Today, we welcome group piano teaching expert Marie Lee.
Marie has years of experience teaching group lessons and has been such a wonderful resource for piano teachers around the world. We are so appreciative to have Marie here with us today to share us her top tips on converting to group piano teaching.
At the end of the blog post, you will find some additional resources if you would like some more help converting to group piano lessons. One is a new course Marie and Leila Viss are releasing. The other is my latest Inner Circle course on Growing a Group Teaching Studio. Keep an eye out for more information on this in the coming days!
For now, over to you, Marie.
Converting to Group Piano Lessons
Converting a portion or even all your individual piano students into group piano lessons can be a logistical and pedagogical challenge.
Yet, many teachers who have successfully made the transition extol the benefits of this modern take on music instruction. I certainly do. I’ve been at it for fourteen years and have 130 students.
Here are my top five tips for converting to group piano lessons, which are yet to let me down.
Keep everyone in the same method books, supplementary material, and theory games. Once you’ve written your lesson plan for a particular song, save it so you can use it again. This saves hours of future planning time!
Decide on monthly themes that all classes can do and adapt them for ages and levels.
For example, in September, our classes learn by rote the most important song in the world — Happy Birthday to You!
New beginners learn the basic melody on the right hand. As students advance, they learn how to transpose the melody, harmonize with left-hand chords, add an intro/outro, etc.
In October, we learn Halloween pieces for our Halloween street recital and the first of two pieces for Junior Solo Festival in the spring. This makes it easy to plan and lay out your year. I keep a yearly plan saved in my Google Drive that I update and share with the teachers in our studio so everyone knows what’s coming up. Most things repeat from year to year so there’s very little planning for our main events and focuses.
2. Be flexible and relax
Don’t beat yourself up if a class didn’t go exactly as planned.
Class dynamics vary from group to group and an activity or technique that works well in one class may not work well in another. Group piano lessons are still new enough that parents and students don’t have anything to compare it to, so relax! Maybe a class didn’t go like you’d hoped, but your parents and students won’t know any differently, I promise.
Assume the best from students and parents. Parents aren’t out to make your life miserable. I’m of the mindset now that if a parent didn’t understand something, then I didn’t communicate it to them well enough.
Some things are more important than others. Decide what’s most important to you and your studio and let go of the rest. You don’t have to do or be it all! There’s always next year to try a new method book, incentive program, or performance offering.
3. Hire it out!
You cannot do everything yourself, and there are now so many resources out there to assist you in running your studio. Especially when it comes to group piano lessons, there are so many things to organize. Ask and seek help. Here are some ideas:
Join the the preeminent professional development, learning and networking community for instrumental music teachers.
- Leverage teen assistants in your classes to pass out tickets, keep students on task, point to students music, play along with them, take students to the bathroom, hand out hand sanitizer, pack/unpack totes, play duets, and get footstools. I pay mine $10 per class and it’s worth every penny. The teens love the money along with being an example and friend to the younger students, and their parents appreciate that their teens are getting work experience.
- Hire an admin to do your accounting, update rosters and spreadsheets. I suggest using Google Docs/Sheets to easily share these kinds of documents. I hire an older high school or college student that have been past students of mine, but you could also hire a piano parent or check out Fiverr.
- Hire out your logo, promotional videos and anything else you can think of at Fiverr.
- You could use an online accounting site such as Freshbooks. It allows me to set up auto-payments so no more playing bill collector. The 2.9% fee is worth the time savings.
- MailChimp is great for easy email marketing.
- Canva is your go-to resource for creating professional looking templates for flyers, posters, Facebook ads and the like.
- I also hire my teen students to assemble games, hole punching of digital music, collating, organizing, cleaning the studios and sending out birthday cards.
- I like to use Trello for keeping track of potential students, upcoming events, and to-do lists.
4. Hold your ground
Don’t apologize for your approach nor give in to policy changes. You dictate how you want your customers to treat you and you gain their trust and confidence when you stand by what your studio offers.
Gently get rid of some clients. The 10% that take up 90% of your time aren’t worth it. As Seth Godin states, “Never become good at dealing with difficult clients.”
Need help setting up a studio policy? Check out Tim’s Open Letter to Piano Parents.
5. Listen and move more!
Set up each child for success by engaging more senses and reaching more learning styles: auditory, kinesthetic, and visual.
Offer directed listening activities to introduce a new piece. Note reading comes later.
Move more: sway to the beat, clap-tap-click-snap, bucket drumming, skipping, marching, make up actions to match the lyrics of a song, pitch direct with their hands or bodies.
I’m a huge advocate of Debra Perez’s HEAR/DO/SEE/LABEL approach to teaching a new song.
Expert creative teacher Leila Viss and I are soon releasing an 80-page Group Teaching Blueprint that expands on ideas here, to include more practical resources such as student/parent contracts, technology to facilitate the transition and upkeep, pitfalls to avoid, and creative ideas to bring it all together. Sign up here to get news of its release.
So there you have it, the key points you’ll need to master a successful transition to group piano. Group methods are a different approach, to more forward-looking students and parents, bringing their own unique rewards.
I have precious memories of one-on-one interactions and that method is still best for concert pianists in training. Yet for the rest of us, ready to feed off the energy and positive peer pressure of a group, finding the syncopated synergies of an ensemble, and the raw joy of a focused band making beautiful music together, group piano can transcend many one-on-one teaching limitations.
Inner Circle Group Teaching Course
Would you like some more help and information on how to convert to group piano teaching?
Tim Topham and Debra Perez (Music Mentor Group) are about to release their Growing a Group Teaching Studio course. They will also be running a free live training webinar on Friday the 29th of September at 10am AEST, to help you get your group teaching studio off the ground.
The course will walk you through step-by-step how to convert to group teaching. From talking to parents and students to filling a class to group teaching techniques, the course will leave no questions unanswered.
Sound like something you might be interested in? Click here to register for this free online webinar on how to convert your studio to group piano lessons.
Marie, I just learned new things about group teaching from your post! Thank you; it’s clear, concise, and has my brain turning. You are so generous with your knowledge and experience.
Many thanks, Janna! So excited for the successful changes you’ve implemented in your group studio!