Group Class Lesson Planning Made Easy

Ever since I started teaching piano full-time just over ten years ago, group classes have always been part of my studio offerings in one way or another.

While we’re not necessarily going to cover the variety of group class format options in this post (check out episode 3 of The Piano Pantry Podcast for that), I do want to share an overall group class lesson plan format that has consistently proven successful for all of my group classes no matter the level.

In this post, I’ll be referring to the style of a group class that is more of an occasional enrichment class, not a weekly “group piano lesson.”

Each class generally includes five key areas:

  1. Student gathering/entrance
  2. Performances (and directed active listening)
  3. Audiation Activities (ear-training)
  4. Ensemble Work (sightreading)
  5. Music Theory Games

In this post, we’ll discuss why each area is important and share some of my favorite go-to resources.

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Friday Finds #202

Planning for a New Semester

Friday Finds January Blog Post

The beginning of a new semester always seems to bring with it a little extra work. This is the time many teachers sit down and consider what’s coming up in the weeks and months ahead for each individual student.

There may be students who are preparing for a competition or non-competitive festival, students preparing a senior recital, or students getting started playing in their church’s worship band or accompanying congregational singing.

I tell myself ahead of time to not worry about getting much else done that first week of the semester as most of my time outside of lessons will be dedicated to student planning.

Here are some resources to help you with your planning plus a few other end-of-week goodies.



Cheers to One Word (for Teachers) | Beyond Measure Podcast with Christina Whitlock

A tried-and-true one-word-philosophy strategy to help busy teachers keep focused on what matters most.



Lesson Planning – A King-Size Master Spreadsheet | Amy Chaplin –

If an online program like Tonara isn’t right for you, the best thing I ever did for my lesson planning life was to create one big spreadsheet.



Lesson Plan Templates for Teachers | Tim Topham – TopMusic.Co

Free downloads of a variety of weekly and quarterly lesson plan templates.



Born to run (things) | Seth Godin

Why Bruce Springstein is proof talent is overrated.



Lessons Learned Teaching Online and Applying Them for Lessons In-Person | Marilyn Floyd –



3 Useful Styles of Lesson Plans for Piano Teachers | Nicola Cantan

Introducing time-based, categories, and mine-mapping styles of lesson plans.



A Piano Teacher’s Planning Kit |

Purchasable resource with a lesson template, a sample lesson assignment sheet, sample scope and sequence, and practice strategies for practice stages.



CPTP112: Having Mission & Planning Lessons Effectively w/ Leila Viss

Tips for planning lessons effectively for both groups and individual lessons.



A 5-Step Formula for Easy Lesson Planning | Dr. Sally Cathcart – The Curious Piano Teachers



5 Changes to My Piano Lesson Planning that Have Saved My Sanity | Andrea Down – Teach Piano Today



Creating & Sharing Student Growth Plans in 5 Easy Steps | Rosemarie Penner –


A Simple (and Free) Video Supplement to Support Your Online Teaching

Are you looking for a few extra (but simple) tools to help you with your new journey into online teaching?

Here’s one you may not have even considered!

A free compilation of 48 of the best music-theory videos from all over the web is available here on Piano Pantry.

How can this video series help make your life easier over the coming weeks?

The videos have been leveled into four sets based on the rough/general order in which concepts are introduced in most piano methods.

You can quickly and easily access videos that help reinforce new concepts your students may be learning. Here are a few examples of videos in each set:

Set 1
  1. Key names and the music alphabet
  2. How to draw the treble and bass clef
  3. Landmark notes
Set 2
  1. Skips alphabet on the staff
  2. Sharps, flats, and naturals
  3. How to build major and minor triads
Set 3
  1. AB and ABA Form
  2. Chord inversions
  3. Circle of fifths
Set 4
  1. Scale degree names
  2. Augmented intervals
  3. Double sharps and flats


Before, during, or after your online lesson, grab the link and text or email it to students/parents. (If you use a program such as Tonara, simply attach a link to the video in a theory lesson assignment. Easy!)

