Group Piano Lessons: Engaging Music Students in the Sharing Age

By Tim Topham | Front Page

Sep 04

The Piano Lesson in the Sharing Economy

There are two constructs of modern-day living that have emerged recently: community and sharing.

As we know, everything we do online these days is about sharing.

Sharing posts is as easy as clicking a button on social media. It’s the modern equivalent of ‘word of mouth’ marketing – by sharing something online you and endorsing that person. Businesses are built on it.

It’s now known as the ‘sharing economy’, and it’s a concept I’ve come to rely on, given that from 2010, I’ve happily opened the doors of my studio and shared all my best ideas with teachers around the world through this blog.

But kids these days, accustomed as they are to being able to ‘share’ just about anything with their friends, either online or in person, won’t find this in the traditional piano studio, one where they only get to interact with one other, often much older, person.

Similarly, as we become ever-more screen-obsessed and siloed by headphones in our own little worlds, the idea of community has, ironically, become all the more important.

People are searching for community¬†both online and offline and it’s becoming a powerful force in both social and business life. You need only consider my own Piano Teaching Membership Community and the way it’s been able to connect people across the world in a shared purpose: namely, a more creative approach to piano teaching.

Don’t forget, a sense of community is a huge part of growing up, particularly for teens: finding your peer group, working out where you fit in and ‘hanging out’.

The Music Lesson Disconnect

Is there any wonder then, that young people can become so easily disillusioned by music lessons which, by their very nature, are a solo experience, pretty much devoid of the opportunity for either community or sharing with peers?

How much more powerful and motivational could music lessons be if they were presented in a group format that allowed sharing, friendships and community?

One of the questions I get asked most about is motivating students: how do you get them to practice? What if they’re about to quit? How do I keep teens engaged?

There are, of course, many solutions to these motivational problems. Teachers would be advised to take a holistic approach to motivating students (e.g. considering lesson content, rapport, teaching music the student loves, a flexible approach, using exams sensibly, adding creativity and composing, etc.).

But there’s one other thing that teachers around the world are only now starting to really consider: the impact of teaching kids in groups (just like at school).

The Group Piano Teaching Model

In this month, we’re going to be focussing on a huge trend in piano pedagogy at the moment: Group Piano Teaching.

While the concept of group piano has been around for 30-40 years, it’s only in the last 5 or so years that discussion about it has become much more prevalent. More and more teachers are planning to move some of their lessons to a group format.

There’s good reason too.

Apart from solving three of the biggest issues around private one-on-one instruction, namely isolation, lack of community and lack of shareability with peers, group teaching can have a huge impact on student enjoyment in music, motivation and practice.

Here are some of the advantages of a group approach to teaching piano:

  • Students in groups get to learn together and feel like they are part of a learning community
  • Students know they’ll have to play in front of others each week. This both reduces performance anxiety, because it becomes normalised, and encourages practice
  • Students playing in groups get to learn what it’s like making music with others – something often unfamiliar to privately-taught students
  • Students get a better sense of beat and time and become better sightreaders from playing together in class

Types of Group Piano

There are lots of different ways to teach group piano lessons and not all models look the same.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Once-a-month or once-a-term events where a group of individually-taught students come together for a group event
  • Partner classes where two individual students having 45-minute lessons each, crossover (ie. both in the studio at the same time) for 15 minutes for an opportunity for group playing and other activities
  • Some groups are taught with headphones on, some teachers teach everyone playing out loud
  • Small and large-group piano teaching
  • Ensemble playing groups
  • Summer camps
  • And many more combinations

We’ll be exploring all these and more this month.

Two Examples of Group Teaching in Action

One of my podcast guests, Laura Kahar, runs monthly group classes for her studio. Check out a clip here of how she makes group piano lessons work.

At the other end of the group teaching spectrum is Paul Myatt who runs Forte Schools of Music. Paul only runs group classes for students. All students sit at their own instruments and lessons include lots of singing, movement and, of course, playing together out loud.

Here’s an example of one of Paul’s group lessons.

Group Teaching Webinar and Course

I’m extra excited that I’ll be joined this month on our free training webinar by Debra Perez who will be answering all your questions about group teaching: how it works, what you need, how to get started, pros and cons, etc. Everything you need to know to make an informed decision about whether to change to group teaching.

If you’re interested in this training, please keep an eye on your emails and social media – we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as we’ve got the date set.

This Month’s Special Guests

I’m very excited to let you know about a few of our special guest interviewees and writers this month:

  • Mayron Cole of the Mayron Cole Group Method joins us on the podcast to talk about what Group Teaching was like 40 years ago and how it’s developed since.
  • Debra Perez, a specialist in group piano instruction and mentor to music teachers and studios across the USA, will be talking about how to convert to group teaching and all the things you need to consider in making this change.
  • An Expert Panel of teachers from around the world will be contributing to this month’s ’roundup’ post which is all about the mistakes to avoid when group teaching
  • One of our Inner Circle members, Janna Carlson, will be sharing her recent experience of converting to group piano teaching in her studio: the ups and downs and what she’s learned
  • Marie Lee, who converted to group teaching around 10 years ago and now runs a thriving group teaching studio with multiple teachers and locations will be joining our Inner Circle private mastermind in September to answer questions and give support to members who are looking to transfer across. Not a member? Don’t miss out.
  • Nicola Cantan, who you would have seen helping me out on the podcast, will be showing us how to successfully teach partnered lessons.

Group piano teaching expert Marie Lee will be joining us this month.

Debra Perez is designing our group piano teaching online course.

Inner Circle member Janna Carlson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Month’s Resources

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About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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