Over the past few weeks I have asked some group piano teaching experts about some of the mistakes they made when they started teaching group piano.
Hopefully, you can learn from their mistakes and be on your way to becoming a group piano teaching maestro.
If you’d like more help on teaching group piano, why not sign up for my Growing a Group Piano Studio free online teaching webinar? I will be presenting with group piano and business expert Debra Perez about our new resource, which covers absolutely everything you could possible need to know about teaching group piano.
Sound like something you might be interested? Click here to sign up for the webinar and I will see you then!
Trying to teach too much in one lesson.
The key to successful group teaching is to ensure that all students are progressing at a similar level. Breakdown the components of what you’re teaching into chunks and only teach one chunk at a time. Utilise students who are practising well to help teach the other students. This helps you as the teacher, as you might not be able to help every student.
I’ve found that teachers who are bitten by the ‘group piano bug’ are usually highly enthusiastic (and rightfully so!) and often jump in headfirst without fully understanding the amount of preparation and planning involved.
So, if you’re teaching group piano for the first time, my advice is to start small. I encourage teachers to select one age group or student level from their studio and design a group program for these students. By doing so, you can focus your energy on the intricacies involved in facilitating learning for this student population.
Pre-school or average-age beginner groups are often a great place to begin. Aside from being an effective, efficient, and extremely motivating way to begin music study, for the teacher, it also provides an excellent way to build one’s studio enrolment base.
Another excellent introductory format is the partner or ‘dyad’ lesson. Here, each student experiences a fifteen-minute private lesson and an overlapping thirty-minute group lesson all in one hour of teaching time. In addition to the obvious benefit of the built-in duet partner, students experience a sense of accountability to weekly preparation and practice. Summer camps organized around a particular topic such as jazz or popular music are excellent ways to launch a group program in one’s studio.
What is your studio philosophy? What does your studio value? Fourteen years ago when I started teaching group piano, I couldn’t easily answer those questions.
If a potential parent asked me why my group approach was good for their child, I fumbled around for an answer, showing very little confidence in what my studio was offering and sometimes even apologizing that my approach wasn’t the traditional one. If parents weren’t totally sold on group classes and asked for private lessons on the side, I’d succumb.
Soon I was catering to several different families’ preferences and couldn’t keep them all straight. Some were all group, some were 50/50, some were 80/20. If a family found out a special arrangement I was offering another, they’d ask if they could do the same. If I couldn’t accommodate them, a family felt slighted because I was being unfair, which was true. It was a huge headache and I finally had to decide that yes, we were an all-group piano studio. This made several parents so unhappy that they eventually quit, but as I refined my studio values and believed more in the benefits of group piano, I could speak with confidence and quickly gained more students than I had room for.
Even in 2017, group piano classes are not the norm so be ready for parents not to like your approach. Be ready for your current private students to quit because they don’t want to convert to group. Not everyone will agree with your studio philosophy and that’s okay, but you need to believe in it 100% so you can speak with conviction on the benefits of group piano and hold firm to your values.
Fourteen years later I’m proud to say that Musicality Schools’ philosophy is Music Making for Life and we accomplish that by offering confidence building, creative and fun experiences through group music instruction!
One mistake teachers make when they start group teaching is not planning enough activities to fill the time. Sometimes it is hard to predict how long activities will take without doing them first. It can be a guessing game and can vary drastically depending on the dynamic of the students in a particular group.
I always like to plan and prepare for more activities than I have time for. I call these activities in my lesson plan, “If I have time…”. That way if we get to them, great! But if not, that is okay because I can always save it for another time.
One mistake a teacher might make when they begin group teaching is not being clear on their goals and expectations for their group. It’s important for teachers to know what they hope to accomplish with their group.
If the group is the student’s primary instruction, what concepts and skills does the teacher consider most important? If the group is supplementary to private instruction, what are the primary purposes of the activity? Community building, performance opportunities, reviewing skills and concepts, ensemble work, a reward for a task completed, etc.?
Be sure to identify the primary purpose for the group activity and then brainstorm what supplemental goals may also be met.
Recommended: What’s Your Piano Teaching Philosophy?
I have been teaching piano in groups for over 20 years and my passion for collaborative learning experiences continues to grow each year. I am energized by the preparation needed to teach a class, the fun of teaching the class and then helping other educators learn about group teaching. I love it!
Unfortunately though, I have known many teachers, schools and music stores that begin group classes, try it for a little while and then quit. Because of this, I offer the following suggestions for you to consider.
Take the time to research, speak with those in the field and study to gain knowledge that will help you make a quality decision. This will allow you the courage and confidence to not only start but will also help sustain you through both the challenges and successes ahead.
Create a Strong Why
My own answers to the following questions have formed my strong beliefs in the benefits of group learning. And these beliefs are what motivate me on a daily basis. How would you answer the following questions?
What Do You Envision Your Program To Look Like?
The following questions will help you decide on your own business model for your studio. Gathering knowledge and options will help you bring clarity that best fits your goals. Although, please know that your program will naturally evolve through time and experience.
How Will You Make This Happen?
This is important information to gather from other successful teachers and businesses. Their secrets to long term success can save you both time and money.
My hope is that you will have many wonderful years of collaborative learning with your piano students. And that your passion for playing and teaching is enriched through this experience.
What mistakes did you make when you started teaching group piano? Can you relate to our experts’ advice and experiences?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or join me for Friday’s webinar with Debra, where you will be able to ask us any group piano related questions you may have!
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.