February 28, 2021

Do you ever incorporate instruments besides piano into your lessons? 

I know, I know. We’re piano teachers. We should be teaching piano and playing the piano, right? 

When I worked in a classroom as a “music specialist” in an inclusion school, part of my job was to find or come up with songs about academic and social subjects. I only knew how to play the piano, and there WAS a keyboard in the classroom… 

But I quickly learned that standing a keyboard was not a very engaging way to interact with kids. The ethos at the school was “take the lesson to the student”, which I loved. But how could I pick up the keyboard on the fly and move it into the corner where a student went when he was having a hard time? 

So I taught myself 4 chords on the guitar (we’re pianists, so we can learn any instrument, right?). It wasn’t much, but I could actually play thousands of songs with just those 4 chords. Students loved the interactive nature of the instrument, strumming along with me or knocking on the wood to “be the drums.” 

About 5 years ago, I started busting out the guitar during piano lessons when I felt like I needed to switch something up, and the results have been fantastic. “Guitar” is the most requested “free time” activity that I save for the last 5 minutes of the lesson, and it’s my favorite way to trick students into some extra learning.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use the guitar in my piano lessons:

  • Accompany myself while l sing a favorite song (duh!)
  • Pick a 2-3 chord song and show the student how to play the root of each chord on the piano while I play and sing. Make it more complex by having the student play the root and 5th combined, the whole chord in root position, or inversions of the chord
  • Help students understand keyboard geography (frets = half steps, find and play half steps on both the guitar and the keyboard)
  • Solidify understanding of chords (find a chord on the guitar, play each string one at a time and match each note to the piano. Students notice the “doubles” of some notes and replicate this on the piano)
  • Discuss the physics of music (shortening a string makes the sound go up in pitch and vice versa)

About the author 

Selena Pistoresi

Selena is a lifelong pianist and piano teacher of over a decade. She owns a studio in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, where she specializes in working with students with special needs. She equips teachers all over the world with the mindset, tools, and curriculum to teach students with special needs and help their studios flourish.

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