When I first encountered the idea of Group Piano lessons, my first thoughts were “how could that possibly work? My private lessons are tailored for the individual student. How quickly they pick up concepts and master the physical skills required to play.
Researching how it can be done, and how it can be done well has been an eye opener.
Firstly – a questions to consider: what other activities do we start children off with private lessons?
- Dance classes? Nope.
- Martial arts? Nah.
- Soccer? Of course not.
Why do we think it’s necessary and better to learn an instrument in a one on one lesson? The word “private” itself has connotations of a premium service. Think “private dining room” or even “private yacht”.
But are private lessons actually the best way to learn? Let’s look at this another way:
What are the advantages of Group Lessons?
- Students inspire each other, and learn from each others questions
- Students experience ensemble playing (more on that below)
- Peer motivation helps learning
- Performing in class = enjoying performing from day 1
- Growth Mindset demonstrated
- Students thrive in a group setting
- It’s fun!
For some students, the teachers undivided attention for a full 30mins is too much, is draining, and makes them uncomfortable. Some students struggle to concentrate continuously for that amount of time, and actually need some “processing” time to digest what they’ve learnt. In a private lesson, there’s nowhere to hide. But in a group class, there’ll be times when the teacher is demonstrating or talking to the whole group, and individual students aren’t totally in the spotlight.
What makes Group Piano work well?
Like many things, Group Piano Lessons can be done well, or not so well. We use the KeyNotes which is built on a rock solid educational basis. Here are some of the features:
Every song has 3 or 4 challenges (difficulty levels) built into it. So someone doing their first ever lesson will have a simple version of the song they can play. Students who have been learning longer, and/or those who are developing skills faster, will have more challenging versions of the songs. This means:
- Everyone has something that’s a good fit for their skill level at that time.
- No one is bored, and
- No one feels they’re not keeping up.
Playing together as a group is great for a few reasons. One is the amazing feeling humans get from making music together, which goes back millennia.
Another is developing a great sense of time. Musicians use the term “time” to mean playing accurately to the basic pulse or beat of the music, without speeding up, slowing down or pausing.
Playing music in time
A classic scenario, played out in private piano lessons the world over, day after day is this:
A student plays their piece for the teacher, makes a small mistake, goes back, plays that section again (maybe a couple of times until they get it right) and then continues. This may happen several times as they play through the piece.
Or maybe they start off at a cracking pace, then pause to gather their thoughts going into a tricky phrase, and then pick up the tempo again.
The teacher might explain, in words, over and over again that playing this way in a band/orchestra/recording session/any other musical format with other players will cause chaos.
But it doesn’t become “real” until a student experiences it for themselves.
Which happens in a group class. From day 1.
This makes them better musicians.
What if a student only masters the most basic difficulty level of the songs, I hear you ask?
That’s where the Cyclical curriculum comes in. There are several themed workbooks at each level, which cover similar learning objectives, but with a new theme. Students can start at any time, and do as many books as they need to because really secure in the knowledge and skills as they need. Some might do a few workbooks, some might do more. No one gets bored, and no one feels left behind.