The iconic spiral-bound piano lessons notebook. Is there a piano student in all the world who can be found without one?
One of the first, if not THE first one I had was small (approximately 3″ x 5″) with a red cover and side spiral. I kept it for years but cannot seem to find it in my old memorabilia. Knowing me, I probably threw it away during one of my “reduce and minimize” streaks.
As a teacher, I used notebooks for years, but in my effort to grow and manage the structure of lessons better I started making my own assignment sheets. I distinctly remember this as a period of intense growth and scrutiny of myself as a teacher.
During this time, I was trying to figure out how to be a piano teacher as opposed to a classroom music teacher. Although I had been teaching piano part-time for years, it felt like a whole new world as I learned about true piano pedagogy. I had no idea there was so much that should be incorporated into the lesson!
In this post I’ll share the story of how and why designing assignment sheets became an important part of my growth as a teacher. You’ll also get access to a bundle of more than 20 of these assignment sheets for FREE.
Methods are to Recipes…
I’m an avid cook. I grew up watching and helping mom out in the kitchen. Mom is a good country cook who raised her family through the 80 and 90s – a time of Campbell’s soup and casseroles. Although she had her trusty favorite recipes, we often called her MacGyver in the kitchen as she could make a meal out of nothing.
When I was first married, I used all her recipes, but when the poundage began to add up on both my husband and me, healthy cooking realized I needed to learn to cook healthier and incorporate flavor through herbs and spices instead of butter and sour cream. Thus, I embarked on the world of cooking shows and an endless recipe obsession.
Stick with me…
One of my favorite shows, when we lived in Australia, was Chef at Home, hosted by the Canadian chef from Prince Edward Island, Michael Smith. He advocates using your instincts and what you have at home to put together simple, easy, and delicious meals. At the time, I thought “yeah right!” I can follow a recipe and make an amazing meal, but I don’t have a deep enough understanding of food to come up with something on my own – I’m no MacGyver.
Stick with me…
A few years down the road and one day it suddenly dawns on me that I’m cooking something for dinner with complete confidence – NO recipe in front of me! What an intense and rewarding feeling that was!
Do you see where I’m going with this? Method books are a recipe. They help us know what musical concept to introduce in what order. However, when we understand pedagogy, how children learn music, the foundations of healthy technique, and more, we’re understanding the flavor of the ingredients and how those ingredients come together to make a pianist. It’s kinda like knowing how the ratio of flour, sugar, butter, and egg makes a cookie as opposed to a cake.
There is a connection to my assignment sheet addiction, I promise…
While I still use and rely on the sound progression and solid pedagogy of several methods on a regular basis, I was freed the day I realized I could teach a student without a method in front of me if I wanted.
Why the Addiction?
My assignment sheet obsession started out somewhat as a way for me to write out my own “recipe instructions.” Their role became a way for me to help guide my lessons, to remind me of what I needed to incorporate. Each one tells a different story of the goals I had at the time and the things I was focused on as a teacher.
I create new assignment sheets at least once a year, sometimes twice, dare I say sometimes even three times? Often, I would have different sheets for my school-age students than I had for my preschools than I had for my adults, so I could have 3 different sheets going on at once, though not always. Summer always proved to be a good time to trial a new sheet before launching it with my full studio in the fall.
Over the past 5-8 years I’ve created more than 20 different sheets. At first I was going to pick my favorites to share but realized that each one of them at one point in time was a wonderful, new, and perfect solution to a fresh assignment sheet. Who am I to say which one will work best for you?
There were times in the early days when it almost felt that if I could just make the perfect assignment sheet somehow, I would be a perfect teacher. Bahahaha yes, we’re all laughing, I know! Looking back now I realize that is ridiculous.
I’ve learned to let it go and honestly, the main reason I switch assignment sheets now is completely out of boredom. I get tired of looking at the same sheet day in and day out. Plus, I start thinking things like, “Gee, maybe if I add a new joke or quote to the sheet each week I’ll get some of them to fill it out more regularly.” Bahahaha, a laughing matter once again, I know!
There are always students who fill it out diligently and others who don’t bother no matter what I do. I’ve called them anything from “Weekly Learning Guide” to “Assignment Sheet” to “Assignments for the week of…,” to “Piano Homework” to “Daily Practice Steps” and more. Does the title make a difference or inspire them more? Nope, not one bit.
I have a few students who hate it when I switch in the middle of the year, so I just use the same assignment sheet for them all year. Others find the switch refreshing as I do and some don’t care either way. There were times when I’ve used the same sheet for everyone and times I’ve used a different sheet for adults, preschoolers, elementary level, and high schoolers.
They’re kept in color-coded hanging files next to the piano, and I just pull a fresh one out and place it in the front of their binder on top of last week’s sheet. Most have been designed in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher but I’ve also experimented with designing in Canva.
GEt these assignment Sheets
Preview and download the bundle of these sheets on Assignment Sheet Central. Take your pick! You name it, I probably have it.
Do you still have or remember your first notebook? What did it look like? Do you use a spiral notebook for assignments, binders with printable assignment sheets, or are you 100% digital? Share your memories in the comments!