The Nuts and Bolts of Piano Assignments


“Frances Clark recommended carbon copying student assignments. What are you using now at the New School?” Submitted by Helen Weems.


The philosophy.


Here at the New School for Music Study, we create home practice assignments for every lesson. Frances Clark (d. 1998), the founder of our school, insisted that every teacher goes into every lesson having prepared an assignment to give the student and with a lesson plan. Why is this important? Why not write the assignment during the lesson?

Our time with students is limited. Therefore we must take advantage of every single second. With forethought and planning, significantly more music can be covered in depth, and more activities can be included to develop comprehensive musicianship. Furthermore, student accountability is established through this system. The student understands that the teacher has created the practice guide and will have a new one next week. In addition, parents can easily understand what needs to be learned during each week. This creates a tangible measure of what has been accomplished at home.


Neither the plan or assignment are rigid; they are mutable to the given circumstances. For instance, the student may have progressed further than expected during the week (It can and does happen!). The teacher assigned the A section, and the student also learned the B section; the assignment then must be expanded. The teacher may decide to focus upon a certain piece because the student has become highly motivated by it. Because of this, the teacher might not have ample time to introduce all the new material shown on the assignment sheet; the assignment is changed to omit or reduce this material. Or, the teacher may decide that a new exercise is needed based upon a situation that occurred in the lesson; a new warm-up is then added to the sheet. Modifications are often essential so that the practice sheet can truly guide the student through his/her weekly practice.


The nuts and bolts.


All students have a 3-ring binder (usually 1 inch). The assignment sheet is hole punched and placed on top. Their repertoire class calendar is at the front of the binder. Other items at the front of the binder might include announcements for parents and a description of practice steps for elementary students. This binder comes to every lesson and every class and must be displayed on the piano rack during each practice.


We have two systems in place to modify student assignments during the lesson. The first system is the one mentioned of Frances Clark. The teacher creates and prints two copies of the assignment sheet prior to the lesson. During the lesson, a clip board and carbon paper are used to transfer modifications onto both copies. The student is given the original and the teacher keeps the carbon copy.


The modernized system is that our teachers have laptops with them in the lesson. The assignment sheet is created on the laptop prior to the lesson, and changes and detailed notes are typed in during the lesson. The teacher saves the digital file for his/her records and then prints a copy on our wireless printer for the student at the end of the lesson. This method not only saves our school printing costs, it also makes the student’s assignment legible and clean!


Attached to this blog post are images of assignment sheets for various levels of students and by various teachers at the New School for Music Study. There are similarities between all of them:

[list type=”arrow”]

[li]The student’s name and the lesson date are the page heading.[/li]
[li]Class dates and performance repertoire is prominently listed. Students need a continual reminder of what they will be performing next.[/li]
[li]Warm-ups begin the assignment because they should be the first item of practice.[/li]
[li]New pieces are clearly identified. The student’s best focus will occur at the start of practice. New pieces should therefore be first at home.[/li]
[li]Review pieces are those that are learned but not completed. Specific guidelines are given on the assignment sheet and written in the score. This includes new goals and practice guidance.[/li]
[li]Theory and composition assignments are included. Reminders are given for any additional work for repertoire class.[/li]
[li]Titles and page numbers are clearly listed for every item.[/li]


There is also variance between them:[list type=”arrow”][li]Elementary students are given a check-off grid for every item on the assignment. This instills proper practice habits and easily alerts the teacher to any material not practiced. Intermediate and advanced students may be given a practice grid, depending upon the student.[/li]
[li]For older students,  pieces well-learned and performance ready are listed at the bottom of the sheet. It is so important for pianists to be able to easily sit down, play, and enjoy some great sounding music![/li]
[li]Each teacher has his or her own look and feel to the sheet. Some use creative and differing fonts and others maintain a congruent look. It’s the content that truly matters.[/li][/list]

The examples.

Thank you to Amy Glennon, Tracy Grandy, Angela Leising-Catalan, and Christy Miller for submitting some excellent examples!

2 thoughts on “The Nuts and Bolts of Piano Assignments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I printed one of the assignment sheets and now using it to my students. They love the outline and been practicing a lot now than before. Thanks!

  2. Having 23 students and writing each assignment in a special notebook causes my hand to hurt. Love the organization here, the ease of reading(for the student) and writing (for the teacher) the assignment when done on a laptop. Plus the bonus of being able to check on what a student was assigned the previous week, in addition to having them check off the days and what they practice.

    So many wonderful details for stuent and teacher. Thank you.

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