Adaptive Piano Lessons: Intro

According to dictionary.com, to adapt means “to adjust, or modify fittingly to requirements of conditions.” And at this point, I’m sure your mind is racing. It seems as though the whole world is on some form of stay-at-home restrictions. And due to the coronavirus, we are all learning to adapt our piano lessons into the online teaching world … or risk losing our entire income.

This form of adaptation has been swift and urgent. And trust me, even though I’ve been teaching online for several weeks now, the whole idea of adapting in a world of social distancing is exhausting! School teachers, piano teachers, and all of the parents who are now engaged in some form of homeschooling have all proven to be rock stars for the way they’ve adapted so quickly!

But this is a series I’ve had on the calendar to publish for many months now. And although the topic on everyone’s mind is adapting to online teaching, I want to take the time to broaden our concept of adaptation. If we can move our studios into the mindset of adaptation at all times, we may find this whole online teaching thing a little less daunting in the process.

In any given studio, you will find a plethora of students all bringing unique and individual needs to the table. To get your mind moving with the idea of constant adaptation, I need you to consider 3 steps to adapting for the individual student that are critical to what we do …

  1. Recognize when a student has a unique situation that calls for modifications to the normal piano lesson design.
  2. Have the resources and knowledge at your fingertips to adjust lesson plans for each student.
  3. Be willing to try new things, putting them into action on a weekly basis.

My hope is that by committing to reading and putting into practice this series of posts, you as a teacher will find that adaptive piano lessons can become a way of life that is neither daunting nor unachievable. Your students are depending on it!


I consider myself very fortunate. I studied Music Therapy for three years in college. And although I did end up changing my major and putting all of my focus on teaching private lessons, I still have an intense love for the field, and will be forever grateful for all that it taught me.

I still marvel at the day I made an appointment with my professor and clumsily told her the news. I was terrified, and had already endured a weekend of very hard conversations as I worked through the decision to switch majors with those closest to me. It was not a short decision, but I had rebelled against it in my own heart for long enough that few knew my inward thoughts. So as I sat across the desk in my professor’s office, I awaited her wrath. And as most of the scenarios our minds make up in life, it never came. Not only did she speak with great kindness and wisdom into my decision, she offered to help as I prepared to graduate.

And voila… my adaptive piano lesson capstone project was born.


There is not a day of teaching that goes by that I do not use some of the wealth and knowledge that I gleaned from my music therapy days. It permeates EVERYTHING. And the extended time I had to study the conjunction of therapy and private lessons as I finished up my senior project left me in awe. My findings are what I hope to convey in the coming days here.

Please understand … music therapy and teaching music are NOT the same thing. I could spend a lot of time discussing this, but I want to boil it down to two simple points.

~ Music therapy (at its simplest definition) is the act of using music to teach other skills (i.e. counting, letters, speech, communication, preferred behaviors, socialization, relaxation techniques etc).

~ Music teaching is the instruction given to learn how to create and understand music itself.

I believe that music teachers can learn a whole lot from music therapists when it comes to adaptation.

In order to recognize when we need to adapt, it is critical that we can recognize when deficiencies are present. Music therapists have identified 5 domains where deficiencies may occur, and this is where we will be spending the majority of our time in the next several weeks 🙂

~ Cognitive

~Communication

~Socio-Emotional

~Behavioral

~Physical

One final note I want to leave you with today …

As we work through strategies for effective adaptive teaching in each of these categories, you will find that many techniques can be used to adapt across domains. You will also find that students who may not have a specific deficiency in a given area can benefit from the activities we talk about. And this is precisely the fun part! As we apply different learning strategies to best benefit each student that walks through our door, we are able to meet each student where they are, and have an enormous amount of fun in the process.

Adaptive lessons can (and should) become a way of teaching that is as natural as breathing, and I am looking forward to growing together on the journey ahead!

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