Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

Want to multiply your time and your earnings? If so, you might enjoy teaching a group of several students—or a crowd of them—all at once. Instead of teaching one student at a time for eight hours a day, you could teach those eight students for one hour!

This article is part of a series for new teachers. Or for seasoned ones.

In addition to monetary benefits, group classes are a wonderful way to turn an otherwise solitary pastime into a team effort. If you’ve ever felt competition from activities such as dance, soccer or hockey, you realize the draw of groups. So let’s look into it further!

Details to consider

Ages

  • What age range will I teach?
  • Will I include children with adults, or keep specific ages grouped together?
  • How many am I willing or able to teach at one time?
  • If students are elementary age, can I handle the wiggles of a group of them? Real Simple offers eleven tips from teachers for managing groups of children, some of which can be adapted to a group guitar setting.
  • If students are teen-aged, will they feel more inhibited in a group?
    • I have found that a mix of ages is desirable—the students help one another, they don’t have as many age-related hang-ups, and appear to relax and have more fun.
    • I love to have adults in the group—especially seniors. It’s a fun dynamic!
    • It seems like most activities are geared for people of roughly the same age. It’s especially noteworthy that group lessons can bring the generations together.

Where to teach

  • How much space do I have?
  • Will I rent a room? How much will it cost? Is it comfortable? Furthermore, is it air-conditioned, ventilated or heated? Also sound-proofed enough? Is there convenient parking? And is there a waiting space for parents or drivers?
  • Can I do this at home? If I do, will it disrupt my family? Or my neighbors?
  • Do I need to be concerned about insurance? Here are one teacher’s thoughts.

Group dynamics

  • How much individual attention can I give in a group setting?
  • If potential and natural abilities vary widely, how can I keep faster-advancing players challenged while not discouraging struggling ones? (Join me next month for ideas on both of these.)

Materials

  • What materials accommodate a group?
    • Because it’s difficult for me to find a one-size-fits-all curriculum, I create my own courses. I give students binders and hand out each week’s lesson sheets, 3-hole punched. I include a variety of information, chords, rhythm, and a touch of note reading. Every week there will be new songs on which to practice chords and strums. To make it attractive, I use public-domain clip art and my own graphics so I don’t run into copyright issues.
    • I send each student mp3s of the songs so they can listen and learn them if they don’t already know them. These are good practice tools, too.
    • No matter the time of year, I like to teach them at least one Christmas song. Some have just three or four chords, and what a boost for a student to be able to pull off a beautiful piece come December!

How long and what to charge

  • How long will each class last?
    • I have found that 45-50 minutes is about right. It allows for questions after class, and for one group to leave while the next arrives. Tender fingertips don’t last much longer anyway, at first!
    • I’ve tried thirty minutes. We barely get tuned and play last week’s lesson. Not enough time.
  • Will this be a semester class, or a certain number of weeks?
    • I have tried four, eight and ten-week sessions as well as semesters. Four seems pointless. Even at eight weeks many youngsters are just getting their fingers toughened up enough to enjoy it, and switch chords quickly enough to keep the rhythm going. But ten weeks or a full semester proves successful.
  • What will I charge per student?
    • Since it’s not one-on-one, I don’t charge as much as for private. However, groups take a great deal of planning and energy. Don’t under-charge!
    • Charging too little may encourage less serious students.
    • Find out what other groups charge. Like dance or martial arts.

Policy making

  • What policies will I create?
    • First of all, will I offer makeups?
    • What will I do if the weather is bad and class can’t be held? And what if I must cancel for some reason?
    • Will I teach more than one group class per week and invite students to attend any or all of them? And will that be in lieu of makeups?
    • How will I handle purchase of materials or students needing new strings?
    • Will I allow electric guitars in class, or just acoustic?
      • I only allow acoustics. Dealing with amps or with volume is a headache I can do without in a group setting.
    • Will students be required to pay in advance?
      • In my studio, yes. I hate chasing payments. Also, I don’t want to spend precious class time dealing with money. So they pay the full amount ahead of time.
    • How much time will I expect students to practice?

Questionable lyrics

  • Finally, what if students request songs with inappropriate lyrics?
    • This is a big deal to me. I’m very concerned about the words my students see or sing. Yes, I know they probably hear a lot worse on the radio or in the halls at school. But that does not mean it’s acceptable! In addition to specific words, age-appropriate subjects are important to me, too.
    • Because of my convictions about lyrics, I either use white-out, swap in acceptable words, or say “Sorry, I don’t teach that one. Let’s find another you like.” After all, both my reputation and my conscience are involved.

In next month’s post, I’ll share about the lessons themselves. Planning for how to make the group work. And equally important, what information to cover. Ideas that have worked for me. Join me then!

A group of enthused musicians creates buzz for your studio. Are you ready to give it a try?

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Dear MTH blog readers,

I hope you are all having a fantastic holiday!

I realize it has been a while since I last posted. My 2-year-old daughter certainly keeps me very busy. She is very active, and enjoys exploring everything around her, including sitting at the piano and just having fun with the instrument. You can see her “progress” by visiting her Facebook page JingJingAria.

2017 has been an unforgettable year for me. I was actually pregnant again, but lost the baby at 6 months gestation. It was a very difficult time. I am sharing with you all here, because I know these things are rarely talked about, and there may be some of you out there that have experienced similar losses. It is easy to celebrate joy together, as I shared with you the birth of my first child. We all deal with grief differently, and for me, finally being able to talk about it brings a certain sense of peace.

Around the time I found out the baby had complications, I started teaching a new student who is blind and autistic. I will write more about him in a future post. He opened my eyes and heart. I had the option of terminating the pregnancy very early on, but teaching this new student was so inspiring that I knew as long as the baby had a heartbeat and even a 1% chance of making it, termination was not an option for me. In the end the baby did not make it, but I am grateful for the time I had with her and for all the lessons she taught me.

Every child that walks into my studio is a miracle. If they can learn to play the piano, that is a wonderful thing! What is our job as teachers? I still need to remind myself to be ever more patient, more encouraging, more inspiring, and more loving. It is difficult to do sometimes, when the student did not practice, when they have an upcoming exam and their piece is not memorized, when they do not remember how to do Secondary Dominants after you have explained it 100 times, and when you know they simply have not lived up to their potential. But in the end, what does it matter? The child is breathing. The child is happy. The child is going to have a meaningful life. What is our role? What will they remember from us 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now?

Of course our job is also to inspire excellence. To cultivate the idea that hard work will be rewarded. To challenge and help our students to accomplish new tasks. To help to raise good citizens that can discover and appreciate beauty. To teach the art of playing the piano or whatever is your chosen instrument. As 2017 draws to a close, I ask myself the question, if I have been the right balance of praise and criticism for each student.

Thank you for reading this post, and letting me share with you some of my thoughts and reflections. I hope you are enjoying your holiday break, and giving some time to yourself to do whatever it is you have been wanting to do but never had the time.

Happy New Year!

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Guitar methods are out there. But how can I tell whether they’ll fit my teaching style and my students’ needs? Will I end up reinventing the wheel anyway? What will work best for me and my students?

In the past couple of months I wrote about starting up a private music teaching studio. And I touched on the plethora of piano methods out there.

The guitar teaching method question is, to my mind, a tougher and more complex one.

Asking some questions might help zero in on who you are as a teacher of guitar students.

Questions to Ask 

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