What are piano lessons like? Back in the day vs. now

Many new piano parents & their children wonder “What are piano lessons like?”  It can be a source of excitement for some children.  And for some, it is a source of anxiety before that first lesson.

The short answer is what piano lessons look & sound like depends on the teacher you choose.  We all have different approaches & philosophies.  And while this can be overwhelming to a new piano parent, the great news is that you have a much better chance of finding the teacher that is perfect for your child!

Back in the time of dinosaurs

‘Back in the day’ when I started piano lessons (& my twins joke that dinosaurs were roaming the earth), lessons used to be much more note-based.

It was very much about reading the music on the page & playing it exactly as written.  Scales were the warm-up that ‘every’ teacher used & students needed to play them the same speed & volume every time.

Depending on the student level, theory pages assigned during the week or additional theory classes were normal.  And, as much as I think my teachers did their best to link everything, the worksheets I was assigned didn’t seem to have anything to do with what I was playing.

Fast forward to piano lessons now

Now we know there are MUCH better ways to teach our students.  There are multiple teaching approaches & philosophies from all over the world.  At Must Love Music, we use aspects from several different approaches to create our own unique experience for each student.

Some teachers still use the ‘traditional’ approach & it works for their students.  However, many teachers are switching to a ‘modern’ approach (some of which ironically has its roots from back in the 1600’s).  The modern approach better aligns with decades of brain learning research.

Now many teachers act more as a guide than lecturer.  We see our job as a guide for each step as students make discoveries ‘on their own’ (with nudges to ensure they make that discovery).

I lose count of the number of times I’ve told my twins something.  And, they just can not remember it.  Yet the moment they made the connection on their own, they remember it.

Have you had that moment with your child?  It’s the same with students.

Exploration vs. lecture

Exploration & discovery are no longer the activities at the end “if we have time”.  Instead of giving the answer right away, students try different things to experience the concept before giving it a name.  (Back in the day, it was the exact opposite.)  The student still learns everything, but because they approach it multiple ways the neuroconnectors are much stronger.

Mistakes vs. learning opportunities

Mistakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a learning opportunity to hear what sounds good … & what doesn’t fit together as nicely.  That’s right.  Even a wrong note in a song is a chance to figure out why it’s considered ‘wrong’ & why what is written is ‘right’.

There are no mistakes, just happy accidents!

Improvisation & composing

Improvisation, or “making it up as you go along” is included in most method books.  Not only is it a way for students to make their OWN music using specific concepts, there is a long tradition of improvisation.

Improvisation hearkens back to the Baroque era (1600 – 1750), Classical era (1730 – 1820), & Romantic era(1830 – 1900).  It was a natural expectation for students to improvise & create their own music both in & out of lessons.

That’s right! (Very) old school is back!


Many new students have never known a world without technology. It’s not exciting. It’s just expected.

Technology, when used correctly, enhances learning.  It allows students to connect with the teacher & their learning in a different way.  No more waiting for next lesson to ask a question.

With so many music apps out there, students have many different ways to review concepts.  Which in turn makes that remembering process much easier.

But, technology for technology’s sake is never okay.  There should always be an educational reason for each app & program used.

What do piano lessons look like?

Check in with your child’s teacher.  Because each teacher has their own approach, it’s best to ask directly.

In Must Love Music, we are always doing something new with a change of focus every 2 months.

  • Warm-ups:  We often will start ‘off the bench’ before moving our learning ‘on the bench’.
  • Technique:  This can be anything from specific movements to scales, chords & arpeggios.  It all depends on what the student needs to master.
  • Repertoire:  Fancy way of saying the songs students play.  Sometimes we start ‘off the bench’ to practice a particular concept.  Sometimes we play with music, sometimes we play with no music.
  • Improvising & Composing:  Improvising happens throughout the year & is a natural extension of everything else we do.
  • Music Lab:  Students are given level-appropriate assignments that cover a wide range of topics that give them a chance to practice another aspect of music learning.

For very young students (preschool & kindergarten), lessons look a little different from this.  Our little ones learn differently & lessons are set up in a way to help them learn in the way that works best for them!

So, what are piano lessons like?  That depends on the teacher you choose for your child (or yourself).  It is a mix of teacher expertise & student goals that make each lesson unique!

The lessons YOU want

When looking for a piano teacher, it’s important to go beyond the basics.

We all want to know the teacher’s availability & the cost of tuition.

As a parent myself, I get it.  These are really important questions because if the timing or cost doesn’t work out, you don’t want to waste time.

There are a few questions you SHOULD ask any teacher or studio before enrolling.

Activities are about more than just the timing & cost.  That’s just the starting point.

You wouldn’t put your child in the cheapest activity if everything else about it was in opposition to your child’s needs & your expectations. Right?

Click below to access the “Secret Sauce Questions Every Parent Should Ask”.

Spoiler alert: You can also modify these questions when looking at other extra-curricular activities.

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