What Makes a Good Lesson?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A Student Perspective

Have you ever asked your student what makes a good instrumental lesson?

A number of years ago I did just that in a secondary school. There was a whole class full of students of different ages, learning different instruments with a variety of teachers.

Their feedback was enlightening. Here are the main themes, the messages I believe are still valuable.

Whilst revising this, from a personal perspective, it was a useful reminder to ask and listen more to the needs of my students and to think more creatively – especially when teaching sight reading and scales.

So, what did they say …

Valuable Messages

“I want to like my teacher and my teacher to like me.”

“The teacher needs to look like they are enjoying teaching me.” “I like my teacher to smile at me.”

“I want my lesson to be varied and creative.”

Variety was constantly mentioned…

  • “Some teachers do the same things every week.”
  • “I want every lesson to be different and learn something new.”
  • “I love it when I can do some great improvisation in my lesson.”
  • “I don’t like to play pieces for too long – sometimes I get really sick of my exam pieces.”

“I don’t enjoy my lesson as much if I haven’t practised – I want to be able to show progress.”

“I enjoy the lesson more if I can demonstrate the progress I have made through my practice.” “I don’t want to go to my lesson as much if I haven’t really practised.”

“I want it to be pupil- led”

Comments here include: “I want my lesson to be relevant to me.”

“I want to play music I like, and that isn’t too hard.”

“I want to play music that I really like and things that I’m familiar with. I don’t mind doing the classical stuff – I like some of it, it’s just I don’t want to do it all the time. I want a mix.”

It was regularly mentioned that finding time to practise was a struggle with everything else they did – this was particularly applicable to secondary aged students. They only wanted a small amount of difficult music as they said their time was limited.

They didn’t feel like even starting practice if it was all hard work!

“I don’t like doing scales or sight-reading in my lesson – I like aural and gaining knowledge about my pieces.”

Scales and sight-reading were not popular activities in lesson time, although students were happy to sight read disguised as duets, ensemble pieces and using technology. The popularity improved with higher grade students.

Scales were seen as okay if used to improvise, but many students said they found them boring and their least favourite element of a music lesson. They preferred to just get on with them at home, rather than (as they saw it) “wasting precious lesson time.”

Aural and theory were more enjoyed when linked continually to their pieces: as long as sight singing wasn’t included. Boys in particular expressed feeling ‘a bit stupid’ sight singing.

Students enjoyed displaying their skills if they were confident with the activities, and theory was seen positively again when taught integrally.

“It’s boring just working through the work books.” 

EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.4 (December 2018)

This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:

pdf-logo  Piano Teacher Talk No.4

Special Thanks to Murray McLachlan, Karen Marshall, and Carole Booth.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.