Planning for learning: why it’s not just about what comes next in the book!

“Congratulations on passing your Grade 1 piano! Right... here’s your Grade 2 book, ready to spend the next few months on just three pieces.” 


Sadly, this scenario still happens. It pains me so much. 

Recently, I saw a post in a piano teaching group where the teacher was asking if she really needed to buy the tutor books her pupils were using, as she just “did the next one in the book” each lesson. I nearly choked on my coffee. Do some teachers STILL really just look at what comes next and just teach that? 

Yes, they do. 

As we speak, I’ve just finished planning some staff training I’m delivering with my associate teachers next week. It’s on planning for learning. 

You see, at the Joanna García Piano School, we’re interested in concept-based learning. And yes: learning, not teaching! We follow a teaching framework that has a progression of musical skills and knowledge from pre-beginner to advanced. 

What’s the principle of concept-based learning? Well, each pupil has different learning needs at any one point. Perhaps they need to gain more experience of triple time. Perhaps they need to explore wrist alignment so they can use fingers four and five more effectively with greater awareness of the alignment of the forearm behind the fingers. Perhaps they need to develop their awareness of musical phrasing so a group of notes becomes a musical, expressive unit rather than “typing” out notes meaninglessly on a keyboard. 

The problem, when teachers begin with the “next piece in the book”, or the next grade, is that each piece of music brings a whole new set of skills. Take “The Very Vicious Velociraptor”, a grade 1 piece. Some of the skills it has that are prerequisites for playing it effectively are: 

🌟 Alla breve time
🌟 E minor pentascales 
🌟 Wrist alignment 
🌟 Triads in the LH
🌟 Fast fingerwork in the RH
🌟 Accented notes
🌟 Understanding of sharps
🌟 Descending natural minor scales split between the two hands. 

So when a teacher *begins* by looking at the piece with a pupil, if this is the first time they have encountered these skills, they are going to be at a very early stage of learning in these separate skills. Ergo: the performance is going to be lacking in skill and mastery. 

Compare this with the pupil whose teacher has previously planned and provided lots of opportunities for that student to explore E minor penstascales. Guess what? That pupil can identify them, play them more easily, write them out, identify them in listening, improvise on them, compose on them.... and.... when presented with this skill in a different context in the future.... can APPROACH THE SKILL WITH INDEPENDENCE. Isn’t this the Holy Grail of what all teachers do?

Planning this way is not as easy as simply turning to the next piece in the book. But, if a teacher genuinely cares about the learning and progress of their pupils, then the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of spending time intitially planning the sequence of learning for a student.