I have recently made a discovery that has been so exciting and inspiring to me that I wanted to re-visit the blogosphere and write about it. I started KeyNotes in order to provide an accessible opportunity for a musical education for Primary-aged children, however the discovery I have made is that group piano lessons are hugely popular in the USA and are very much established. This led me to reading some articles on the matter and the realisation that what we are doing at KeyNotes is hugely important, indeed pioneering, and is providing opportunities for not just an accessible one, but an enhanced piano learning experience. Here is what I found out:
Group lessons are hugely motivating
Motivation arises as a natural consequence of peer interaction. They perform to their peers, hear the performances of fellow students, and provide support to each other. The group lesson provides a friendly-competitive atmosphere. Parents tell me that their children love practising what they have learnt in the lesson at home and do so of their own accord, which is clear evidence that they are motivated and inspired.
Group lessons offer regular performance opportunities
Some learning practices only offer performance opportunities in front of an examiner at infrequent intervals. Group lessons allow for performances every lesson, ensuring that students get used to performing and don’t develop anxiety around it. KeyNotes students perform at the end of every lesson and so also hear feedback and praise given to each student, which in turn provides a further learning opportunity.
Group lessons are more successful at teaching fundamental musicianship skills such as harmonisation, improvisation and composition
At the start of every lesson, we learn about a particular element, be it, for example, tempo or pitch, and we listen to a piece of music in order to consolidate knowledge about those elements, learning to apply that knowledge. Part of differentiation gives opportunities for those students that are ready, to harmonise the melody that they have learnt. Each book (unit of work) provides an opportunity for composing, in order to apply the learning that has taken place from that unit of work. This is all as opposed to solely rote-learning repertoire and therefore enables students to develop their musicianship skills and not just their piano playing skills.
Students develop as independent learners and acquire the ability to problem solve
By the nature of the group set-up, students will occasionally need to work through their difficulties and find solutions to any problems that they are encountering, without the immediate teacher input that is found in individual lessons. This is a skill that can be taken home into practice situations and indeed into other areas of learning. It is an area that I have found to be of extreme importance with the children I teach: I have some who will work hard until they have achieved the lesson’s performance goal, constantly practising and showing huge personal determination and motivation; and I have some who, as soon as I set the task, claim that they will fail and cannot complete the task, without first trying. This topic deserves its own blog and will likely be the topic of my next post. My hope is that those for whom independent learning and a growth mindset does not come naturally, will develop these skills through KeyNotes lessons. I have even decided to award one pupil per lesson with a growth mindset certificate, for the student who shows resilience and hard work to meet their own personal targets (whether it be using the correct fingering, hand posture, or just completing the piece of the week!).
Group lessons allow pupils to learn from their peers as well as from the teacher
There are many opportunities to learn from peers. Not only to learn musically but to learn about characteristics of learning! Constant feedback conversations enable extra points of learning. When students work in pairs at the keyboard there is a constant dialogue of peer teaching and learning, an area that is becoming evermore important in education pedagogy more generally.
Group piano lessons have been found to be taught as early as the early 1800s in Ireland and a quote taken from a document adopted at the conference of the International Society of Music Educators in 1982 shows that this is not a new concept:
“Group instrumental teaching can provide a musical environment where good learning may take place beyond what is usually possible in individual instruction; further, a group can provide a social environment in which a student is supported and motivated, even challenged by peers. A group can provide a wider range of experience – discussion, critical listening, the study of historical contexts, structural analysis and collective decision-making; further, a group can be a performing medium for each member in it.” (As quoted by Fisher 2010, page 8).
KeyNotes lessons are carefully planned, created and delivered by experienced and highly qualified practitioners and so can enable all of these benefits to flourish in the classroom.
I am proud that our KeyNotes lessons fosters this learning environment and that our students most definitely feel inspired, engaged and able to express themselves.
Below are the articles/books I read in order to compile this list of benefits:
Thoughts by some of America's leaders in group piano teaching:http://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195337044/appendices/pdf/Thoughts.pdf
Fisher, Christopher. (2010) Teaching Piano in Groups. New York: Oxford University Press
Kowalchyk, Gayle and Lancaster, E. L. Alfred's Basic Group Piano Course: Teacher's Handbook for Books 1 & 2. Alfred Music