"Planning the best curriculum for our students to help to tackle the effects of the pandemic has never been more important."

By Karen Marshall 

It’s nearly three years since our first lockdown now, and many of us are reflecting on those surreal times. The term ‘things will never be the same again’ often springs to mind when we consider the effects of the pandemic, and it is certainly true when it comes to my piano teaching. So, what exactly has changed? After this extraordinary experience, how should our post pandemic piano teaching alter and how do we best deal with those changes? Over the next few months I will be exploring these themes in depth and discussing them on a variety of platforms. But firstly, here are my key takeaways:


Lost learning

Online teaching meant that certain aspects of our standard teaching curriculum simply weren’t taking place – from duet playing to live performances. Music theory was also a lot more difficult to deliver (I didn’t have an expensive ipad and pen to use). And of course everything took much longer in the early stages because we hadn’t yet discovered any workarounds. All of these and numerous other factors (illness, lockdowns and so on) resulted in lost learning time. In my classroom teaching today I am extremely aware of the lost learning of my students – these things will require time to address and resolve. As a teacher, do spend some time simply considering what has been the lost learning for your students and how can it be addressed over time – how much time is it likely to take?


Greater awareness of neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that describes diversity in brain function, which can affect the way we learn, sociability and so on. Specific learning difficulties like Dyslexia ADHD/ADD, Dyspraxia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and many other conditions all come under this umbrella. With the lost learning and lack of social opportunities that occurred during the pandemic, potentially it became apparent more quickly when students had some aspect of neurodiversity. Anecdotally I am more and more aware of children with specific learning difficulties. My own piano teaching practice has the greatest percentage ever of children with a diagnosis. Reports of greater numbers of diagnoses are widespread. Multi-sensory and systematic teaching, with embedded learning with personal association are all excellent ways to help students with specific learning difficulties to really thrive. We also have to reconsider ‘what is progress’ for students with special educational needs. Developing these teaching tools was essential in lockdown but these skills will also be greatly needed moving forward. What tools do you have to teach neurodiverse students?


The issues with online teaching

For most teachers, online teaching wasn’t something they had any experience of. It was a whole new way of working and in the early days it was definitely trial and error. Some colleagues were able to put together impressive operations with dual cameras and professional microphones. Like many others, I simply didn’t have the means to make this happen – and my students certainly didn’t at their end. I noticed that some aspects were particularly difficult online, such as keeping an eye on fingering and correcting technique (students often couldn’t position cameras so that hands and feet (for pedalling) could be seen). More generally the sound just wasn’t good enough to be able to hear the subtleties with the modest kit I had. I still give at least one online lesson each week. Finding the best platform for sound quality is certainly important, along with camera positioning, an external microphone, use of screen sharing and muting. On the non-technical side I’ve found I need to have materials carefully prepared in advance and be constantly alert to tricky aspects to teach online, such as pedalling. Of course, the whole lesson is dependent on the quality of the internet, which is variable to say the least and can reduce the quality of any lesson considerably. What have you found are the essentials for effective online teaching?


Resilience and the effect of the pandemic on mental health

From a whole range of anecdotal sources in my working and family life, I’ve become aware that resilience isn’t quite what it was pre-pandemic. There are a whole range of reasons for this (I’m sure academics will be researching the area for decades) – not least that children missed out on the social development they would have experienced if lockdown hadn’t taken place. Planning the best curriculum for our students to help to tackle the effects of this has never been more important, along with understanding how to motivate them, picking the right material for progression, setting up suitable performance opportunities, and providing encouragement, kindness and praise to help them to believe in themselves. We also need to be trained in safeguarding practices so we know when to communicate with parents and/or other authorities if we have concerns about our students. Check out musiciansunion.org.uk for safeguarding guidelines. Many people feel we are now facing a mental health pandemic, especially among our young people. The pandemic itself has evoked a culture of fear in our society and its full effects will only be known in years to come. As a piano teacher, how can you foster resilience within your students and provide a positive influence on their mental health?


The rise of digital exams

The pandemic also meant that music exams had to change. This brought about a whole range of new digital exams, including ‘Performance’ syllabuses requiring four pieces and no supporting tests. Theory became available online and in addition to the main three exam boards a couple of lesser-known ones became visible. There are pros and cons to the new digital exams but at least they are available and encouraging students to record themselves regularly – exam or no exam – has become my new normal. This provides benefits to both my students and myself: it’s great to have a recording I can study when considering the best way forward for my students’ progression. Check what exam options are available now and what will suit you and your students the best.


Positive fallout

In all of this, it’s important that we do recognise the positives. There are several benefits – from online piano lessons now being an option for snow days or if parents can’t get a child to a lesson, to being more aware of how technology can help us to solve problems (I now often send videos to students to help them practise). Social distancing in teaching has also had its benefits. I realised it was better for viewing the child holistically in their playing position – stepping back actually gave me a better idea of what needed correcting. Because communicating in online teaching was harder, my language and direction became much more thorough and specific. This has all helped me to be a better teacher – I’ve become more flexible, more willing to use technology and more able to innovate. It is very important to remember that Post Pandemic piano teaching has had much positive (as well as negative)  fallout. This is the new normal! Do consider what the post-pandemic positives have been for you and your students.


PianoTrainer – the perfect Post Pandemic Piano Teaching resource

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 will be 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.