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Post Pandemic Piano Teaching: Part I – Tackling Lost Learning with a Planned Approach by Karen Marshall

Planning the best curriculum for our students to help to tackle the effects of the pandemic has never been more important. Post Pandemic Piano Teaching is a reality we are all dealing to a greater or lesser extent. How can we address our student’s lost learning to help them reach their potential? How can this contribute positively to their over-all wellbeing? Addressing this issue can build a student’s confidence and help them to succeed in the piano learning journey, helping them to thrive musically but also potentially personally. 

Realising the cost to lost learning and how it has happened 

Online Piano Lesson

As a classroom music teacher, I have been extremely aware of the implications of lost learning from children not being able to write quite so quickly but also struggling to read instructions and even song words along with not being quite so socially able. This does affect their confidence and if they have a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia (where teaching needs to be systematic) or are struggling with anxiety anyway (confidence is already low), the implications are even more serious.  As piano teachers we are not immune from these implications and I for one am aware of the possibility that lost learning has happened in my teaching practise.  

So how could learning have been lost in piano teaching during or due to the pandemic? 

  • I can’t cover quite so much in an on-line lesson as it takes more time to explain things. This has its benefits: the pace is slower and more likely to be embedded but in the cold light of day, you perhaps simply won’t have covered as much. 
  • Theory is difficult to teach online if you don’t have the right kit. If you have an iPad, magic pencil and everything easily screen sharable then theory teaching is great! However, how many of us have this? Therefore, the weekly theory session I do in person as part of the piano lesson didn’t happen in the same way when teaching on-line in lockdown.
  • It simply wasn’t possible to assess performance quality and technique due to technology implications and what could be seen on screen. Some of my colleagues have amazing online set ups with superb microphones and additional cameras. I don’t and even if I had, some of my students are not able to provide the best sound quality or view of themselves due to their set up at home. The internet connection where I live made it impossible to hear pedalling and other details. At times I felt I was working with only part of the picture and a distorted sound. 
  • Ensemble playing isn’t easily possible if at all due to sound delay or volume levels. 
  • The move to performance exams stopped the rigor of sightreading, aural and scales in the same kind of way for many. We tried our best but sadly some students appear to not do the same amount of practise when it’s not being tested. Perhaps an unintended consequence of the level of testing they receive in UK schools? 

Assessing what has been lost to better inform curriculum planning (including time frames) 

Several years ago, I published this little form – Foundational piano technique teacher record (post-Grade 1 to Grade 3). There’s a useful summary of key skills but also space on the page to fill in the repertoire or activities that could take place to practise those skills. More recently I have been analysing all my students technical, musicianship, sightreading and theoretic skills through various forms of assessment. It’s been incredibly revealing and super helpful when curriculum planning. Useful tools for accessing knowledge include: 

  • Past theory papers and creating quizzes using a programme like Quizizz. You can make your own quizzes about anything you may have covered in lessons bespoke to your student. 
  • Use some graded sight-reading tests but also quick-fire individual note reading activities if your students are at a more beginning stage. Do check out the play note reading activities in Get Set! Piano tutor books and the free resources on under the general Get Set! Piano resources note knowledge here.   
  • Start to log your students’ scales on a chart. From the Piano Trainer Scales workbook, your student can keep a record of what has been learnt and what needs to be learnt in one easy to see place.  
  • Analyse your students’ technical skills – what is missing? What do they need extra practise in? Something as simple as Dozen A Day is a useful tool to check different touch to parallel third playing, finger independence, keyboard geography and so much more. The large anthology edition Dozen A Day, All Year Round  contains all the books in one bumper edition!  
  • For more advanced students, Czerny’s 101 Exercises, Opus 261, edited by my late piano teacher Christine Brown, comes with superb teaching notes along with explaining exactly what the exercise is working on.  

Curriculum planning – finding the best repertoire and resources to help. 

Once you’ve found out what has been lost you need to find the best material to bridge the gap. It’s important to ask the following questions regarding repertoire.  

  • What is the learning purpose of this piece of music for my student? 
  • How much content is there in the music that can really help my student’s overall progression?  
  • Will it give my student musical pleasure? Students thrive with their personal ‘love it’ pieces.  
  • Do you have your own emergency repertoire to stop a student from quitting? Do have your own emergency collection of books with pieces that help remotivate and inspire students. We all need them fast to hand to help students when enthusiasm is wavering. 

There’s lots of music that students can all love to play, and funnily enough they don’t seem to change throughout the years. From the Entertainer to Fur Elise, to pattern dense pieces that are super-fast to learn to the latest pop hits. ABRSM’s Pop Performer!, Faber Music’s Graded Playalong for Piano  and Hal Leonard’s Really Easy Piano Series are good series to check out to continually engage your students.  Don’t forget those film classics too!  There are so many titles out there from B.C Turner’s Simply Film (Grade 1-3 and 4 &5) to Hal Leonard’s First 50 Series which has anything from Disney, Movie and Broadway classics, alongside folk, rock, country and classical must-know music. 

Finally, the PianoTrainer series presents a progressive curriculum from post-Grade 1 up to Grade 8 and a practical scale workbook that also develops theory and musicianship knowledge. New for 2023 is The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection– nine complete sonatas that are accessible for all intermediate level players.  

This series is ideal for dealing with the problems of: 

  • Lost learning: By providing a step-by-step curriculum that seamlessly weaves together repertoire, musicianship and theory skills, technique, sight-reading and stylistic interpretation.
  • Resilience: Quick-learn pieces mean there is always something manageable for students to tackle and the theory and fun musicianship activities provide diversion alongside the more challenging repertoire. Plus, there’s plenty of wonderful music that really motivates students.
  • Online teaching: The books are easy to use online without lots of additional preparation needed – it’s all there in a ‘one-stop shop’.
  • Digital exams: If you’ve switched to performance exams that only require pieces and no supporting tests, PianoTrainer will fill in the missing gaps – from musicianship and aural activities to scales and sight-reading – not to mention providing great repertoire for the own-choice piece 


The PianoTrainer Scales Workbook by Karen Marshall

The PianoTrainer Scales Workbook
by Karen Marshall

The PianoTrainer Scales Workbook is an all-in-one must-have resource for scales, arpeggios and broken chords, including all the keys and basic shapes that piano students should learn. With clear scale notation, easy-to-visualise keyboard diagrams and excellent theory activities to consolidate understanding and underline the importance of writing music.

Stay tuned for the second part of this 2-Part post and be sure to check out our recent article covering Karen Marshall’s Music Room Top Picks!

By Karen Marshall

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