6 Useful Tips if You Plan to Teach Piano Abroad

Notes of Jo
Aug 31, 2016 · 5 min read

Roughly four months ago, I decided to make a new move. Teach piano abroad is one of my goals, so I accepted a piano teaching position in Shanghai, and surprise surprise! The school’s major student body are children under 10.

Okay, that’s not a surprise because usually, that’s what happens. Chinese parents are also known for signing their kids up for as many extracurricular courses as possible outside of regular school schedule. And trust me, every Chinese kid has to learn an instrument (preferably piano or violin) isn’t even a stereotype. In fact, it’s an essential piece of every Chinese kid’s childhood. I am not even joking.

Why do I sound anxious and keep emphasizing on the “teaching children” part? Well, I have decent experiences teaching teenagers and 18+ adults. I can confidently say that I know how to interact with teens and motivate adult students in learning piano. But teaching children? Frankly, it wasn’t my cup of tea, and I have avoided it in the past three years.

Yeah I know, how terrible of me.

Despite that I had a little anxiety about teaching kids full-time, my old lifestyle in Taipei didn’t do it for me anymore. I wanted a change.

I want to teach piano broad, preferably somewhere not of my own culture (Although I have trouble identifying which culture I belong to. Read why here. )

Shanghai is the largest international city in Asia with many expat families. There are also many international schools around. So, if you are a native English-speaking teacher who wants in working abroad, Shanghai may very well have a place for you. If you are bilingual like me? Even better! There are tonnes of opportunities waiting!

I’ve spent lots of time researching and brainstorming teaching methods, and I found these tips very efficient and helpful for preparing myself.

Here are 6 Tips for who wants to teach piano abroad … Sign up for Pinterest

I created a board on Pinterest to collect teaching ideas, games, and materials around the web. How Pinterest collages pictures of the pins saved made it visually engaging and convenient to dig out those links from months ago. I kept many pins from Music for Music for Little Learners’ board. They have a website, too. You can also Check out the teaching ideas I collected here!

Notes for Expats: Pinterest is the one social media that’s free from the Great Firewall of China!

Save some online resources

I found excellent online resources including Color in My Piano by Joy Morin and Let’s Play Music by Sarah Mullet. Both websites offer worksheets, musical games, theory practice and other thoughtful supplements and insights. Their websites have been particularly informative to me when I needed some inspiration.

This is my current collection of piano method books in Aug. '16. Still have some old ones sitting at home waiting to be shipped!
This is my current collection of piano method books in Aug. '16. Still have some old ones sitting at home waiting to be shipped!
These books are my current collection of piano method books in Aug. ’16. Still, have some old ones sitting in my parents’ home in Taipei waiting to get shipped!

Bring piano method books from home

I visited local music bookstore in Taipei many times before I came to Shanghai and purchased several piano and theory method books for young beginners. Apparently, Shanghai only has big brand teaching materials such as Faber, Bastien, Alfred, and Thompson’s. Those are great method books, but it’s always good to switch up the taste a bit from time to time. I bought Helen Marlais’ Succeeding at the Piano for theory and Piano Course Books for Beginners by Japanese composer Tamaru Nobuaki. So far these work quite well with my kids.

Notes for Expats: Bring materials you are familiar with, get to know the resources in the city you are going to live!

Prepare to do arts and crafts

I bought some blank papers in different colours and colour pens to create learning materials for my young students. I purchased my huge stack of papers and felt-tip colouring pens with 12 different colours at Ikea’s children’s section for only 39RMB (around 5.35 Euro; 5.98USD.) The MÅLA series is fantastic! I make my teaching materials when I have ideas in mind but can’t find anything preexisted that would fit my imagination. Of course, I could create it digitally, but I like doing arts and crafts, and I think this is more human :) I will share them in my future posts!

Keep a notebook for teaching notes

I keep a notebook by my side during lessons to record students’ progress each week. I have a memory of a goldfish, so this is my way of tracking where my students are in their lessons. I also make notes if my students have their particular quirks. It’s a good reminder when preparing their future lessons.

Make sure you got the right language for your method books.

Most of the teaching materials are either in English or Chinese (or any languages you and your destination city speak.) Those materials are rarely bilingual. Plus, having two languages written on the same page could be confusing and distracting to children. However, some materials do offer two languages with good layouts. For example A Dozen A Day, Technical Exercises for THE PIANO to be done each day BEFORE practising by Edna-Mae Burnam has English and Chinese titles in their international Chinese version. The Chinese publisher is 天音 (Tien-Ying.)

I am still learning and experimenting different methods, but I think I am getting the hang of it pretty quickly! I have to say; teaching children wasn’t as scary as I expected. It’s just tiring because I have to be very engaging all the time due to their short attention span, but I turned out to get along with them surprisingly well. Maybe I am still in the honeymoon period, but so far it’s quite rewarding when parents give you good feedback and kids openly told other people you are a good teacher, they like you … etc.

Please comment and tell me what you think or if you have other good ideas, too! I will keep posting everything related to piano teaching and expat living in my blog. Tune in for more updates and don’t forget to like my Facebook page!


Originally published at Notes of Jo.

Notes of Jo

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Piano teacher, coffee drinker, elephant lover, and foodie! Expat for life. #Travel one city at a time.