Teaching the First Piano Lesson

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Little girl smiling at piano keyboard

by Abraham Levitan

This article is part of a series on teaching first lessons; read teaching the first voice lesson, and teaching the first drum lesson.

First lessons are full of possibility and excitement. As a piano teacher, they were among my favorite parts of the job. Here’s a guide I wrote based on my experience, and that I share with my instructors. Hopefully it will help you to get a great start with new students!

First piano lesson with an experienced student

For a student you “inherit” from another teacher, use the first lesson to explore what they’ve been working on, and maybe assign a bit more in their current book. You shouldn’t need to bring any new books– save those for the second or third lessons. The first lesson is mainly diagnostic, and the info you get will be very helpful in determining what new books, if any, they need.

First piano lesson with a beginner

For a typical first lesson, you’ll need only a manuscript/assignment book. You’ll be going slowly, getting to know your new student, finding out their overall likes and dislikes (favorite foods, favorite classes in school, etc.), as well as what kind of music they like. For true beginners, I recommend the following:

1. Trace their hands (in their manuscript book). Ask them to write “L.H.” on their left hand, and “R.H.” on their right hand.

2. Teach them about the finger-number system — write “1” on their thumbs, and see if they can write in the other numbers on the other fingers.

3. Discuss the music alphabet — how it goes from A to G, starts on the lowest note on the piano, etc.

4. From there, explain where Middle C is (ideally by saying the alphabet from the lowest note up to Middle C).

5. Teach them about putting their hands in Middle C position (LH on F-G-A-B-C, RH on C-D-E-F-G, thumbs sharing Middle C).

6. Teach a basic warm-up — I like to use the “Spider Song” — both thumbs play together, then both 2’s, then both 3’s, etc. You can use this piece to begin writing songs out for them in their manuscript book, prepping them to eventually read with two staffs. So, it would look like this:

Spider Song

Explain that, when numbers are directly on top of each other, it means to play RH and LH at the same time.

7. Teach them a basic song, using the same system of notation. For example, Twinkle Twinkle would be written as follows:


It is essential that your student learns a song by the end of their first lesson!

Both students and parents will consider this a huge accomplishment and will be much more enthusiastic about moving forward.

Other things to teach and remember

As time permits, teach them a bit about good form — sitting up straight, keeping straight wrists, keeping their hands curved as if they were holding “little baseballs”, etc. If they’re really moving quickly, you could write out another song for them using the same system of notation outlined above.

Of course, as you’re moving along, make sure you’re keeping detailed notes about how to practice (how many times, how many minutes, etc.), so that they develop great practice habits from day one.

For the second lesson, you should arrive with books, based on what you learned about them during the first week. Usually, I’ll bring a Primer-level song book (I’m a fan of the Faber & Faber “Pretime” series), a theory workbook (I’m a fan of The Music Tree), and a warm-up or scale book (I like the Dozen a Day series of warm-up books, and the FJH First Scale Book).

Final note

Whether you’re starting with a new student or an experienced student, consider your first month an extended job interview. Demonstrate an extra degree of professionalism in your appearance and your teaching, and be present and engaged when communicating with students and parents.

Good luck!

All material © Piano Power 2015

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