: Close-up feels like a conversation, further away is great for off-the-bench and overhead creates personalised tutorial videos during lessons.
- Emojis: For online teaching, use those reaction buttons and encourage students to do the same. Or use a physical object easily seen on the screen.
- Games: Nicola has an entire games library available to Vibrant Music Teaching members, and more than 100 of the games have a version you can play using Google Slides! (Not a VMT member yet? What are you waiting for?!)
I encourage you to take baby steps with incorporating technology during lessons. It can be easy to get excited (or terrified) with all the options. But your students want to spend time with you.
Focus on making each moment count with whichever idea fits best.
Technology Can Help You Maintain Boundaries
While sports and dance classes tend to meet multiple times each week, this isn’t usually the case with music lessons. But we can use technology to create lasting ties with our families with some simple ideas.
And we can do it in a way which still keeps boundaries in place.
Define Your Communication Boundaries
My clients and students are encouraged to text me during the week. These texts could be:
- Questions they have about what to practice
- Quick messages letting me know they uploaded an improv video to their shared folder
- Personal messages about a new kitten or sharing a clip of their first snowboarding lesson over the holidays
While some teachers would cringe at this kind of access, I love it! There’s no need to worry about emails getting lost in the shuffle.
Families get the support they need and when students are sharing more than their practice with you. This means they consider you important enough to get VIP access to their lives.
But it also means I need to have boundaries in place, so I can still have a life.
Just because you get a text, email or call does not mean you need to answer it immediately. Set expectations for when parents and students will hear back from you.
Then, stick to your boundaries.
My piano families know that I’ll get back to them. In fact, this is something I often stress during our first months of lessons. “Contact me at any time, and I’ll get back to you during my work hours.” As a result, I don’t get push back for waiting until Monday to respond to something sent late Friday afternoon.
It is possible to use technology and still have work-life balance!
Some ideas to try out include:
- Texting: Most families and students prefer texting over phone calls. If you don’t want to give out your cell phone number, simply set it up that students text your email address instead of cell number. (Here’s how.)
- Shared online folders: Easy access to resources is the key to regular practice. (I have a short video series on how to set this up.)
- Social media: Include videos and pictures of students often (with proper permission.) Then tag parents and students, so they can share them with family and friends. If you don’t teach online, get parents or students to send you videos/pictures they capture during the week, or you can record students during their weekly lesson.
- A quick video or audio message: Do this when your student has done something awesome or they have something big happening that week. I was surprised at how excited my students got with a 15-second audio message from me.
- Regular emails or texts to check in with parents: You’ll earn brownie points if you go beyond just music lesson progress…for example, send an e-gift card to buy snacks and caffeine if they are going to be moving to a new house.
- Studio newsletters: Focus on studio events which bring your community together (e.g. group lessons, recitals etc.)
- Apps: Have parents purchase a music app their child really loves so they can play during the week. Every time their child is laughing, they’re reminded how well you know their kid.
- Backing tracks: Students can use these to improvise during the week. Just make sure they have a chance to do this during the lesson so it’s a fun activity linked with their time with you.
- Practice tracking: Have students track their practice on a spreadsheet (with or without points). When they earn enough points or practice a certain number of days in a row, they can send a screenshot for a prize/e-gift card.
As always, choose the ideas that feel most comfortable to you. It isn’t about including technology in every aspect of your studio; it’s about using tools which bring out the human side of our studios to build long-term client relationships.
The Human Side of Technology
Technology is here to stay. My husband has often told our kids that they have the choice whether they are “tech dependent” or “tech savvy”.
We have the same choice.
Which one are you: tech-dependent or tech-savvy?
Let me know in the comments below 🙂
For more resources and advice about using technology in your music teaching studio, check out the “technology” section of Nicola’s Planning Lessons hub page.