Category Archives: Group Piano Lessons

Group Piano Lessons: How to Make Them Work

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.

Group Music Lessons for Young Children Teach General Skills

If you’re a parent, I don’t have to tell you this: You already know that your small child loves music. Maybe she sings, dances, claps, marches, and moves to music she likes. Or perhaps he bangs a drum or picks at notes on a piano.

Based on this obvious interest (not to mention possible aptitude), you may be considering enrolling a young child in music lessons. But while private music lessons work for some small children, not all preschoolers are ready to focus for a half-hour private piano, violin, or guitar lesson lesson. Many aren’t ready to adhere to a regular practice schedule. Not to mention that young children simply may not have the dexterity to move fingers independently to make notes on a piano or a violin.

But small children can handle other instruments appropriate for a pre-schooler’s development, size, and age. Percussion instruments, and sometimes harmonicas, recorders, or ukeleles, can be managed by tots. The trick is to find a program that suits your child’s level of development and cognitive abilities.

Groups Lessons Offer General Music Instruction

Perhaps the most famous pre-school music education program is the Suzuki program, which started by training children as young as three or four on violin, and has expanded to offer music instruction in piano, recorder, percussion, and other instruments. The Suzuki program has some astonishing success stories, but it isn’t for every child: It involves both private and group instruction and focuses on the development of specific instrumental skills. Other group programs focus on specific instruments, for example, group piano classes. But not all preschoolers are ready for this level of instruction.

Children who exhibit an interest in music but who aren’t yet mature enough for private lessons can benefit from general music lessons in a group setting. Some of the better known programs with classes all across North America include Music for Young Children, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, and Gymboree Play and Music.

In addition, countless local programs offer group music classes for small children. Many of these programs have been developed by instructors who have experience working in various other major programs. Local group music programs for small children may be offered by just one teacher working out of a home studio; or they may be offered at community music schools, at community centers, in YMCAs, in pre-school programs, at colleges and universities, or in music stores.

The well-known programs vary: For example, Musikgarten has programs for infants, whereas Music for Young Children’s Sunrise Program starts wtth children ages two and three. But though the specifics vary, all the programs include games and activities designed to teach children about pitch, rhythm, singing, listening, music appreciation, and even composing.

Benefits of Group Music Lessons

Group music lessons serve several important purposes in setting the stage for a child’s music education.

Perhaps most importantly, these music classes focus on what small children can do (move to music, count, recognize pitch, sing) and not what they can’t do (make a perfect note on a violin, play with good hand position on a piano, blow a note into a trumpet). Group music lessons don’t focus on istrumental skills; instead, they include age-appropriate activities that most preschoolers can handle and will enjoy.

Games might include stretching hands up when notes go higher in a song, or crouching down when pitches get lower, marching and counting to music, tossing a ball in time with rhythm, and learning note names and how to count. Thus, lessons are not frustrating for the child; they are fun.

Secondly, the skills that can be taught to very young children – pitch recognition, musical form, counting, playing in time – are essential for beginning study on any instrument. Not only that, but these skills are very effectively taught to groups via games.

Many private teachers breathe a sigh of relief when a young child comes in the door who has already taken part in a group music program that teaches pitch and rhythm. A student who has not had this exposure is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all there is to learn and do when starting an instrument: find the note, play it correctly with the right finger, learn the difference between high notes and low notes, short notes and long notes, and so much more. Students with early exposure to fundamentals often find the first lessons on an instrument much easier, because they already understand some basic musical concepts.

Other Advantages of Group Music Instruction for Pre-School Children

  • Group lessons are fun because they involve play with other children. Small children take cues from each other, and learn by playing and engaging directly with material that interests them.
  • Group lessons instill an early appreciation that music is an enjoyable activity to be played in a group setting.
  • Group music classes focus on skills that small children are cognitively and physically able and ready to learn – not skills that will frustrate them..
  • Group music classes create a quality educational family interaction. (Most programs require parental attendance and participation.)

