I am all-in on groups. I only teach groups, and my groups serve a very specific type of piano student: one that thrives in peer engagement, that learns best through creative means, and one who engages in music-making for the joy it can bring.
And you know what? I think 2021 is going to be a great year for groups. We are all going to be craving social interaction, taking new opportunities, finding joy in our pursuits, and needing a cost-effective and accessible solution!
However, weekly groups, and no private instruction at all, isn't the only way you can bring groups into your studio. Once you have become convinced that groups, in some format, will benefit your students so hugely, there are a variety of ways that you can deliver them.
These might occur once per semester, or twice a year, and have a very particular focus or theme. You might want to take a particular learning point and deliver it to multi-level groups, adapting the depth of task, and understanding expected for each learner. Perhaps you could run some performance masterclasses, or take a musical genre to have some cross-curricular learning opportunities (history, geography, and art can all be covered off when learning about some genres!).
These occasional groups are a great way to grow your studio community and for your students to get to know one another. Even if you need to carry out these groups online for now, your students will benefit from the interaction, and from the different approach to teaching and learning that the groups will inevitably take.
Once per month, or even per week, group classes, in addition to private classes, are a big commitment for both students, and their parents, for sure, but are arguably give students all the benefits of both settings! Plus it doesn't have to be that every week contains both. You could be flexible in your approach, for example the groups can replace the private lessons once per month, or you could even alternate from week to week. This would clearly take some logistical planning, but is a way that you could use both settings.
What can you do in these group sessions? Well that kind of depends on what you do in your individual lessons. A good example of one way, is the use of both in the Suzuki method. Because all students are learning the same pieces, it is relatively straightforward for Suzuki teachers to group their students by book, and then the group lessons can be about consolidating and sharing all the learning points that take place in the book. I have witnessed this working, and it is extremely powerful when it comes to peer motivation and achieving some wonderful teaching and learning opportunities.
If your students' individual learning is a little more mixed, you could have your group lessons be the creative and musicianship outlet. Like with occasional groups, you could plan themed sessions with particular learning foci, relating to various skills (such as composing or improvising), or theory concepts (key signatures or primary chords for example), or even having a focus on scales or matters of technique.
Again, like with all groups, you would need to find ways to make sure that each learner is accessing the lesson at their own level. Dorla Aparicio has a great example of how to play scales with multi-level groups which basically requires that beginners play a 5-finger scale, all the way up to your most advanced playing two or three octaves. The point being, if they all play different note lengths, they can all play simultaneously (for access to this scales resource, visit Dorla's website here: missdorla.com).
You could have lots of wonderful aural work going on in your groups, with students working together to help each other develop listening, transposing, dictation etc.
So. many. opportunities!
It is true that the notion of holiday camps are much more established in some parts of the world than in others, but these are a great way to dip your (and your families') toes into the group water. Plus they keep up activity in your studio in the months where perhaps it is difficult to maintain weekly lessons (hello Summer holiday!).
Camps are very often themed and involve, not just piano and music learning, but a wide range of activities around the theme.
These can be structured in a way that suits your families best: all day for a few days (childcare help!), or just mornings for a whole week, for example. There are so many different formats. You could even invite new students to a camp as an introduction to your studio and lessons, with the view that they would then begin their individual lessons with you the following semester/term.
As I opened with here, I only teach group classes. And in fact, in the UK, there aren't many like me that do, if any. Even other teachers who use the KeyNotes program, would teach early stages students in group classes, and then once they get to a certain level of skill (and they show commitment to practice), they can then move to private lessons. This is kind of what I had intended to do initially, but actually, my advanced groups show no sign of wanting to move to one-to-one lessons, so we keep going in groups!
How would you feel about groups only? Or at least, of early stages learners in groups only? There often needs to be a mindset shift in both teachers and parents when it comes to groups only, particularly in parts of the world where groups are still very novel (like in the UK where I am from!). But, as long as: you have a group-appropriate curriculum (please don't try to use a method book designed for individual learners in your groups, it doesn't allow for the opportunities and benefits that groups can offer); you are considering the needs of individuals within your groups, by differentiating your approach where needed; you understand that all learning styles should be addressed; and you have a clear and consistent structure for your groups, your beginners and early stages will absolutely thrive in groups just as much, if not more than, they would in individual lessons.
Teaching groups only takes a lot of work and commitment and is certainly not a earn-more-money-quickly pursuit! You have to believe in it, for it to work!
I always like to return to the fact that children aren't expected to learn on their own in any other area of education. But that is not my only reason for teaching groups. Groups are inclusive, fun, nurture characteristics of learning, and make absolute sense.
If you would like some more support with getting started with groups, you can join our free Facebook group, or visit the group concepts page, linked to the right of this post.
Will you be offering groups in any format, in 2021?
The subject of this blog post has been inspired by a section called "Categories of Group-Piano Lessons" in Susan Pike's wonderful book: Dynamic Group Piano Teaching.