Let’s be honest. “Synergize?” It’s kind of a made up, self-helpy kind of word. So why did Stephen Covey choose it when he created his penultimate habit? His explanation is that when we synergize, we combine the strengths of more than one individual to create an outcome bigger and better than would have been possible with any one person.
How does synergy apply to music teaching?
Many music-makers get the great gift of group interaction and the joy of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts on a consistent basis, whether through choirs, band, orchestra, or small ensembles, but learning in a private lesson basis (and the necessary hours of solitary practice that accompany these lessons) can often be a lonely proposition. How can we increase learning by combining efforts?
Many of us teach at least some group classes every year for our private students. I have loved to see the camaraderie and friendships that are formed at our (almost) monthly group classes. Over years, students are motivated by each other’s successes, learn to listen with more detail by giving feedback to their peers, and let’s be honest, it’s much more time effective to work on rhythmic dictation or history lessons with more than one student at a time.
Group lessons are another way to encourage music making with a group dynamic. This year, I have included weekly group lessons in my teaching load for two different piano groups: a beginner and a late beginner group. I’ve been thoroughly entertained by the group dynamic of my forty-five minute beginner group: two seven-year-olds who are spunky, funny, and competitive. They are concerned with progress and determined to stay on target with the other. It took only one week of not passing off the same songs as the other student for each to be prepared week after week. What a joy to watch them fight over who gets to play the rhythm on the rhythm sticks while the other plays a piece or decide together on the funniest place to put a sticker on a completed piece. For these two (who might not have focused as well in a private lesson situation), a group lesson has been the perfect introduction to music making.
Music Making with Others
Group performing is such a major part of music making. There are so many options for working together with others: Create duet and ensemble groups within your own studio. Encourage your students to join performing groups. Pianists can accompany choirs or join a jazz band, but they can also learn a second instrument very successfully. I was a percussionist throughout high school and college which reinforced my rhythm skills and helped me hone my ensemble playing, and it was just plain fun to play timpani, xylophone, and even steel drum with so many other musicians. As a pianist accustomed to hours alone at a piano, I found the daily joint effort to create beautiful music together exhilarating. And the social aspect is wonderful…I even married one of the musicians I met through ensemble playing in college.
Pianists often have most of their group music making experiences as accompanists. Accompanying improves sight-reading and ensemble skills, allows students to make music with others, and some talented high-school students can even make a little extra money accompanying other musicians for festivals.
Summer is a great time to add group experiences to our students’ study: Two of my friends (a violinist and a pianist) combined their studios for a week-long chamber music camp. The pianists learned accompaniments to violin repertoire and my son, a cellist, joined a group with my violinist daughter to form a piano trio. After not-too-intense study for the week (one to two hours a day for the pianists, less often for the string players), they joined for a recital on Friday to perform the fruits of their labors. It was a fun, happy, and enriching experience. I know other teachers have had accompanying camps for their piano students.
Music Making with Other Arts
I have attended concerts where music has been performed to accompany visual art on a screen, by dancers, and by the spoken word. Perhaps a student group could create a multimedia presentation for a special recital, or advanced students could be taught how to accompany ballet classes.
Music Making as Philanthropy
We can teach our students about the world around them and give them opportunities to reach out to others through many different opportunities. Benefit concerts are often popular ways to raise money for important causes.
A group in our area, The Mundi Project, has a multi-faceted approach to philanthropy through music. Students can participate in Play-a-thons to help raise money for scholarships and piano placements, perform for community events, and perform live or recorded for multimedia performances designed to open the world of music to school children throughout the Salt Lake area.
When we use synergy well, we increase the positive music making experiences of our students, helping them to find more reason to continue music study and to reap the joy of hard work. These kinds of joint efforts, while sometimes a lot of work to create, can pay off with dividends of motivated practicers and happy musicians.
Tell us: What kinds of synergy exist in your studio? What group music making efforts have paid off with the most dividends for your students?