In short, group music lessons give pre-schoolers an opportunity to play with music, to have a stress-free and enjoyable introduction into the world of music making, and teach them skills that they will be able to apply to instrumental study – when they are ready for it.

Group Piano Lessons or Private Lessons? Which is Best for Children?

Piano students take a different path than most other instrumental students, and the reasons is simple: Piano is a solo instrument. True, guitar and organ can be solo instruments, too. But guitar is commonly played in a group, and few children study organ.

What this means is that other instrumentalists – violinists, flutists, trumpeters – often take group music lessons (at least at the beginning), where playing music takes place in a group context: Practice may be private, advanced instruction may be private, but the ultimate goal is to play with others.

But beginning piano students typically take private lessons right from the start, and these lessons rarely include participating in ensembles, playing in orchestras, or learning the essentials of group performance. Although the piano has a rich and varied library of ensemble and duet music, and although advanced pianists often accompany choruses, singers and instrumentalists, or play in bands or chamber ensembles, piano education is primarily a one-on-one activity leading to solo performance.

 

Group Music Instruction and Piano Education

Group lessons can be difficult for pianists: First, the instrument isn’t portable, which means that groups usually use keyboards, not pianos. The nature of the piano and its repertoire can make group lessons challenging, as well, because much of the traditional pedagogical material was written with the intent of being taught one-on-one with a private teacher. To be effectively used in a group class, material must often be modified, for instance, by breaking it into parts.

Finally, the complexity of the instrument comes into play. The piano is polyphonic (meaning that pianists play multiple parts at once). Pianists read two musical staves at once (bass and treble clefs), and must master both harmony and melody at the same time. These are skills that are difficult to teach in a group setting, and they are also the factors that make the piano satisfying to play as a solo instrument.

However, group piano lessons can make sense for many young beginners. When evaluating music lessons for a small child, here are some issues to consider.

 

Advantages of Group Piano Classes

  • Longer class times. Most group classes run at least an hour, with plenty of time for varied activities.
  • Price: Typically, n hour-long group lesson involving about four students will cost about the same as a private lesson that runs a half-hour.
  • Fun Factor: Children enjoy learning in games and with their peers, and a well-run group lesson includes plenty of musical fun.
  • Performance classes: Children learn to perform infront of their peers.
  • Group activities: These are ideal for teaching musical concepts such as rhythm and counting. Marching around the room to a beat, dancing, and clapping are all more fun for children in groups, and these activities teach fundamental skills that will set the stage for a student’s later learning.
  • Ensemble skills: A well run group will include music that can be played in parts. Students therefore learn the skills need to perform in a group. This is an element of music education that many private lessons fail to teach.
  • Lower stress: The low-key recreational approach of many groups may be appropriate for younger children who don’t yet have the dexterity to develop finer instrumental skills.

Advantages of Private Piano Lessons

  • Individual attention: Private lessons focus on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Piano is a multi-sensory, complex activity requiring learning by ear, eye, touch, and intellectual understanding. Each student combines these elements differently.
  • Appropriate pace: A group class that involves mismatched students will deprive both slower and faster learners for the attention they need. Private lessons go at the student’s learning pace, stopping whenever necessary to review concepts, repeat material, or explore a topic the student shows an interest in.
  • Skills development: For more advanced students, private attention is needed to work on micro issues such as fingering, as well as finer points of expression and interpretation. Issues such as technique and hand position are also better dealt with privately.
  • Progress: Progress is almost always faster in a private lesson than in a group lesson.
  • Stability: While the advantages of a group class often fall apart under the weight of an unruly or mismatched group, private lessons can follow a tailor made plan developed for each student, without being derailed by the needs of the group.

In music education, there isn’t any single right answer to the group versus private lessons conundrum Both group piano lessons and private piano lessons offer advantages. One option: Look for one of the many private piano teachers who incorporate some group instruction in the form of periodic group or performance classes.