Best way to determine a student's level : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

Hi, I plan to open my own piano studio soon. I would like to know what is the best way to determine a students level of playing when they come to their first lesson? This is assuming they have had some prior experience with the piano. Any good suggestions would be very welcome.

-- Barb Travalio (, August 28, 2002


The following group is much more active in such a discussion. I think you can browse the archive on the subject.

-- Laura (, August 28, 2002.

Some ideas (some probably quite obvious):

1. I always ask them (when talking to them beforehand, so that have some time to prepare) to bring in one or two of their old pieces to play for me. Their "best" ones, if possible.

Of course, you can tell a lot be listening and watching them as they play. But also ask questions about their pieces, such as "How long did it take you to learn this? Was it easy or hard for you? How long has it been since you have really practiced it?" etc.

2. Have them sight-read for you. This can be quite revealing.

3. Have them bring in their "old" books that they had previously used. Then have them point out which pieces they have learned, how long it took them to learn certain pieces, etc.

4. Just ask them their history. What teachers they've had, contests entered, method books used, pieces learned, recitals performed at, etc.

5. In one of their pieces (either a "performance" piece they have brought in, or in just a sight-reading piece) try teaching them a few ideas. See how they pick them up. See how flexible they are in their playing--CAN they play with a different tempo, nuance, phrasing, etc.? Or are they locked into one certain way of playing? How quickly do they pick up on new ideas you present? Can they put the ideas right into practice, or does it take a lot of repetitive practice before they can make any kind of change?

6. Ask them a lot of questions about the pieces they played for you--everything from what note is this? this? this? (it's always astonishing to have student play a long complicated piece and then be unable to identify any of the notes in it--but it happens more often than you might think!) What key is it in? Do you know who this composer is, or anything about him/her? Ask about musical markings, tempo markings, articulation markings, etc.

After all this, the only way to really tell is to assign the student some pieces and see how it goes over the course of a few weeks.

Don't be at all afraid to change your original diagnosis and give the student either harder or easier pieces than you originally thought appropriate.

If you have given a student certain pieces and you see that they are just not working out after a couple of weeks, just replace them with new pieces. I sometimes warn students right up front that this might happen (so they don't feel like failures if it does). I just say something like, "It's very hard for me to tell your level after only a few minutes. We'll try these pieces but if they don't seem right after a couple of weeks we'll just try some different ones."


-- Brent Hugh (, September 04, 2002.

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