Certification As A Model For Teaching Piano Pedagogy

by Sylvia Coats, NCTM

For several years I have been integrating certification projects into my piano pedagogy classes at Wichita State University to help students become NCTMs. The projects are similar to the topics I cover in the class so I make assignments using the format required by certification. MTNA Certification has helped my students improve their writing and teaching skills, and they have a better understanding of what it takes to become a professional music teacher.

Following is a description of the piano pedagogy class that I taught in the fall semester of 2009.

There were two sophomores, seven juniors, one senior and one graduate student in the class that met twice a week. They were piano performance and pedagogy majors. Course requirements include teaching at least two students through the WSU College of Fine Arts Institute and team teaching a small group of 8-year-olds. They chose one of their students to use in completing the Teacher Profile projects. The paperless course was facilitated by the Blackboard course management system. Students posted weekly project assignments to a digital drop box. I edited the file or asked them to rewrite it, made an entry in Grade Center that they had completed the project and e-mailed them the corrected file to place in a certification folder saved on their computers. The folder of projects can be printed out for their portfolio after they apply for certification. The five projects are:

Project #1—Write your teaching philosophy
Project #2—Analyze four teaching pieces
Project #3—Present your teaching
Project #4—Share information about your teaching environment
Project #5—Discuss your business ethics and studio policies

Following is a chronological journal of the semester's project assignments and our experiences with them.

  • The first class on learning styles helped students recognize their own preferences and realize the similarities and differences with their classmates. When they begin teaching, they will observe and adapt to their students' learning styles.
  • Project #5—A statement of studio policies with fee structure and payment plan. An independent piano teacher, NCTM, and the collegiate chapter president visited the class to invite them to join MTNA associations and to discuss studio policies. Setting tuition rates was difficult for them. Beth Klingenstein's1 chart helped them understand they should charge what they are worth to make a decent living.
  • Project #5—A list of questions and activities for an interview/audition with a beginning student and a transfer student. This project helped them prepare for their first lessons with new students. They used their audition and interview questions at the first lesson to get to know their students.
  • In the fourth week of the semester, we began group lessons with three girls in their second year as a group. I demonstrated the first lesson and then the pedagogy students each taught at least two group lessons during the semester. Our class revolved around discussion about good teaching as we observed the group and read the textbook throughout the semester.
  • Students reviewed the 10 methods that will be reviewed in Clavier Companion from 2009 through 2011. They selected methods and repertoire for their students.
  • Project #3—List your goals for the student for a semester in repertoire, theory and technique. I gave an overview of MTNA Certification, which prompted them to take more care with elaboration of the topic, grammar and proof reading of the project essays. It was gratifying to read about the student teachers' progress, like a novel of their teaching experiences through the various projects. Their personalities come out in the lessons they planned and the goals they established.
  • The discussion of the group lesson revolved around the chosen method—Keyboard Builder by Guy Duckworth, and a comparison to today's methods. The importance of developing one's own pedagogy was the focus. I asked them to plan their video lesson so that all modalities are presented as they learned the modality of their student. We had a great class on conceptual learning by comparing their scores and playing their own repertoire of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Ginastera and Prokofiev.
  • Project #3—Video record a 30-minute lesson at the early stage of a new piece along with technique, theory and so forth in a well-rounded lesson. After my initial panic about the video equipment, I let the students figure it out. I viewed each one and evaluated the lessons. The university's camcorder with a memory card made it easy for them to download the file to newer Windows platforms. Three teachers used webcams on their laptops, but in a small practice room they didn't get the keyboard and students' hands in the picture. I was pleased with the teachers' transfer of musical concepts and movement activities observed in the group lesson to their individual lessons. The project evaluation helped them assess their teaching; however, I require a more complete lesson plan. With only an outline, they tended to be more material oriented than concept oriented in their lessons.
  • Project #5—A typed hypothetical annual budget for an average studio/classroom. The students were very resistant to doing the budget assignment. It didn't seem immediately relevant, and they needed, but couldn't find, resources and websites of sample proposed budgets. It opened their eyes to the regulations and costs of running a business.
  • Project #2—Analyze four teaching pieces. To prepare them for the analysis of the repertoire that MTNA will send them after they apply, I provided classical and romantic pieces. They found the 300-word maximum essay limiting and most wrote 500–600 words for good detail on the five points to be covered.
  • Linda Holzer's guest lecture gave students much food for thought about the profession. They discussed the importance of taking gigs and the willingness to do skills beyond what they learn in piano lessons such as scoring a musical from the CD, conducting and church jobs.
  • Project #4—Share information about your teaching environment. Their essays described the physical and safety features of their dream studio, as well as the learning atmosphere and respect for the student.
  • Project #5—Discuss ethical business practices. This is the other project in which MTNA will send the scenarios to be discussed. To prepare, we had a class discussion on copyright law, transfers from another teacher, and phone and pet distractions.
  • Project #3—Video record a 15-minute lesson segment further into the process of working on the chosen piece. Students wrote lesson plans and evaluations to accompany the video. I observed each one and gave them comments.
  • Project #4—Describe how you encourage a positive teaching environment. Show at least three resources that you use to promote this positive learning environment. This project seemed relatively easy for them to do with digital cameras and Internet pictures. I'm happy to see that they plan to use technology in creative ways.
  • Project #3—Document how you assess the outcomes of your teaching by submitting three of five options. Students prepared an outline of how they would conduct a student/parent evaluative conference. This project could not be completed in full because we chose to submit at least three adjudication sheets of students and videos/programs of two recitals. In the spring semester they will complete the project when their students play in the collegiate chapter's Elementary Music Festival, a second recital, and the KMTA syllabus program—Music Progressions.
  • The group lesson was fantastic (the 10th one of the semester). After the students played recital pieces, they were asked to evaluate mood and favorite parts. Then the teacher asked them to play opposite moods. Expecting a change of tempo, Emma creatively changed "O Christmas Tree" to minor. She did more variations: one with pedal, one using the "emotional" string setting, and one harmonized with I and IV, the new chord for the lesson. Veronica found it hard but after a suggestion of a faster tempo, she improved her playing.
  • Project #3—A DVD of the third and final video recorded lesson and a 5–10 minute teacher performance. I enjoyed viewing the class members' teaching and seeing the progression from the introduction of a piece to polishing it for the recital. The December recital had better quality and participation, due in part to the careful preparation that was encouraged because of the video projects.
  • Project #1—Write your teaching philosophy. This 600-word essay was delayed until the end of the semester so that students had three months to study, write and experience teaching to form a philosophy.
  • Project #2—Analyze four teaching pieces. Part of the final was to analyze music from the baroque and contemporary periods to further prepare them for the analysis project. Certification Profile. The graduate student was asked to print out and compile the completed Certification Profile to share with the class to satisfy the university requirement that graduate students show a higher level of competence in a combined class with undergraduates.

Students shared their comments about their teaching and the certification projects.

  • Libby said, "It provided structure for me to see the big picture of a studio. I've felt a little overwhelmed by all the work in this class, but this has been a very valuable class for me!"
  • Jordan said, "It's not about how well you can play the piano at this point. It's about how you relate to people, understand them."
  • Justin said, "It is important to see the larger context of how we teach so that the student understands what they play—the concepts—and teaching them to think for themselves."
  • Karine said, "It was my first time to teach and I realized how very different each student is. I thought I would teach ten lessons a day and they would all be the same."


1. Beth Gigante Klingenstein, The Independent Piano Teacher's Studio Handbook (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2008).


Coats, Sylvia. Thinking as You Play: Teaching Piano in Individual and Group Lesson. Indiana University Press, 2006.