Should these videos replace a lesson?

Are they an easy and fun way to provide additional e-learning to your students?

Access the video series here.

Here’s a screenshot showing a few videos that are included in the series:


Tracking Sheet

If you’re interested in having a way to keep track of what videos you’ve assigned to each student, find the 3-page guide that accompanies this series in the Shop or add it to your shopping cart now.

P.S. All music labs are studio licenses, so you can print it as much as you need for your students.


Related Resources

If you’re interested in more resources like this, there are four more video series available you can access through the Menu > Resources.

Christmas Music Videos

Halloween Music Videos

Expressive Movement Videos

Fun Music Videos

Several of these – including the music theory videos mentioned in today’s post – can be used as part of an off-bench lab time at your studio or given as assignments online utilizing a digital assignment tool.

There are ten different lab resources available in the Piano Pantry shopFor more detailed information on each, see the posts linked below.

1) Essentials of Music Theory
Details here: My Favorite Computer-Based Program for Music Lab Time

2) Fun Music Videos
Details here: More Than 100 Videos for Your Music Lab

3) Holiday Lab – Halloween
Details here: Halloween Music Videos Listening Activity

4)  Holiday Lab – Christmas
Details here: Christmas Music Videos Listening Activity

5) Music Theory Videos
Details here: More Than 100 Videos for Your Music Lab

6) Piano Explorer Magazine
*04/2021 Update: Unfortunately, Piano Explorer Magazine has been discontinued

7) Rhythm Cat HD
Details here: Favorite iPad Apps for Music Lab time

8) Rhythm Lab
Details here: Favorite iPad Apps for Music Lab time

9) Staff Wars
Details here: Favorite iPad Apps for Music Lab time

10) Waay
Details here: Favorite iPad Apps for Music Lab time



December Fun: Christmas Games and Activities for Your Studio

Are you looking for ideas on fun “off-bench” activities to use in this Christmas season? Look no further! Today, I’m going to share some of my favorite games and resources that I return to year after year, along with tips for each one.

First, let me briefly share how I store my holiday games. We have to stay organized, right?


Storing Games (Both Hard-Copy and Digital)

Inspired by Nicola Canton I’ve started storing my holiday-themed games in these clear plastic document folders.

(P.S. The A4 size is nice because if you laminate a letter size sheet, the lamination makes it larger.)

It’s not a cheap way to store games as they’re almost $1 apiece, so I’m currently only storing my holiday-themed games in these. The rest of my games are stored in hanging files in a file drawer. (I’ll write a post on that another day!)

The digital files are stored in my cloud file manager.

From there, I name files for what they are. This allows me to see how many games, for example, I have, how many worksheets, etc.


Favorite Christmas-Themed Activities

In no particular order…

Holiday Rhythm Cups from Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.

This is a great way to have fun with rhythm in a unique and collaborative way. The set includes three songs in three levels: Deck the Halls, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Joy to the World.

Check out a clip of my students having fun with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

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12 Ways to Turn a Potentially Frustrating Lesson into a Musical Opportunity

Awhile back I wrote an article for Alfred Music Blog called Learning Music in a Quick-Fix Society: 7 Tips to Foster Music for LifeIn the article, I share seven ways we can help create an environment that fosters the mindset that learning music is more than just a short-term activity.

One of those seven items was that, as teachers, we shouldn’t feel frustrated when students come to lessons either without their books or having made little progress. (Of course, if it’s an ongoing issue, that another story.)

It can be very easy to get irritated at students and in turn, have the lesson take on a sour note and be a negative experience. On the other hand, if we keep in mind that life happens and music lessons are an ongoing commitment, we can look at it as an opportunity rather than a failure.

