New Piano Student Interviews – How to Seal the Deal With Cups

New piano student interview - They'll beg to be your student when you do this! |

First impressions can often seal the deal or turn it sour. This is especially true when you conduct new piano student interviews!

When I was in San Antonio for the MTNA conference, I met Christina Whitlock who excitedly told me about how she uses Rhythm Cup Explorations IN her student interviews. My mind immediately began to wonder why I had never thought of that before because the benefits to this are amazing! What a great way to show the parent and student that you are:

  • Fun, but very intentional about learning rhythm
  • Connected to what kids really love
  • Different than that other teacher they interviewed
  • Interactive and that you won’t just lecture the student
  • Creative and professional

So, I asked Christina to share how she uses Rhythm Cup Explorations for her new piano student interviews…she has so many good points to consider!

New Piano Student Interviews – Seal the Deal with Rhythm Cups!

by Christina Whitlock

As many of you can already attest, my students LOVE Wendy’s Rhythm Cup Explorations 1 and Rhythm Cup Explorations 2 in group and private lesson settings alike. That said, one of my favorite ways to utilize RCE is when I conduct new piano student interviews.  

How to use Rhythm Cup Explorations in new piano student interviewsLike many private teachers, one of my primary areas of assessment when meeting with a potential student involves getting an idea of her natural sense of rhythm and pulse (or lack thereof!).  Before Rhythm Cup Explorations, I accomplished this through various clapping and movement drills, which were sufficient, but not nearly as engaging.   Of course, I also want to make sure the student is a good “fit” for my studio, and the humor that inevitably comes along with Rhythm Cup Explorations is an excellent way to gauge that potential, and help anxious students let their guard down.

Here’s how to do it

My favorite ways to introduce Rhythm Cup Explorations in lessons are the following (though, it should be noted, these exercises are HIGHLY adaptable, and I come up with new ideas all the time!):

  • I sit with a student at a desk, armed with our cups and a few sheets of Rhythm Cup Explorations.   I like to start with some “copy cat” rhythms first, before looking at the RCE sheets.   Sitting across from one another makes for easy eye-contact, and I find this is also a good opportunity to make general small-talk with students.    
  • I begin introducing the simplest Explorations in new piano student interviews.  Working through two or three lines in 4/4 time (in book 1), then the same in 3/4 time (in book 2), generally gives me all the information I need.
  • I start exercises unaccompanied, though I will occasionally ask a student to sing along (Twinkle Twinkle, or another meter-appropriate selection) if they are adapting well to the exercise.
  • To make sure we are exploring a variety of tempos, I will often move to the piano and have the student “accompany” me on Rhythm Cup Explorations to popular themes (Entrance of the Gladiators is always a hit!).
  • If time allows, I ask them to improvise some cup rhythms while I play (bonus points if you improvise, too!  Parents will be impressed with your abilities, and students will enjoy a “jam session” with you).  
  • Send them home with their cup, and a sheet or two of RCE to keep practicing! That’s the beauty of the studio license that comes with Rhythm Cup Explorations – you can make unlimited prints for any student you are teaching, even for an interview. Even if you never see them again, this will be a fun reminder of their time with you.  

Tips for using Rhythm Cups in piano student interviews

My best suggestions for using Rhythm Cup Explorations in new student interviews are:

  • Keep the drills simple.  You want your potential student to leave your studio feeling confident and capable.  Assuming all goes well, you will have plenty of time to challenge them later!
  • Use Rhythm Cup Explorations for new piano student interviews

    Download FREE sample!

    Stick to the basic X’s and O’s to start (maybe an occasional head-tap if we are feeling particularly silly) during the initial interview.  You can add all the fun tricks later!

  • Adapt quickly!  Each student reacts differently to the interview process.  Be prepared to switch gears to keep the student feeling at ease.  
  • Be mindful of the student’s communication and body language.  Like all things in our profession, some techniques are just not the right fit.  For example, I have a terrific student who started lessons as a sophomore in high school, already a very accomplished percussionist.  The combination of his age, experience, and overall demeanor did not result in a very enthusiastic round of RCE.  
  • Plan your time. I plan for RCE to account for approximately 10 minutes of 30-minute new piano student interviews.  

Benefits of using Rhythm Cups in piano student interviews

Benefits of utilizing this reproducible rhythm book in new piano student interviews include:

  • Effectiveness:  Students with a strong sense of internal pulse have no problem maintaining a steady beat with a cup.  Right away, I can tell how much attention a student is going to need in this area.  I can also gain a better understanding of the rhythm reading skills they’ve picked up from their school’s general music class, if any.   
  • Taking Direction:  I can also quickly gauge how well a student takes instruction by how they respond to my directives.  As an added bonus, I often get a better glimpse of their personality and sense of humor during this portion of our interview than any other time.
  • Studio Vibe:  Learning music SHOULD be fun!  Immediately, students see a teacher who wants to have a good time, and who is not afraid of thinking outside the box to better engage them.  
  • Happy parents:  I often receive compliments from first-time studio parents regarding how organized their interview process was.  Seeing different “stations” of assessment shows clear planning on my part, which gives parents confidence their child will be receiving a well-considered music education.
  • Future Lesson Planning:  With students beginning with RCE in the interview process, I never have to worry about how they will adjust to this activity in future group classes with more experienced students.  

I hope you will consider utilizing this invaluable resource for your next round of new piano student interviews!

Christina Whitlock
Christina WhitlockOwner of Whitlock Piano Studio

Christina Whitlock, M.M., N.C.T.M. currently operates a vibrant independent studio in Muncie, Indiana.  Christina earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance from Kent State University in 2004 (summa cum laude), and completed a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Ball State in 2006.

Christina has served on the Indiana Music Teachers Association Board of Directors and as enjoyed adjunct faculty member positions at Ball State University, teaching group piano courses for music majors, and Taylor University, performing dual roles as staff accompanist and instructor for Art as Experience, a general humanities course focused on music and art.

Visit Whitlock Piano Studio to learn more!