Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Group Lessons

By Robin Steinweg

Singing group of girls   When that waiting list grows out of proportion, how do you multiply your time? With group lessons!

Part I: Vocal Group Lessons

To multiply my time this summer, I’m conducting two 8-week group classes. I’ll write about the other (a group guitar class) next month.

Normally I’d advertise. But due to circumstances, I emailed  my present students and posted a note on facebook. Word-of-mouth proved sufficient, and I have enough students for a pleasant group.

A great thing about group lessons is that I can charge a lower tuition fee per student, but still earn a good deal more money per hour. Also, my time of preparation is once for all the students in the class. This tends to create more of a buzz about my studio, too.

Here’s how I’ve gone about it—you may have wonderful ideas of your own—please share them in the comments below!

*This group is for 8-12-year-old girls. Classes are 45 minutes long. If they are successful, I will try to offer a follow-up 6-8 weeks this fall.

*To help them get to know each other, I had them share birthdates, family, nicknames, pets, hobbies, musical experiences—they had fun with it. I wrote a curriculum with lots of flexibility in it until I could get to know their strengths/areas of growth.

*I found and created warm-ups. Physical movement (asked them to reach up as if for something on a high shelf that they want badly (a sugar glider, an American doll…), easy descending patterns, pulses, vowel formation, diction, ear training… done with as much humor as I can. Tongue twisters come in handy. Whining like a puppy and meowing like a cat on different pitches turned out to be surprisingly effective warm-ups!

Girls sing 3 parts

*Familiar songs in appropriate keys followed. I played just the melody and listened for who can match pitches and how much confidence they might have, and I began to get clues as to their vocal ranges. From this I can plan the rest of the group lessons.

*Rounds—I had nearly forgotten the benefits of learning to sing rounds! For beginning singers, not an easy feat. Some benefits: Social—you know how kids often walk together or sit together, but are in their own worlds with their phones, texting or playing games? Rounds are a bit like that. The kids are standing in close proximity, but each concentrating on their own thing—separately but together! If you have enough students, they can divide into groups or even just two on a part. Singing rounds requires much concentration, and tuning out the other parts while focusing on their own. Ear training—singing a melody and singing harmony.

Maria von Trapp (Sound of Music—the real woman, not Julie Andrews) said that singing rounds teaches you “to mind your own business.”

Surplus benefit: since rounds are based on mathematical relationships, students are learning math concepts while singing.

You can find some CDs of rounds here: http://fun-books.com/books/lester_family_music.htm

Here’s another source for rounds: http://roundz.tripod.com/

I’ve been using The Round Book: Rounds Kids Love to Sing, by Margaret Read MacDonald and Winifred Jaeger (80 songs).

Round Book the

*In addition to rounds, I included a couple of very funny (and obscure) songs to keep them laughing. And I remind them that laughing is great for feeling where the support happens. Talk about pulses!

*Real energy occurred when I asked the girls which musicals they would love to sing something from. As each girl mentioned a musical, the others exclaimed how they love that one too. Contagious. I promised them at least one piece they all love. They can hardly wait for the next group lesson. Win!

Even though the group represents abilities from not being able to match pitches to start with, all the way to one girl who does so unconsciously and has sung in public for years, they are working together, being challenged to progress, learning note-reading, intervals, solfege, blending, listening, focusing, and cooperating. In just a few weeks their improvement has impressed me.

This is the first time I’ve taught more than one vocal student at once. I’m liking the way I can multiply my time with group lessons!

singing children

I’ll share about the mixed-gender-mixed-age group guitar class on July 27th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Robin Steinweg has found music to be like the creamy filling of a sandwich cookie--sweet in the middle--especially making music with family.
A great joy is seeing her students excited to make music for themselves. From her studio in Sauk-Prairie, Wisconsin, she teaches ages 4-84 piano, guitar, voice, woodwinds, ukulele and recorder.
Musically, she composes, arranges, performs, directs, consults... [Read more]

14 Comments

  1. Kerri Green

    Robin, what a fun class! I can think of so many girls who would love to have an experience like this (one lives in my house!). Thanks for sharing.

  2. Robin Steinweg

    Kerri, It IS fun! And there is so much potential for vocal growth in a non-threatening atmosphere, I could imagine a group like this continuing through the school year. Thanks for reading!

  3. Sandy

    Great post, Robin. I bet these girls BEG you to continue their group class. I know I would!!

  4. Robin Steinweg

    Thank you, Sandy, so nice of you to say! I hope we can continue. 🙂

  5. Melanie Adams

    This sounds like you run a very fu group class. My question is, do you work on technical concepts (breathing, breath control, vowel formation, supporting, etc) and if so, how do you deal with different levels of technical ability? Or if some people catch on to technical concepts much faster than others, how do you proceed? I am very technically-minded in my vocal studio, and these questions are a big part of why I don’t teach group lessons.

  6. Robin Steinweg

    Hi Melanie, Thanks for reading! You wondered:
    “…do you work on technical concepts (breathing, breath control, vowel formation, supporting, etc) and if so, how do you deal with different levels of technical ability?” Yes, we start with breathing at each class, and in 45 minutes we spend about 15-20 on exercises/vocalises designed to address all those things. The girls are in elementary school, though one has sung a lot more. We work on matching pitches, which I wouldn’t do if they were all good at it. But it doesn’t hurt the more experienced one to do it, and it’s good for her to hold her pitch while someone next to her is all over the shop. 🙂 I’ve found that everything we do is good for all of them. The newbies may not understand as much, but that would be the case regardless. My experienced girl reinforces the others, and we can sing rounds because she’s able to “lead” one group while I lead the other (I often play the melody with her while I sing the other part).
    “Or if some people catch on to technical concepts much faster than others, how do you proceed?” They are singing the same songs–but at their own levels, and it happens naturally. What I email each one to focus on during the week will be different from the others. So for “Castle On a Cloud” I’ll tell M. to work on expression and managing her breath, while I tell A. to listen very carefully to her starting pitch, and try to get her voice to match. I tell S to warm up by bringing her upper register (head voice) down, and blending it with her chest register (she understands that she has a big break in her voice, so she’s “getting” it)–and to keep that tone consistent throughout the song. They are all improving at their own levels! I’m so excited to see it working. And they hear improvements in one another, and compliment one another.
    I may not have one-on-one time, but like a choir, they are each growing vocally, and hearing the wonder of three individual voices blending into a whole new entity when they sing together. They leave the house singing. Love it!

  7. Melanie Adams

    Thanks so much Robin: there are some great ideas and suggestions here! 🙂

  8. Robin Steinweg

    I’m glad you asked, Melanie, because you’ve probably encouraged other teachers. Thanks!

  9. Lori Lipsky

    Terrific idea, Robin, and it sounds like it’s going wonderfully. You’re so creative. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Robin Steinweg

    Lori, thank you for reading! You are ever an encouragement and a creative teacher, as well. 🙂

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