Teaching Beginner Music Students

Teaching beginners

I love teaching beginners!  Young music students are eager to learn and haven’t had the time to develop bad habits that need to be undone.  Beginners are a blank slate ready to be filled with knowledge.

New teacher often don’t know where to start and frequently ask: What repertoire do you use? How do you teach rhythm? How will you make sure they practice? How do you keep them from getting bored?

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Start with repertoire

There are a variety of beginner method books out there for every instrument.  Start with one you are familiar with and branch out from there. If the student is not in a school music class, you may want to use a music theory book as well.

Most wind players have been in band for at least a few weeks when they start taking private lessons. They have some basic understanding of note reading and simple rhythms, along with one of the standard band method books.  I find that using the same book they use in class is especially useful with a beginner.  It allows you to measure the students progress as compared to the rest of their class and gives students the extra help they need to stay caught up.

Structuring the lesson

Long tones and note review

Most method books introduce five notes on the first few pages. Use the five notes to introduce the student to the concept of long tones. Long tones are a great way to work on development of sound, pulse, intonation, and review the notes the student knows so far. 

Begin by having the student play the first five notes in whole notes at ♩ = 60, breathing every two to three notes.  This allows the student to review the notes, and focus on breathing while maintaining a steady pulse.  

After the initial set of long tones, I have the student do it once more using a tuner app.  My students love the Tonal Energy app!  While there are other free apps available, the simple goal of “achieving the smiley face” encourages my students to actually use it and allows them to focus on correcting their embouchure in order to make the green smiley face pop up.

Rhythm practice

Most band method books have a couple of pages of rhythmic counting practice in the back portion of the book.  Starting each lesson with counting these rhythms with a metronome develops the students sense of pulse insures a good foundation in rhythmic development. If you are not using a band method book, write out a few rhythms in their lesson notebook for them to practice each week.

Note reading

Next comes a combination of rhythm and note reading practice. Have the student say the note names out loud and finger along to the line you are working on.  Once they have mastered this skill, move along to playing the music. 

If the student is progressing quickly, add in a private method book such as Starter Studies by Phillip Sparke in addition to their band method to present the student with more of a challenge without getting too far ahead of their class in their band method.  

Assessing student progress

  • Have the student play their assigned line. If the line has errors, have the student clap and count the line. The implementation of counting and clapping with a metronome will reinforce rhythms and a good sense of pulse.
  • Have the student correct any wrong notes by fingering through and saying the note names out loud. Saying the notes in rhythm while using a metronome reinforces note reading skills while still cultivating the development of rhythm and pulse.
  • Finally, have the student play the line again and note any improvements.

Assign homework for next week

Set a practice goal with the student for the next week. Including the student in their own goal setting will encourage them to actually practice. Either write the assignment in the students practice notebook or have them write it down. Breaking the assignment down into sub-categories will help the student understand the value of each element of the practice session. 

From Practicing is for the Birds

I find this practice log to be a great tool for beginners because it breaks everything down into categories and the back of each page is a sheet of staff paper for writing out rhythms, scales, etc.


  • Have a plan
  • Include the student’s input in assignments
  • Keep things simple

Teaching beginners is a lot of fun. While it can have a few challenges, it can also be very rewarding so get out there an have a good time!

1 thought on “Teaching Beginner Music Students”

  1. Pingback: Teaching Rhythm to Beginners: Rhythmic Development Made Simple - Dr. Lawson's Music Studio

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