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Seven Reasons to Start Holding Group Lessons in your Studio

This past year I started holding group lessons once a semester for all my students. Though I have always known the advantages of scheduling studio wide group lessons, I wasn’t sure how my students would respond.

In the past whenever I thought about group class I remembered being a young piano student. For me group classes were boring and were always scheduled on a weekend which I didn’t like much. I had a wonderful loving teacher who tried to plan great group classes but for some reason they didn’t click with me. We didn’t play very many games, instead it was mostly a performance class and back when I was 6 and 7 I found this boring. I have no doubt that the group classes were beneficial for me, but I didn’t find them fun and exciting.

But last summer a colleague convinced me to try hosting a few group classes. She told me all her students loved group class and they were not boring classes at all!  After asking her tons of questions on how she structured her group classes I decided to give it a try. And after hosting two weeks of group lessons this past school year (one last fall and one this spring), I have found that students do love coming to group class you just have to plan the right kinds of activities. In fact, when I recently reminded one of my students that group class was the following week she responded by announcing “I love group lessons, they are so much fun!”

I highly encourage every teacher to consider the benefits of occasional group lessons in their studio. Over the month of April and May I will be discussing the essential steps of hosting successful and exciting group lessons.

If you are wondering what is so wonderful about group lessons and if you should really give them a try, here are five benefits of including group lessons in one’s studio and why you should mix things up a bit.

Seven compelling reasons to include group class in you piano studio.

Builds Camaraderie

Providing group lessons allows students to meet others around their age and ability level who are also learning piano. Learning an instrument can be challenging. Music is an additional language children must learn to read and learning the technique required for playing an instrument takes hard work and persistence for even the most talented students. Meeting others around one’s age can encourage and inspire students to persevere. Group lessons provide a great way for students to meet others in the studio and get to know each other in a fun learning environment. This also keeps recitals fun because you’re just performing for a group of friends!

Prepares Students for Playing in Public

At group lessons in my studio each student plays a song they are currently working on, oftentimes what they plan to play for the recital. This mini performance opportunity for one’s peers provides an opportunity for students to sort out the initial ‘bugs’ in their piano piece such as checking memory and phrasing. Playing in a small group class also allows new students and those hesitant to play in a recital, a way to experience some of what recitals are like while building confidence.

Helps Teach Students to Listen to their Playing and Others Objectively.

As students become more advanced, part of group class not only involves playing for each other but also giving each other encouragement and constructive feedback. After each student has played I ask them to share one thing they liked about their performance and one thing they would like to improve. Each student then shares one thing they liked about each other student’s performance and a kind suggestion or encouragement.

Gives You the Opportunity to Provide an Intensive Theory Session

Group lessons are all about having fun in a group learning environment. For group class I like to pick a theme such as rhythm or sight reading and structure the majority of the classes’ games around this skill. The possibilities for this are endless. I have reviewed scales, note identification, chords, time signatures, complex rhythms, and even composition. By having an intensive one hour session focused on a specific skill or two I find students learn and solidify information better and faster.

It’s Just Way More Fun Learning in Groups than alone!

Piano can be a solitary instrument to learn at times and it is important for students to have a social aspect to learning an instrument. Students who are able to socialize while learning are more likely to maintain interest in piano for a longer period of time and it is far more motivating to learn if you have a friend learning alongside you!

Mixes the Regular Schedule Up a Bit

After spring break, do you find teaching gets just a little too predictable? There are no exciting holidays or events around the corner. In the fall, there is the excitement of Halloween and right on its heels follows Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Valentines. Once spring rolls around things can start to become a little too predictable. But by scheduling a group class in the spring it helps change things up. In fact, you may find your students enjoy the change so much they talk about group class for months afterwards, mine do!

Encourages Students to Participate in a Summer Camp.

If you are planning to offer any summer camps in your studio, group class can expose students and parents to how fun and beneficial it can be to learn musical skills in a group environment. In my studio, students who have not participated in a camp before often sign up for camp simply because they enjoyed participating in group class.

Five Things Every Piano Teacher Needs When Working With Preschoolers

I hope you all are having a wonderful start to the New Year. After a refreshing Christmas break, January was full of adding new students to my teaching schedule and keeping up with existing students. I have been so busy starting new piano students and finishing up the new practice incentive for my students that blogging took a back seat for a while. But now I am back, and I have some great new games and products coming this year to give you the resources you need to make this year a fun and exciting for your students!

Last fall I wrote a post on the 5 things I like to always have handy when teaching elementary age students. Though I use some of the same resources in working with preschool students, there are many other resources I like to have on hand with younger students that I do not use with older students as much.

If you are just starting to teach preschool students or are looking for some new fun activities for your preschool students, here are a few ideas to get you started. If you don’t yet teach preschool students I highly recommend considering working with this younger group. They can be so much fun!

What every piano teacher needs when working with preschool students.

