Traditionally, piano lessons have been taught one-one-one in private lessons. But with the advent of portable, inexpensive digital pianos equipped with headphones, programs have sprung up to teach piano to groups of beginners. For parents, these programs are less inexpensive than private lessons. At the same time, they can be more lucrative for teachers. Win-win. but what about the students?
While there are pros and cons to teaching groups lessons versus private piano lessons, group lessons for beginners can be successful if certain elements are in place. Here’s what to look for if you are parent… and what to be sure you are doing if you are a teacher.
Elements of Success in Group Piano Lessons
The success of group lessons depends on the skill of the teacher, the class curriculum, the number of students, and how well matched the students are in age and learning ability.
- Teacher Skill: Typical group lessons may be an hour in length, which is a long time for a small child. Therefore, the teacher must have a bag of tricks to keep students interested and keep the class varied and moving. The teacher must also have class management strategies in order to deal with working with one child privately while keeping the others busy with independent learning tasks, regaining control when the class turns chaotic, and coping with different learning styles and abilities.
- Class Curriculum: The curriculum should be developed or modified so it is workable for groups. For example, the teacher should have plenty of supplemental activities to reinforce concepts, and to give to students who finish assignments before everyone else. Materials should also be age appropriate, as young children who can’t yet read have difficulty using instructional materials developed for older children who are reading fluently. The curriculum should include plenty of variety in order to revive interest when students get tired or lose focus.
- Number of Students: While some classes have experimented with teaching a dozen or more children, most teachers of group piano classes prefer a group size of about four children. This gives everyone plenty of time for individual attention, but allows for camaraderie to develop. Group dynamics add to the “fun” elements of the class.
- Student Compatibility: Children should be grouped by age, and, when possible, learning ability. Children who are five should not be in classes with seven or eight year olds: The cognitive differences between different age groups make classroom management and evenly paced instruction virtually impossible. Even children of the same age can be vastly different in learning ability. The most successful groups combine children of similar ages and abilities together. Indeed, group lessons may not be appropriate for children who are very talented, or those who need constant extra attention.
Materials Required for Successful Group Piano Lessons
A professional group piano studio will have most of the following elements:
- Digital pianos, one per student: Digital pianos must have headphones. Touch control (dynamic control when keys are pressed with different amounts of force) is required. It is preferable that keyboards have pedals and 88 weighted keys, so they feel as much like an acoustic piano as possible.
- A photocopier: For writing group assignments and homework, for photocopying parts and music when needed.
- A whiteboard or blackboard (and appropriate writing implements): Used for writing games such as drawing and naming notes.
- Inexpensive percussion instruments: For rhythm exercises.
- Computers (optional): Computers with mini-piano keyboards can be used for music theory and music-reading exercises. Teachers should be sure that the learning programs being used penalize students for mistakes, otherwise, students simply click randomly as fast as they can to try to score points.
- An acoustic piano (optional): Having an acoustic piano enables the teacher to demonstrate, and allows the children to move among instruments and feel and hear the differences for themselves.
- CD player (optional): for listening exercises and games.
With an enthusiastic teacher, a well-designed classroom, an age-appropriate and varied curriculum, and a class of compatible students, group piano lessons can work well for the first year or two as an introduction to more advanced, private study.
For more information on group music lessons, see Group Music Lessons for Young Children.
For more information on piano lessons, see: How to Know a Child is Ready for Piano Lessons.