• Rachael Inwood

My Approach to Teaching Beginners



This is a summary to explain the approach that I use to teach beginner students, especially teaching them at the piano. If you have previously learnt an instrument, it may be slightly different from how you learnt. It certainly is different from how I learnt and how I started teaching beginners. For more information, please have a look at the series of posts I wrote last year.


Over almost ten years of teaching music, my approach to teaching beginners has changed dramatically. I spent time reading about and having training in this area by other piano teachers who are more of an expert in this area then I am. Having used the approach over the last couple of years, I have also found it has worked well. Although, I understand that everyone learns in a slightly different way and so I try to adapt my approach to teaching to suit the learning style of the individual students.


I believe you cannot rush the beginning stages of learning to play a musical instrument. It is good to spend time making sure that firm foundations are put in place so that the students have something substantial to place any future learning. So I spend lots of time in the early stages to make sure that a student has a good grasp of essential musicianship, musical theory and techniques. Teaching a child to read music cannot be rushed. If a child starts to play an instrument at the age of 5 and 6, it can take at least three years to become confident readers of music. If strong foundations for reading music are built, and it has been done over several years. All the learning can suddenly can all fall into place when a child is 8 or 9; they have become a fluent reader.


Music is a language. Both the spoken and written word, and music is a form of communication and expression. Like learning a language, a student of music needs to learn to understand what they hear, to be able to speak it, and lastly to be able to read and write it. Like written language, music is made of easily recognisable patterns. Like words can be broken down into smaller units called pronouns. Music can be broken down into intervals. I spend time making sure that students can spot the different intervals that can be found.


To teach reading music, I use a combination of the intervallic approach and using landmark notes.


The intervallic approach is where the student is taught to read intervals (the distances between the notes) instead of the individuals note names. Similar to how a child learns to read words. This is because good sight-readers will read music by looking at the shape of the chords and the melody outline based on intervals, as it is a lot quicker than working out note names. Students need to have lots of practice reading one interval before moving on to larger intervals.


Landmark notes help students know where they need to put their hands at the beginning of a phrase in a piece of music. They are notes that are easy to recognise and don’t change.


I do a lot of teaching by rote at the beginning stages. Learning by rote is where the student learns to play something by copying their teacher. This is the same as an infant trying to reproduce sounds that they see the people around them.


Rote learning means that they are playing exciting tunes from their first lesson, making it more enjoyable for the student (and the parent listening to them practising!). But teaching by rote does so much more than given a student an interesting tune to play.


Teaching by rote helps a student to gain an understanding of music aurally. They can hear how music is made up of repeating patterns. It helps to develop their listening and memory skills. Learning by rote can help to increase their ability to understand and remember increasing difficulty musical patterns. The more advanced patterns are already in their hands and ears, which frees them to read the notation without having to worry about what their body is doing.


For more information on my approach to teaching beginners, please take a look at the series of posts on this topic.


Further Reading

Why learning music is like learning a language

The insiders guide to rote learning

The simplest way to make reading music easier