The Golden Lesson Plan: The formula I use for 95% of my music lessons - The Greatest Gig

The Golden Lesson Plan: The formula I use for 95% of my music lessons

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I am so excited to share this with you today--the lesson format I use for almost all my lessons.  Make it a habit to structure your lessons in this way, and you will never have to stress about planning again.

If you've ever launched into a music lesson with no plan, you know it can be a nightmare.  Speaking of nightmares, I have this recurring dream that I’m back teaching high school English again--I job that burned me out after 3 years.  I’m in front of a rowdy class, trying to get them to focus on...oh $#*%. I have no idea what to teach. The stuff on the chalkboard is foreign. I don’t even know the subject: Is it The Great Gatsby or the Big Bang? It’s horrifying.

I spent $40k in Stanford Graduate School tuition to earn those recurring nightmares, but that wasn't my only take-away.  I also learned how to plan a lesson effectively.  Over my 14 years of teaching music, I've developed a routine for almost all my lessons, based on the principles I learned in school, that is both a perfect recipe for learning, and reduces my planning stress and workload to almost nil.  I call it the Golden Lesson Plan.

After reading the rest of this article, I recommend that you download my Golden Lesson Planner, print enough copies for a day's worth of lessons, and use them at the beginning of each lesson.  This provides a roadmap for your students, and will teach you to use the plan until it becomes second-nature.

The Golden Lesson Plan

Note: The recommended duration for each step assumes an hour-long lesson with a private student.


5 Minutes

Having a friendly conversation with your student may seem like wasted time, but it’s actually an essential component of a great lesson. It achieves three things:

  • It creates a strong student-teacher bond, which motivates your students to work hard and makes lessons more enjoyable.
  • By better understanding your student’s unique tastes, personality, and life outside of music lessons, you can better direct their lessons.
  • You can more easily gauge your student’s current emotional state, which may influence how much you challenge them.

Tune and Warm Up

5 Minutes

​Warming up is good for the body, helps students keep up their repertoire, and provides a morale boost before the potentially demoralizing material to come. I train my students to choose a piece that’s “easy and fun.”


15 Minutes

Next, we go over the material the student’s currently working on. I usually start by asking, “How’d your practice go this past week?” And I’ll often have them show me how they practiced, because that’s always part of the assignment—learning how to practice.

Teach New Material

30 Minutes

I learned this simple formula for teaching any new skill while earning my ridiculously expensive Master’s in Education at Stanford.  Please learn it so that I can better justify wasting my parent's money. 🙂


Describe the skill. Break it down into understandable parts. Demystify complex movements by turning them into simple steps.


Show an example of the skill, usually at a slow speed.

Check for Understanding

Have the student demonstrate their understanding by performing the skill correctly once. If they struggle, explain and model more.


Now have them repeat the skill until you’re confident they’ll remember how to practice it at home.

Homework, Scheduling, Goodbyes

5 Minutes

​Discuss with your student how to practice what they’ve learned, and what they should be able to demonstrate the next time they see you. Confirm the next lesson time, and send them on their merry way.

There, I just saved you $40k. But stop!  Before you take yourself out to dinner, print copies of my Golden Lesson Planner to use with your students.


The Golden Lesson Planner

A one-page printable plan you can fill out with your students at the beginning of a lesson