How to Plan Student Led Conferences in Your Piano Studio

How to Plan Student Led Conferences in Your Music Studio

It can be a bit tricky to plan student led conferences at first. Especially since it’s a completely different from a teacher-centered approach to lessons. But, with a few tips you’ll be able to add this to your studio programming with ease!

Why Use Student Led Conferences

Because instrument lessons use such specialized language, non-instrument playing parents can be left in the dark. Even with the best intentions, progress reports can be either vague to confusing.


You could write “Sally improved so much in her playing this year!”. But, what does that mean? How did she improve? It feels a little like vague.

Instead, you could write “Sally is adding much more expression to her playing over the course of the year.” It’s more specific which is great. But, what does “adding expression” mean? To a non-musical parent this phrase can be confusing.

Notice that neither of those phrases used what we would consider overtly musical language. But if the parents in your studio, like mine, are overwhelming non-musical, what we say and write can be much more confusing.

Going back to our second example, at best, non-musical parents may think their child made it sound happy or sad.

But, you may mean that their child had:

  • Analyzed the music to determine the emotion they want the listener to feel,
  • Fluidity and relaxation in the body,
  • Used the appropriate muscle groups to control the articulation, dynamics and tempo,
  • Developing their own voice and interpretation of pieces.

Do you see how big of a difference there is between what you think you are saying and what a parent understands?

There are so many benefits to including student led conferences in your music studio! Many of which you can read here.

Why Student Led Conferences Work So Great in the Music Studio

But, Do Parents Like Them?

Absolutely!  In my studio, typically 80 – 95% of my piano parents do not play a musical instrument.  This means a few things.

  • They often have little to do with practice time.
  • Even if they want to help their child(ren), they have no idea how to help them.
  • All those squiggles on the page are intimidating.

If this is the case in your studio as well, how you plan student led conferences can make all the difference!

Understanding the Squiggles

Several years ago, one of my students taught his Mom about dynamics.  He happened to be learning Silly Argument (Stephen Chatman) and Bronze Bear (Yvonne Adair) at the time. 

After the student led conference, his Mom looked over at his piano books and said, “Hey!  I know what those symbols mean now!”  It was an exciting moment for her AND her son.  She felt there was something concrete she could help him with and he saw that he had done a great job teaching her.

I am always trying to educate my piano parents so they can provide more efficient support at home.  Student led conferences help parents build a common music vocabulary that allows them to have conversations about piano and lessons with their child(ren) or piano teacher.

Our studio student-led conferences are always based on student annual growth plans.  To read more about how I create these each year, click below.

Creating and Sharing Student Growth Plans in 5 Easy Steps!

I’m Sold!  How Do I Pull This Off?

Preparation is the key to a successful student led conference.  I like to start about 3 – 5 weeks before the actual conferences.  This depends on the student’s natural ability to explain clearly and how many times they’ve this before.

The key is to start early and plan in small chunks. Unless you’re a teacher, planning can be overwhelming. And, sometimes even then!

Week 1

For your first week, keep it short (5 minutes).

  • Go through annual plan with student.
  • Review concepts mastered.
  • Student chooses two concepts to teach.

That’s it! This gives you a chance to pull appropriate resources your student can choose from. That’s because you (in all likelihood) have an entire library of resources that your student doesn’t typically have access to.

Week 2 and 3

This will be a bit longer (10 – 15 minutes) as you start to guide the process.

Based on the concepts your student choose, have materials that may help your student (i.e. games, manipulatives, links to videos, etc.).

You and your student plan a lesson together.  Your role is to ask questions that their parent(s) may ask, then help students determine how to answer them.

My students typically groan when I ask questions their parents may ask. I keep asking questions until we get to the most basic and concrete of definitions. That’s because I know their parent may be too embarrassed to ask during the lesson. And, I know this deeper level of thinking means my student won’t be forgetting the concept any time soon.

During the week, your student  practices teaching the concepts. Be sure to leave games and manipulatives with your student.

If your student prepped both concepts in one week, then skip to week 4. And use the extra time to celebrate their growth in other ways!

Or, if you only have 3 or 4 weeks, combine these steps. It means you will probably spend the entire lesson on planning and practicing, but it is well worth it!

Week 4

This is the dry run of the student led conference. There’s a difference between talking things out with your teacher and becoming the teacher.

Your role in this lesson is to be the student, then provide feedback and guidance on how to improve.

Be more than “just” a teacher.

The best teaching situations I had were the ones in which I had mentors who filled this role. And, in the case of one school system, they had two full-time staff members whose sole responsibility was teacher development.

Yes, you are teaching an instrument and that is your primary role. But, there are plenty of piano teachers out there. What keeps clients with you for the long-haul is when you become more than “just” a teacher.

The ability to explain things clearly, concisely and in a variety of ways is not something just anyone can do. And, yet the real world applications for this skill that will help our students for the rest of their lives.

I still shake my head when I think back to someone explaining how to cook rice. I hadn’t truly understood just how bad someone could be at explaining things until that moment. Or, how important this basic skill of explaining something clearly is. Even when it comes to preparing dinner. Imagine how important it will be for our students in their future careers!

Week 5

Spend first few minutes of lesson with your student to answer any questions they may have.  Or, give a pep talk if you have an introvert. I would also recommend setting aside at least 15 minutes to ensure your student feels confident explaining their concepts.

Once your student is ready, get them to invite their parent over for the lesson. The plan for the student led conference came from them (with helpful nudges from you), so they are the ones in charge.

Some ways you support your student are:

  • Ask guiding questions if your student forgets something
  • Offer the manipulatives or resources they chose to use at the appropriate moment
  • If a parent turns to you for guidance, turn to your student and ask them what the next step is.

Your goal is to help your student shine and take center stage. Have fun being the assistant to the ‘teacher’ and seeing your student bloom!

Plan student led conferences with ease

Planning student led conferences shouldn’t be overwhelming. For you OR your students. They should be a chance to look back on the previous months with a smile and celebrate progress!

Which step in planning student led conferences sounds the most interesting to you?

Let me know in the comments below!

If you’re excited to add these to your studio, but would like an easy-to-follow format, click below to access the “Student Led Conference Planning Worksheets” I use in my studio. These are available in both PDF and Google Slide options, plus guide you and your student through exactly what is needed for a successful student led conference! (Click below for your copy.)

Student Led Conference Worksheets


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