An Idea: Pop Up Piano Lessons

When I mentioned to some fellow piano teachers that I was willing to teach a few of my older students “by appointment”, rather than locking them (and me) into a weekly time slot, they were appalled.  I have not changed my mind about teaching “on demand.” In fact, I see two distinct  advantages. Teachers have a more flexible work week and students come to their lessons when they are ready to learn.

To take this idea one step further, I’ve been coming across the idea of pop up schools recently. A pop up school is different, relevant, surprising, challenging and agile. Good Cities describes the concept of pop up schools like this:

Learning could happen everywhere through pop-up education. Much like TED Talks, pop-up education opportunities would be produced by experts, professors, and every individual based on something they know well and can train others on. They would pop up in locations like theaters, YMCAs, elevators, break rooms, restaurants, and wherever there is “wait time” or an equal opportunity for boredom, or when our technology infrastructure realizes an enhancement opportunity—like you might learn about safety while waiting at the DMV. In addition to lessons, the idea would be to provide study and learning tips to effectively train people to be better students at any age.

As an adult I grab my musical inspiration and instruction on the fly. I feel privileged to have online access to excellent piano master classes by Gyorgy Sebok, Maria Joao Pires, and Stephen Hough among others. Why should we teachers be surprised to learn that our students may actually prefer to learn the same way…in short, concentrated bursts?

Some may argue that it takes years to build a solid foundation of finger technique and an extensive varied repertoire.  But I’ve  seen students make very quick progress when they are motivated by a piece they love, a performance deadline, their friends, or a combination of all three.  Besides, there’s no guarantee that the student won’t follow all of his teachers rules and advice only to be asked later by his conservatory teacher to unlearn what he’s learned and start over with Hanon #1 using some new form of wrist rotation, balance, or arm relaxation technique!

What can a student learn in a pop up piano lesson?

A lot. I usually spend one lesson with my high school students explaining major/minor scale construction, key signatures, and the circle of fifths. Still have time? Explain chords and inversions. Give them the basic information and today’s students will take what they need to know and apply it as they see fit. Another idea for the pop up music lesson – devote the entire time to quick and dirty tricks for basic piano technique.  Or how about a lesson in sightreading? Or an impromptu performance class?

Looking for examples of pop up education in action? Check out these links:

9 thoughts on “An Idea: Pop Up Piano Lessons

  1. Love it. I think the pop up idea is a fundamental reframing of what education is, however, and what someone gains from a pop up learning encounter has different (more profound as well as more shallow) long term effects on the popped up student….

    Ideally a pop up lesson is inspirational and provides the student with enough leads to follow in their own time over the next fortnight/month/year/decade before the next pop up experience.

    Maybe better suited to ‘learning about’ rather than ‘learning how to do’? But absolutely suited to the 21st century!!!

  2. Thanks Elissa. I know that when I look back on certain pivotal concepts that I learned and pass on to my students, I remember that they were all single sentences or examples from a variety of teachers.

    For example, it only takes a minute for a student to understand that tension can be released the second the key reaches the key bed or that the whole step half step pattern of two tetrachords strung together makes a major scale. Or that if you look at the key you are aiming for in a large leap, you’ll have a better chance of hitting it. It doesn’t take years of lessons to drill those concepts in.

    You are absolutely right when you commented that with a pop up lesson, a student can take away leads to follow on their own before the next pop up experience.

    Now…how to implement the pop up lesson. Hmmm.

  3. I just love it – the entire idea and reality of it – It is so utterly “real” – It makes every kind of sense –
    “Popping up” is what we do – It is life in action –
    I have been “popping up” in unlikely places playing Mozart around town – opera singers are popping up in college cafeterias and malls – a chorus from Handel’s oratorio just popped up in Wanamakers Philly –

  4. Hi, first time reader, love this kind of “out-side-the-box” idea. It reminds me of a few 10 minute lessons I gave to an adult student piggybacking on the tail end of his daughter’s lesson. It was really interesting how the limit in time forced us to really focus and cover only the really important matters. He had to come really prepared with a few questions, and I had to be really efficient and productive with my answers. It’s always been in the back of my mind that the 30-60 minute lesson once a week format is only one way to learn the piano. Your post has me thinking…

  5. With the development of the internet, followed by videos on YouTube, learning to play “on the fly” was inevitable. Perfect for today’s always on the go generation. Do a search, visit the site and begin learning. The nice thing is that you can now get a ton of info on learning how to play for free and time is not an issue. If you forget or just have a problem learning something (scales, chords, progressions, etc.) you can just revisit the site or Pop up lesson until it sinks in.

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