Even if you are an accomplished musician, with years of experience playing one or more instruments under your belt, you might wonder where to begin when it comes to planning music lessons.
Being good at playing an instrument is great, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be at teaching others how to get to the same level.
For a start, you’ll need to know how to run your own business, and how much you should charge for your music lessons.
Finally, you will need to develop some teaching skills. While you might not necessarily need qualifications to become a music tutor, you would definitely benefit from a course or two on the fundamentals of teaching music.
This is the area we’re going to focus on in this article, and more specifically, how you can streamline your music lesson planning process and make the lessons enjoyable for both you and your students.
Find a system that suits you
You’ll firstly need to figure out the best ways to find students depending on whether you want to give in-person classes or online classes.
But when it comes to planning, you’ll probably find that you prefer a certain way of doing things.
What type of planner are you?
Some people prefer a meticulous approach to planning, leaving no detail out and being as thorough as possible.
When applied to the context of music lessons, this would probably look like a detailed breakdown of what you will do in each part of your class, perhaps even broken down into 10 or 15 minute chunks.
For a lot of people though this process might seem too time-consuming and/or tedious.
For those people it might be better to tackle a theme for each music lesson. For example, focussing on one particular chord for the guitar.
This approach allows for more flexibility and spontaneity at the time of the lesson, which will rely on your ability to produce a solid lesson on the fly without too much preparation.
Personalisation is key
Whichever direction you decide to go, one thing you should always bear in mind during the planning process is the individual you are teaching.
While it’s easy to group people into categories such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced, this isn’t likely to lead to the best lessons for the individual in front of you.
Before the first class you have with a new student, it’s worth asking them some questions about their ability level, but also and perhaps more importantly, about their biggest struggles.
This way, you can focus on their difficulties, and they will feel like they are improving class after class.
This shouldn’t be something you do for the first class, before following a strict curriculum, but something that you should continue to do in following classes.
Writing the names of all of your students in a notebook and taking notes about their progress and problem areas will help both you and them to get a clearer picture of which direction to take each music lesson.
The attention to detail and personal nature of doing your classes this way will undoubtedly earn you points with the students, and will not only help you earn repeat business from them, but encourage them to spread the word about your services.
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Set aside time to plan
The journey of becoming a music tutor involves a lot of seemingly unrelated skills. Another factor that plays a big part in how you plan, is when you plan.
It doesn’t matter if you have great ideas about how you’re going to carry out your lessons if you don’t actually sit down to do so.
Having an allocated day each week, or a time each day depending on how many students you have, will do you the world of good with regards to planning.
Get your notebook out with all of your notes about each student taking classes with you, and start to create lessons for them based on what you learnt in the last session.
Maybe it’s the case that one of your students brought up in the last class that they like a particular genre or band and you decide to find a fitting song to practise with them for the next one.
Or perhaps you noticed a student that struggled with hand positioning on the guitar in your last class, in which case you can work on that in the next one.
By building upon your observations of their performance in each class, and by what they tell you are their struggles, you can make their journey to music mastery quicker than they thought possible.
However, elaborating these ideas and observations into a whole 1 hour lesson can seem daunting. That’s why having a designated time to sit down and plan for your upcoming lessons can prove really useful.
The last thing you want is for the next class to roll around before you know it. This will make it a lot harder for you to pull off a good class, and will likely be picked up on by the student.
Ask your students for ideas
This ties into the next idea which can help you with your planning: asking your students.
Asking your students for ideas doesn’t mean that you are a bad teacher, in fact, it implies the opposite.
By taking their thoughts and ideas into account, it will go some way to showing the student how dedicated you are to their experience and their musical development.
The benefit of asking your students for ideas is that it will take the hard part of planning out of the way, and they’re probably going to enjoy it since they thought of it.
While the student won’t plan the whole class for you, they can let you know what their interest in music is, and which aspects of it they enjoy most.
That way, you can be sure to sprinkle in lots of the parts they enjoy, and use them to keep the student motivated.
Get inspiration online
The internet is a wonderful resource, as I’m sure you’re well aware.
As such, it would be a shame not to make the most of it for your music lessons.
Watch YouTube videos
Well, one way to do so is find music tutorial videos on YouTube for the instrument you teach.
While watching the video and taking tips from the teaching style and content will help, this isn’t the most useful takeaway.
Scroll down to the comments (a scary place, I know) and take a look at what people say about the teacher.
If they all seem to find the teacher’s teaching clear and helpful, then maybe it’s worth paying close attention. If they make specific comments about why they enjoy their teaching, then even better, as you can incorporate these elements into your lessons.
Even the negative feedback can provide useful insight into what people expect or hope for in a music lesson.
You can even incorporate YouTube videos into the lessons themselves.
I wouldn’t recommend showing your student a tutorial video, since this defeats the point of you being there, but there’s definitely something to be said about watching videos together.
For example, you could show a short video of a famous musician playing a piece to show how they manipulate the instrument, hand positioning, or to highlight other elements of musical performance.
Find music lesson plans
If you’re struggling to think how exactly to structure a lesson, or you’re short on time and need to whip something up quickly, then I would recommend finding lesson plans online.
Websites like Connollymusic provide a list of free online resources you can use to come up with your own great lesson plans.
These can be used as templates for your classes, but shouldn’t be used exclusively, since you will lose the personal nature of tailoring your lessons to the student.
These resources will also likely have suggestions for songs to play with students of all levels and ages, as well as useful information that can help you teach the musical theory.
Find level appropriate songs
Based on the level of your student, you might find it useful to look up songs which they will be able to play.
If you’ve got a beginner on your hands, then it’s always nice to show them a very simple song that they will be able to master in a short period of time.
This will prove to them that they’re capable and give them something to work on outside of class.
This also applies to intermediate and advanced level students too.
If you give them a song to practise outside of the class, it will provide a barometer for success which you can come back too each day you have a lesson with them.
Having them play like this will also allow you to assess all the important elements of performance, and take notes on areas to improve.
Plus, everyone wants to be able to play songs when they are learning a new instrument, so why not indulge them for some extra teacher points?