Tips for Creating Lessons: Online & In-Person

By Marilyn Floyd

Lesson plans can save stress for you, the teacher, and your student. If you know what’s coming next, you can relax, be in the moment and do what you do best - teach! And, because children don’t perceive time the way adults do, a reliable weekly lesson plan can help a younger student gauge time passed in their lesson. It might even save you from the dreaded question, “When is this lesson over?”

creating lesson plan

In teaching online and in-person lessons, most lesson plan format considerations are the same. Here are some lesson plan guidelines I readily follow:

  • Lesson plans must be predictable, helping students know what is coming next. For many students, my lesson plan might look like this:
    • Technique
    • Repertoire - old music
    • Repertoire - new music   
    • Creative/Theory - rotating games, chords, composing, and improvisation
  • Lesson plans must be repeatable, saving you stress and helping you to feel grounded in your planning.
  • Lesson plans should not be restrictive, giving you the flexibility to add and subtract activities as needed. Maybe you’ve planned to move on to ‘flats,’ but your student hasn’t yet fully grasped the concept of ‘sharps’?

Next, consider the student’s goals. Goals for the student serve as a direction for the semester’s work.

  • Are there upcoming guideposts this semester? Exams, recitals, contests, auditions?
  • Method Books - Method books are a starting point. You may want to introduce a concept earlier than your method book and then address it again at another point.
  • Student Goals (or a mix of teacher/student goals) - What does your student want to learn? A song? A specific genre? Chords?

Your student’s goals don’t change because the lesson platform differs. I teach a hybrid format for some of my students (in-person one week and online the next);  How do my plans differ each week?  The simple answer is, “They don’t.”  

manage and motivate your music students banner


Upon closer examination, however, the tools used to accomplish your student’s goals differ, ensuring that you deliver a predictable, repeatable, yet flexible plan in either format.   

First and foremost, for online lessons, save your music digitally. The most effective online learning involves screen sharing, providing not only an auditory but a visual experience. Playing the instrument is kinesthetic! 

The one tool that has been a game-changer for me in lesson planning, both online and in-person, is Tonara Studio.

Tonara Studio: Why did I wait so long? 

Once I started to use Tonara Studio, I have not only rectified gaps in my planning, but I have started providing students with challenges and check-points during the long week between lessons. 

Why did I procrastinate for so long?

Let’s talk about lesson planning gaps. Maybe we let technique exercises slip because technique exercises aren’t a student’s favorite. Or, perhaps a student isn’t a natural creative; improvisation may be “forgotten” because it’s just easier to not ‘go there’ with them. With Tonara, the ‘types of assignments’ screen stare at me every lesson reminding me not to skip over ‘that’ dreaded area.  

Building an Assignment in Tonara Studio

B-twixt and Between the Lesson: Student Communication and Motivation

Perhaps my favorite thing about Tonara Studio is providing communication and motivation during the week, ultimately helping me with plans for the next lesson. I can reward students for proving they are practicing each day, chat with them, and give them stickers along the way! Giving assignments, points, and incentives through Tonara is easy for the teacher and motivating for students - kids and adults alike.  

In online lessons, hearing the teacher play a piece is sometimes compromised by the virtual platform acoustics. With Tonara, the teacher can record a song, demonstrating correct rhythms, dynamics, or articulations. The ease of recording, sending samples (either the teacher’s or YouTube), and sending a compare recording assignment all in one place has been revolutionary for me.

Here’s what my students are saying about Tonara:

“It keeps you accountable.”

“It’s motivating to see how much you improve.”

“I love having the assignments and notes all in one spot.”

“I think the App is great!”

How have you used Tonara Studio in planning online or traditional lessons? Share with us on our channels!

Marilyn is a freelance blogger/writer who has raised two neuro-diverse children. Her oldest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 11, and her daughter with an Auditory Processing Disorder at age 6. 

In addition, Marilyn has taught piano to hundreds of students for over 23 years.  She has owned her own successful music studio and currently teaches piano at School for the Arts, Brighton, Michigan. She is skilled at pinpointing her students’ interests and at helping them achieve their next steps in music. She studied music at Julliard and the Richards Institute (Education Through Music - ETM). ETM  promotes physical, mental, and social growth through language, song, movement, and interactive play. In recent years, she holds a B.S. in Journalism with a minor in voice at the University of Kansas.