Group Piano: What it IS and What it ISN’T

On the fence about whether group instruction is right for you? Not sure what format you should use? Good friend and colleague, Marie Lee has some strong opinions on this topic as she should. I consider her an expert in group piano instruction–check out the programs at her Musicality Schools. You can learn more about her experience here or just keep reading and hear what is and what isn’t group piano class.

-Leila


As piano teachers realize that YES, they can make a good living teaching piano, the subject of group classes comes up as a way of increasing studio size and income. But what exactly IS a group class? And what is it NOT?

In exploring the idea of group piano classes, I reference several quotes from Chapter 1 of Dr. Christopher Fisher’s inspiring and comprehensive book Teaching Piano in Groups, and my perspective as a long-time group piano teacher.

What Group Piano Is

It’s social
This dynamic learning environment provides students with the 41axfn099hl-_sx336_bo1204203200_opportunity to develop their keyboard skills among peers who support and encourage one another. The group has the potential to generate a spirit of enthusiasm and motivation toward the subject matter in a way that the instructor could never achieve alone. (Fisher)

It’s loud
Students learn to listen to each other while playing, developing a better sense of rhythm and tempo. This ensemble playing in every class refines their ability to accompany others or play in a band. They also shout out in friendly competition through games and incentive programs. They’re having fun!

It’s prime learning
When certain requisite conditions are in place, the group environment has the potential to produce learning opportunities that are superior to what could be achieved in an individual, one-on-one format. The group piano class is a dynamic environment consisting of students who possess unique abilities as well as individual differences. One student may play by ear with exceptional skill whereas another student possesses outstanding sight – reading abilities. By the very nature of the group structure, all students stand to learn something from one another. Each student can contribute something meaningful to the group. (Fisher)

Gettin' a groove on in a group

Gettin’ a groove on in a group

It’s discovery
Groups foster prime conditions for problem solving. Multiple ideas from several students generate many possible ways of exploring a concept and discovering how to apply it. The teacher assumes the role of facilitator rather than lecturer. Students are not simply told to do something; rather, they are directed to understanding through group discussion, discovery, experimentation and implementation. (Fisher)

As a recent example, I used a Pirate improvisation activity in our classes by Paul Myatt of Forte School of Music, (activity found on Tim Topham’s Inner Circle.)

The students were asked to “compose” a pirate piece using the Am pentascale and triplet rhythm along with a teacher duet. Slightly older students learned how to add the teacher duet (simple 5ths) and took a week to “compose” their own pirate piece.

When students came back and performed their piece for each other, the students were critically listening and commenting on rhythmic or melodic patterns they liked. Several students took those patterns back home with them the following week to further develop their own pieces.

This was learning at it’s very best and I, as the teacher, didn’t need to say a word.

It builds performing skills and confidence
Group piano builds performing confidence because students play in front of others from the very first class. It’s completely comfortable for them to play for a group of people because that’s what they do every week.

Students who study piano in groups have greater opportunities for performing experiences which become a natural part of the educational process. Because performing regularly for peers in a non-threatening environment is a normal procedure of group piano, students often experience less performance anxiety and demonstrate a greater sense of confidence and poise while playing in public. (Fisher)

It builds community
Students feel a connection and loyalty to their “piano team.” They love making music with their friends! Parents feel that sense of community too, as I watch them encourage and praise each other’s children.

Some students love the social aspect of group lessons and others...not so much!

Some students love the social aspect of group lessons and others…not so much!

It’s comfortable
Students are more relaxed because the spotlight isn’t directly on them. The teacher isn’t sitting right next to them — listening to and watching their every move. Students feel free to answer questions and share observations, participate better and can focus on the fun and joy of making music, still with a teacher close by.

It’s positive peer pressure
Students usually practice well at home because they know they’ll be playing in front of each other. Also, students want to “out-do” each other by memorizing quicker or learning a new piece on their own to show off to the class.

Groups present opportunities to motivate students through healthy competition. Group students are given constant feedback on how their work measures up to their peers. Group piano lessons provide students with an array of valuable incentives to learn and develop. (Fisher)

What Group Piano Isn’t

It isn’t a room full of keyboards with headphones
Think of band and orchestra classes in public schools. Are they all using headphones? No. They’re playing out loud together; and they’re learning.

Strapping on headphones completely takes away the benefits of group piano and turns it into six mini-private lessons.

Students aren’t listening to each other which means they aren’t learning from each other.

Students aren’t gaining a strong sense of rhythm as they play in ensemble. There is no interaction between learners because you’ve taken away the social element. That means no sense of community. No friendship-making.

It isn’t just for playing games
The trending 20/20/20 lessons are a great way to fit 3 students in your studio within one hour, but the only time students are learning together is during game time. While it’s certainly more fun playing a game as a group, it isn’t group music-making.

Music Making for Life

Most music teachers believe that everyone is capable of making music and that the benefits of music making can be for life.

While group teaching is one of the best ways to get more students in your door and for increasing your profits, we must not lose sight of what type of students we’re developing.

We ultimately want our students playing music well beyond their childhood, into their adult and senior years. A positive, social music-making experience can do just that!

-Marie

I got to see Marie in her home town of Las Vegas in March

I got to see Marie in her home town of Las Vegas in March


What are your thoughts on teaching piano in groups? Do you have questions for Marie? Leave them below!

Good news: Marie is working hard on a group instruction resource you will not want to miss. Stay tuned. In the mean time, if you are celebrating the Fourth of July with a piano event, you might want Andrea’s latest patriotic graphic for your marketing materials.

-Leila

patriotic-piano-01

About author View all posts Author website

Leila Viss

Creative Pianist, Piano Teacher, Organist, Blogger and Author of The iPad Piano Studio

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I recently transformed my studio of 25 years from all private to group. Yes, I have the keyboards with the headphones. I have 4 in a class. They combine the best of group lessons (ensemble playing, group activity, etc) with the best of private lessons (moving at your own pace and playing music that appeals to the individual, etc. ) WITH the added benefit of having the time to TEACH children how to practice. My students and parents overall have loved the change. They enjoy their friends in the class. They are excited about their progress and are motivated. There is not as much struggle to practice at home, and in all my 25 years of teaching, this year, my students made the most progress overall than ANY other year, hands down. There are soooo many ways to deliver quality piano lessons. I think we have all come a long way from the piano lessons we grew up with! 🙂

    • What an inspiration you are, Maria. Congratulations on moving to a new format. More teachers need to hear positive experiences like yours so that they too, jump on the group lesson bandwagon. I’m looking forward to doing more group within my own studio. Your comment here would make a great testimonial. May I use it?

      • Thank you! Absolutely you can use the testimonial! Thank you for all of your insights and information you share with all of us! I remember feeling isolated in the beginning of my career…..the internet has opened so many possibilities to collaborate!

  • Nice to see your approach is working so well for your students, Maria! How exciting for you to be able to directly see and measure their progress this year compared to other years. Congrats to you and your students 🙂