Last month Flynn Piano Studio offered its first group piano lesson. The results were encouraging and more group lessons will be coming on a monthly basis starting in 2014. At our last group lesson most students played 2 pieces that they have been learning during their individual piano lessons. Since the majority of my students are beginners I asked two students who have been studied piano for a while to play scales for others to hear. Another unique piece was a song that a girl made up as part of a composition practice during our individual lesson time. We also did a group exercise which involved clapping, singing and playing drones (accompaniments) on the piano. Below I have written some reasons why I am so excited about starting regular group lessons.
A group lesson provides a consistent outlet for students to play their pieces for others. Most of piano lesson work involves spending time alone at the piano, but group lessons are the exception. Students who are diligent and quick learners will be an example for new students to follow. Those who are shy will find a low-pressure performance opportunity with their peers. Group lessons are also an extra motivation for students to practice at home. If students are well-prepared during lessons and if students take the time to study at home they should be comfortable playing in front of others. Rather than occasionally placing them into a performance hall for a recital teachers can ease students into performing through regular group lessons.
Group lessons provide a soundboard for teachers. In a group lesson teachers have the luxury of teaching a whole group of students something in 10 minutes rather than taking much longer to tell each individual student the same information. Two topics that I hope to cover in the near future are musical composers and musical instruments. When a student learns about the lives of people such as Clementi, Bach and Beethoven compositions by these composers will become much more “alive.” Also, students should know about other instruments because it will give them a broader perspective of music. A practical application of this is that if a student eventually decides to learn an instrument in addition to the piano they should have some knowledge of how that instrument works rather than simply choosing based on its look or sound. For example, a student wanting to learn a woodwind instrument should be realize that it requires proper breathing (I’ve heard that playing the flute takes almost as much air as playing a tuba!) and a student who wants to learn strings should know that instruments such as the violin require much dedication if learned well. Learning how to pick out instrumental sounds when an orchestra in playing is handy as well. Composers and instruments are simply two subjects, but topics that teachers can cover during group lessons are countless.
A group performance lesson provides an outlet for students to make music together. Boomwhackers, singing, melody bells, piano duets/trios, etc. are examples of group work which involves students working alongside each other. More experienced students will grow as they help others; less experienced students will be challenged to improve musically. Duets provide an opportunity for siblings to practice together at home and perform during the group class. Working together to make music requires quite a bit of coordination and the teacher should strive for an excellent group performance (teachers must be as organized as possible!) while recognizing that realistically there will be some glitches. It may take a while for students to get comfortable working with others in a group setting but ultimately it is enjoyable for musicians to arrive at the point of making beautiful music together.
A group performance class enhances listening skills. If the teacher and more advanced students lead correctly, students should eventually learn how to verbalize why specifically a well-played piece of music “sounded good.” Students can learn to say things like: “While I was listening I could hear the difference between the legato and staccato sections of the piece.” Preparation for this listening exercise must occur during individual lessons as students learn to self-evaluate their own pieces. If students are struggling to find compliments or constructive comments to offer, consider asking the group questions such as the following: “How was the rhythm in this piece? Steady or shaky?” or “Did the student play forte and piano sections clearly?” Having to comment on pieces will encourage students to have a more judicious musical ear and an outflow of this will be that students will learn to listen more critically to themselves as they practice.
These ideas only scratch the surface of the possibilities and benefits of group lessons. Rather than viewing these lessons as an activity which has nothing to do with individual piano lessons, teachers should view this as a wonderful reinforcement to each individual student’s learning!