Here are 12 ways we can turn a potentially negative, frustrating lesson into a positive musical experience. You don’t even have to pick just one! Set a timer and tell the student every 5 minutes you’re going to switch activities!


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Manipulatives and Piano Games for Private and Group Lessons

How many manipulatives, piano games, and other resources do you have in your music studio? You probably don’t even have to count to know the answer. A lot!  Am I right?

Keeping track of all our teaching resources can be a daunting task. Lesson planning for private and group music classes can be enough work in itself without having to continuously recall and rehash all the different manipulatives and games we have each time we plan.

After finding myself physically walking back and forth regularly to my game files, flashcard box, and such, I decided it was time to put together a master list of every activity or manipulative I had or could use to teach a concept.

It can be very easy to lose track of what we already have. Having a document like this has allowed me to not only have an easy place to reference what activities I could utilize at any given time, but it was an awesome snapshot and inventory of what I owned.

Keeping a master list is also a great place to keep teaching ideas that may not necessarily have physical items to accompany the activity.

I thought you might find this document useful as well.


The Master List

Since it is a document that I update on a regular basis, I decided to simply share the public link to a Google Doc. Keep in mind that it’s a working document so it’s possible I will add to, edit, and even remove items as time goes by.

There are three ways you could utilize this document

  1. If you want to keep the document as is and not risk being at the mercy of my future edits, you could download it.
  2. If you want to always see the updated version, I would recommend bookmarking the link in your browser. This way, you simply click on the link, and you always see the most updated version.
  3. If you wanted to create your own list, you could even copy and paste it into your own document to get you started and create your own version with the materials you have!

May this document help you add a little more sanity to your lesson planning and studio organizational life. 🙂

Sign up here to get access to this document:


A Great Game for Reviewing Major Chords and 5-finger Patterns

Don’t you just love it when you come up with an activity or game that turns out to be a real winner making you wish you had thought of it sooner? I had one of those moments recently and wanted to share the activity with you right away as it was such a hit.

I was looking for a fun way to do a big review of all the 5-finger patterns and chords in preparation for a festival in which a few students will be participating.

The only game I really have for that concept is one of my favorite TCW card games (that’s Three Cranky Women if you’re not familiar) – Flashy Fingers.

Most of the TCW card games though are not made for students just learning, or even in the early-mid stages of mastering any particular concepts. They really have to know their stuff to play most of the games. Believe me, I’ve tried a lot of their games with students who didn’t know the information like the back of their hand and it makes the game a lot harder and not nearly as much fun if they have to sit there for a minute to even figure out the answer.

Don’t get me wrong, they are high quality, wonderful games (I own every card deck in the series), they’re just more useful once the student really knows what they’re doing. The games really help students learn to think faster about concepts they already know and understand well.

Just because particular games are made to be played one way doesn’t mean we can’t utilize them in another, so that’s what I did!

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Lesson Planning: A king-size master spreadsheet

When I started teaching piano full time, my biggest challenge was finding a method for lesson planning and tracking student progress and materials.

Eventually, as I started using Evernote more, the latter problem of tracking student progress and materials was quickly resolved. (See Evernote Part 1: Studio Management).

Lesson planning, however, took a lot of trial and error – as I think it does for many of us and is something that continues to evolve and change.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is I’m a very visual person. I don’t do well simply making a note or two here or there for items I need to remember for students’ next lesson. I need to see the big picture.

Finally, in 2014 I was inspired by an article in the September/October 2014 issue of Clavier Companion written by Arlene Steffen, Stephen Hughes, and Craig Sale called “Lesson Plans: A teaching essential?”

Thanks to their detailed article, my king-sized spreadsheet was born. 

Because a spreadsheet like this will be completely customized to your teaching style (and studio calendar), it doesn’t do me any good to give you a copy of mine. So, in this post, not only do I walk you through the details of what I include, but I’ve also created a video showing you how to create your version, including tips and tricks for using Excel like a pro! Continue reading