Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Curriculum Questions

I spent much of this summer and early fall working on a curriculum program for my studio. Because I reopened my studio in 2011 after a three year hiatus in teaching, many of my students are transfer students. Some of these transfer students have a very solid background. Others…well, let’s just say they do not.

In order to remedy some of the holes in my students’ musical knowledge, I thought it would be helpful to have a leveled system in place. I warned all my students that no matter how advanced they are, they will each have the chance to work through every level, starting at the very beginning. As incentive, I added Music Dollar rewards to each level, as well as a chart to list each students’ progress.

Each level covers repertoire (memorized and performed), technique, listening (with a listening log), theory, transposing, rhythm and sightreading, ear training, improvising and composing, and music history. So¬†far, so good. None of my students has complained about having to practice writing steps and skips, making up sound stories, or playing major five finger patterns, and I, indeed, have found that some of them didn’t know what a double bar line is or how to play a I V7 I cadence.

But (and it’s a big but) curriculum planning takes FOREVER. No wonder I haven’t done it before in my twenty years of teaching! I’ve always had a reasonable hodgepodge for my students: they worked on theory, technique, ear training, a little composition and history, and so on. I just never had a system to make sure I hadn’t missed something until now.

I know that not everyone has the desire or time to create his or her own curriculum, and with the amazing resources available to music teachers, there is so much just sitting on the music store shelf to make our lives easier. In the past I’ve used and liked TCW’s Technic Gymnastics and their theory books. I’ve used Keith Snell’s Fundamentals of Piano Theory books (I also like his leveled repertoire books.) I’m also really excited about Wendy Steven’s’s Web Rewards. I use it as review material for my levels in my lab almost every week.

While I have lots of great materials to choose from, I’m always looking for more ideas and systems (at least until I’ve proven to myself that my own curriculum is foolproof and perfect…which means I’ll always be looking!!!) so my question for all of you (not just piano!) teachers is: what elements do you cover in your studio curriculum? How do you make sure your students have no holes in their musical education? What materials do you use? Do you have any go-to sources? (I especially could use some leveled sources for composition and improvising.) I’m sure I’m not the only one who can benefit from all of your accumulated wisdom, so please share!

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  1. Leila Viss

    Thanks for a great post, Kerri. Yes, I find the curriculum and requirements I would like in my studio and for my students to be overwhelming as well. I believe that’s why so many teachers participate in programs such as ABRSM or Achievement Program or…which are all very good and offer standards and a plan for each year. For some reason, I can’t manage to follow anybody’s lead but my own (which can be good or bad). What helped me was to develop units or themes for my entire studio. Now all students work on intervals together, or scales or they get inspired by Youtube…Lab assignments are similar but modified according to the students’ levels. Still a little haphazard but things still get accomplished. FYI: I’ll be using Wendy’s Web Rewards for a theory unit and Bradley Sowash’s That’s Jazz for jazz and improv… Again, thanks for your advice and the probing questions.

  2. Brenda Braaten

    I do the same. I have new to me students begin at level 1 of Sound Advice and if it is easy for them, they can do it all in two nights – it still has great value. Then they work through until it becomes difficult, which is teacher time. I mentioned in a previous post that I also have them come early (or stay late) where possible for quiet time to work on ear work and theory work. has samples of the sound files – real instruments!

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