group classes

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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When a Group Class Goes Off Course

By Robin Setinweg

What do you do when a group class goes off course?

“It couldn’t. It wouldn’t!” you say. Well, after successful group classes for years, it happened. And it was probably all my fault.

What was I thinking? Spring weather had just begun. That makes squirrely kids. It was right before spring break. That makes kids mega-squirrely. I made it a pizza party. That brings in higher numbers. And—here’s the biggie—I did not recruit help. I didn’t make sure any older students were attending. So I had oodles of young ones, and no older ones with whom to pair them up. Yikes.

It started great. I had three pizzas cooked ahead. I cut them to give my young learners a visual of whole notes, half notes, quarters, and eighths. They had to ask for the number of eighths they wanted to eat, and tell me how many quarter notes they took, or dotted quarter, etc. (nobody got a whole note!). But then the fun started.

Without supervision.

I was kept busy putting pizzas in, taking them out, cutting them and pouring beverages. So the party became quite noisy and full of high spirits. They weren’t naughty or ill-behaved—these are good kids! Just over-the-top energy and behavior. Which meant it was nearly impossible to get them back.

I had learning games planned. I swapped one in to quiet them down. I played a CD, and they were to draw how it made them feel. I spent the next 10 minutes answering questions like, “Can I draw the London Bridge?” and comments like, “Did you know the London Bridge was moved to (some city here in the States) in (some year I missed)?”

When the quiet music time became noisy due to high spirits, and I astutely realized this was not accomplishing the quiet mood I’d thought it would, I moved on to another game.

I think, by the final game, some music facts sank in. I had four chairs set up, with students on them. Each was a quarter note. We counted them. Remove one or more, the counting stays the same, because after all, rests take as much space up as notes (the chair is still there, simply unoccupied). They needed to decide how to make a half note, whole note, dotted half. Only one student was tall enough to lie across all four chairs to make that whole note.

I know they had fun, and they got the point through some games. But I also know I was done-in. I should have had help. I hope to help you avoid “when a group class goes off course.”

Have you ever had a group go amiss? Can you laugh about it now? Comments welcome!

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As much as I love teaching private piano lessons (and I do!), there is nothing like the fun of a successful group class.

I hold seven or eight group classes a year for my private students. These group classes are generally held on weeks with only make-up lessons or on weeks (like Thanksgiving week) that I don’t teach any private lessons at all. I use group classes as performance classes, for theory and ear training review, for history and listening, and for improvising and composition ideas. Mostly, I hold them because students respond so well to the camaraderie of their groups. They learn that performances don’t have to be scary. They laugh and create and enjoy. (And they get treats. So that’s a bonus.)

I love reading descriptions of other teachers’ group classes to figure out what works well for them, so I thought I’d share what we did in our October late beginner group class. Most of these students are Level 1 or 2A in the Faber series or 2A in the Music Tree series.

(Note reading) We started with a pumpkin note name worksheet, courtesy of Susan Paradis. (I hope you all are familiar with her wonderful website. She has many wonderful teaching resources available for studio use.)

(Ear Training) After all the students had arrived and finished their worksheet, we worked on recognizing the sounds of different instruments. I played a YouTube performance of Hall of the Mountain King and had the students write down the instruments they recognized by sound. After they finished, I had them watch an excerpt to see if they recognized more instruments by sight. We also talked a little about the story of Peer Gynt and this piece in particular.

I then played a brief portion of a second version of Hall of the Mountain King. This one is a little less (ahem) traditional. They listened and tried to decide how they thought the instrumentation differed from the traditional orchestration and again, which instruments they heard. (My students always love something unexpected and non-traditional.)

( Theory) I then pulled the main theme out of Hall of the Mountain King and played the first two measures, introducing 8th notes to them by using the rhythm words “pumpkin” for two eighth notes and “ghost” for quarter notes. I wrote out pumpkins and ghosts to represent the melody, then drew eighths and quarters underneath the shapes. We clapped and counted with both rhythm words and traditional number counting.

I then had them make their own rhythm strips, creating two measures of 4/4 time by drawing the key signature, a bar line, and a double bar line, then filling in four shapes (pumpkins and ghosts) per measure to reinforce their understanding of key signatures. After drawing their shapes, they wrote out their eighths and quarters underneath. We then laid their rhythm strips on the floor and clapped and counted each one in order.

(Ear Training) I then had them stand in a line behind the rhythms. I clapped one strip and the student had to identify which strip I had clapped.

After drawing their rhythms, I had them do eighth note and quarter note rhythmic notation; first one measure, then two, using pumpkins and ghosts first, then switching to traditional notation. Even my students who often struggle with eighth note counting in their pieces were able to do this very successfully.

(Ear Training) Next we moved to major and minor identification by again using the main theme of Hall of the Mountain King. I played those first two measures in either their minor form or their major form. If the students heard major, they were to stand up, or sit down if I played the minor form. They were so successful that I moved to triads, first broken, then blocked.

(Performance) The students then chose numbers to decide in which order they would play. We reviewed how to approach the piano, how to prepare for the performance, how to end a performance, and how to bow. Two students performed their own compositions, two performed from memory, and one performed with music. Each student chose two things to comment about for each performance. I admit, this is my favorite part of group classes. They are all so excited to give positive feedback that their hands shoot in the air as soon as each performance is done. I love it.

(Improvising) One of my newer students walked into group class today asking when we would “play together.” Our “playing together” time is probably my second favorite part of group class. I like to end each group by having the students line up behind the keyboard to improvise. Today we improvised in the key of A minor (I had them stay in an A minor five finger pattern). The first student chooses fast or slow, loud or soft, and then we play (usually) 16 bars (but sometimes more if we’ve really hit a groove.) That student goes to the end of the line, and the next plays. Each student had two chances through the line, and a couple were begging for more. They’re learning to begin and end on tonic and to find patterns to repeat. I will admit, I am not a comfortable improviser. It has taken time to feel brave enough to incorporate this into all of our group classes, especially when (musical) parents are there, but my students adore it and it is a fun way to finish our time together.

(Treat!!!) After the improvising, we ate kettle corn and they all headed for home.

Planning for group classes takes a little time, but it’s time well spent. I love to see my students’ excitement for music grow month by month as they share these musical experiences with each other.

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