Updated: May 20
Introducing The Volz Method to them
Begin by explaining that you are a fun piano teacher, and that you want to figure out how their brain works. Everybody's brain is different. Some people read music well, but other people are more creative and make up music better, and still others learn music better by learning music by ear. Tell them you want to figure out what their passion on the piano is.
Tell them that you are going to throw a few things at them: stuff by ear, asking them to compose, etc, and that you expect them to like certain processes of learning, and not like others. Make sure they understand that you will be expecting them to give you feedback on what they enjoyed more or less, so both of you can figure out together what they resonate with more.
At the first lesson, you're just trying to get a feel for what they are doing and the level of playing they're at. No need to try new things yet. But don't leave without giving them assignments.
Grab their notebook they use to take notes, or ask the mom for a notebook you can use (every household with children has one).
Always default to note reading as a way to start. Assign them something out of a lesson book to practice at least.
But if you have time, you can try giving something to play by ear as a way to start (unless they've never played piano before. In which case, just get started on the lesson book). You can record something very simple (err on the side of being too easy, but use their current lesson book level as a hint of how hard you can record something). Eventually you want to get to star wars and mario, but twinkle twinkle little star is even easier.
You can also ask them to just try making up a song that week, keeping it between 30 seconds to a minute long. From there, you can get feedback as to what they liked doing the most.
The Importance of the Parent
The younger the student, the more important the parent is to be involved. Encourage the parent to sit in the lesson with you guys every week, and depending on the age of the student, to help them with their practice. Ages 9 and below are important to have a more involved parent. Older than that, and you may not even need the parent in the lesson.
I even have my parents taking notes for the lessons, writing things down that the student needs to practice. That way their is a clear understanding from the parent what the child is expected to do. There is a triangle of accountability then. I actually have 2 notebooks going, one that the parent can take notes in, and I hold the notebook that the parent's took notes in last week, so I can look at what I gave the student last week. Each week we switch notebooks, so the parent is always taking notes for me to look at next week, and I'm looking at the previous weeks notes. Something to consider.
The more the parent is involved (usually the mother), the more successful the student is.
Some important concepts to go over
Posture would be a great thing to review with them the first lesson. Have them sit with their knees "slightly" under the piano, sitting tall, shoulders relaxed, square with the piano, the piano bench an appropriate distance.
Technique, depending upon the age of the child, can be more or less rigorously expected. The younger they are, demand less of them. But otherwise, round fingers, with a level wrist, is good to teach. More older students can be taught not to let their joints collapse when depressing a key. Example below:
If you don't have any lesson books, or they don't like their current ones, suggest piano adventures by Faber: https://www.amazon.com/Primer-Level-Lesson-Piano-Adventures/dp/1616770759/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=piano+adventures&qid=1573944169&sr=8-3
Piano adventures is my go-to because it is the most fun songs.
If you don't have a lesson book to work with at the moment because they will order one, then try having them compose, do something by ear, or you can even give them a 5 finger exercise at the C Major position to practice their technique for a week, as well as posture.
The musical alphabet is also a good thing to get them going on. I play the "note game." It has 2 steps:
1. guess where [random musical alphabet letter is]
2. if they get it wrong, or don't know it, then have them find them all, saying the letter outloud as they hit it.
The idea is that they need to learn the INDIVIDUAL LOCATION of each letter. If they find "D" just because they know where "C" is, then that is not good. They need to memorize that "D" is between the 2 black keys.
They need an adult or someone to help them with the note game when they practice. Someone to quiz them on the letters. See how fast they can do it. Maybe even time them? If there is any hesitation, have them find all of the that letter on the keyboard, bottom to top, saying the letter out loud.
Don't hesitate to spend a few weeks on this to make sure they have this down pat. Any problem with this, and it will slow down their sight reading that much.
You could also even leave the blues scale with them to practice (see article on how to teach jazz). If they don't know sharps or flats yet, you can just draw a keyboard in their notebook and indicate the notes for the blues scale somehow.
Make sure (if not in the first lesson, then eventually) that they have a lesson book they are working out of and the equivalent "theory book." After that, any technique books are at your discretion ( I don't prefer them. I prefer just to play fun songs to learn technique!)
First lesson for younger students
Learning Right and left hand and finger numbers are a good starting point. For ages 8 and younger completely beginner students, you won't even introduce the musical alphabet yet.
Have them hold up their hands, and repeat aloud the finger numbers as you do it. Then quiz them on it, asking them to wiggle the correct fingers as you say the numbers. Also try putting their hands together as if in prayer, with the fingers slightly apart.
Starting them on the black keys will be important, as we don't want to learn the musical alphabet yet. If you don't have a lesson book yet, you can even tell them where to put their hands on the black keys, and write quarter notes down on their notebook with the finger numbers over or under the notes, having them say aloud the finger numbers as they play. Right hand left hand separately.
Most lesson books have a "primer" level that you will use for these students.
Stickers can be an effective way for younger students to know clearly if they did well enough or not. I like to use "super stickers" and "regular stickers." Super stickers are bigger, and mean they did everything I asked them to do and they practiced well. Regular stickers mean they still did a good job but that they could've practiced a little more, or maybe missed 1 thing I told them to do. This is just the way I use stickers. Do not hesitate to have them redo a song if they don't show proficiency in what needs to be learned.
Don't give out candy based on behavior. Trust me on this. I did so and all I did was condition the child to hate candy! Just give 1 at the end, and make sure they understand what's expected of them. Ask them if they want a piece of candy at the end, and don't be surprised if older children don't want one. They want to be treated older!
Playing for them
Consider playing for them just before leaving to gain trust and respect before you leave. Doing some jazz improv is always impressive. But one of your compositions, arrangements, or a showy classical piece would do well here.