Buckets and Beanbags: One of the most inexpensive resources I purchased last year was a set of buckets and beanbags. I have found an infinite number of uses for the buckets and beanbags but one of my student’s favorites is when we play the listening toss game. On each bucket I place a picture of what they are listening for in the music I play such as happy and sad (Major/Minor), Slow and Fast, Legato and Staccato, or Piano and Forte. Whatever my students hear, they then put a bean bag in the correct bucket. Though this is such a simple game, my students love to toss the bean bags in the correct bucket and they are learning basic music analysis skills all students need.

High and Low Picture Cards: At every preschool students first lesson (and subsequent lessons), I introduce the concept of high and low sounds with my set of high and low picture cards. My set of high and low card are pictures of objects high in the sky or low down on the ground. I have had students pick a card from my hand and play either high or low notes on the piano and I have hidden the cards around the room and had them find and come play notes that are high and low on the piano. Additionally I have taped the high and low cards on the buckets mentioned above and played a high and low listening game. These are just a few of the games that can be played with a set of high and low cards.

Dessert Rhythms: One of the most popular resources in my studio is dessert rhythms. Students love saying the names of their favorite foods while learning about rhythm. With dessert rhythms, I can now successfully teach young students to correctly clap sixteenth notes and other complex rhythms with success. Want to know more about the very popular dessert rhythms resource? Check on this post here and this here.

Staff board: I find I use my staff board just as frequently with preschool students as with elementary students. My preschool students first learn about high and low, going up and down, and same versus different on the staff. After students have what I refer to as general staff awareness skills I begin to introduce the names of the lines and space.

Vinyl Keyboard: My vinyl keyboard is second in popularity with my students to dessert rhythms. Not only can students move around on the keyboard when learning to differentiate high and low sounds, but I also find my vinyl keyboard to be a valuable resource in teaching students about the names of the keys on the piano. With just a simple set of music alphabet cards, I can ask students to put them in the correct order on the vinyl keyboard. After my students have put the cards in the correct order, students love when I ask them to close their eyes while I mix-up the cards. When students open their eyes, I then ask them to find what is wrong and if they can fix it. In fact, any game that asks preschool students to close their eyes is sure to be popular!

Teaching Complex Rhythm to Preschoolers: Preschool Camp Part 3

In part one and two of the preschool summer camp posts, I focused how I introduced the staff and middle C to preschool students. Now I would like to explore the rhythms games we played to reinforce the complex rhythms I find it important to have preschool students learn.

For preschoolers to understand challenging rhythms these rhythms need to be associated with something all student’s can connect with. Wondering what all student’s can connect with that helps rhythm? Stay tuned for next week’s post with a resource all kids absolutely love!  

Once children have been introduced to complicated rhythm they need to practice this skill many times. Because rhythm is such as important skill in learning piano, I spent part of each day at the camp working on rhythm with fun games. 

Planning a Preschool Camp Part 3. Three fun games to teach advanced rhythm to preschool students.

 

Below are three games for working with students on learning complex rhythms.

 Little Lost Duck Rhythms:

I purchased small rubber ducks from the party store and with a permanent marker I drew a rhythm on the bottom. I asked the students to close their eyes while I hid all the ducks around the room. I then told the students that the ducks were lost and needed help getting back to the pond (a plastic bucket). To return the ducks to the pond students need to find each duck and clap the rhythm on the bottom. The students thought this was so much fun and loved the little ducks so much they kept asking to take one home!

Clap and Listen:

On colorful card stock I drew different rhythmic combinations such as sixteenth notes, two sixteenth notes and an eight note, and other challenging rhythms. (Curious how I teach preschooler’s challenging rhythms? then you will want to check out next week’s post with a super cool resource.) I then clapped each of the rhythms showing students what each card sounded like. After demonstrating each card to the students I again clapped one of the cards and asked them to figure out which card I had clapped and run to stand by the corresponding card.

Though this was such a simple game, it was a great game for students to move around and get their wiggles out while also learning to listen and identify rhythm.

Drums and Cards:

One of the crafts we made at the camp was drums for use in our class. I made these drums out of empty oat meal containers and allowed the students to spend a few minutes decorating their drums. After students were finished with their drums, we returned to the floor and practiced beating rhythms. I had students copy the rhythms I beat on my drum and use preschool rhythm cards to create and beat their own rhythms. Curious about preschool rhythm cards and how to add a ton of fun to any rhythmic practice? Then check back next week!  

 

Helping Students Become Good Sight-Readers: Part 2

Helping student’s become good sight-readers part two: working with the tech savy and auditory learners.

Do you have those students who memorize their pieces in one week and have an incredible “ear” for picking out tunes they hear? Often these students play beautifully, sometimes they even seem to progress faster than other students their age. A casual passerby might think that this is a model student or that the student must be so talented everything comes easily to them. In many ways, this student is easy to teach, that is until sight reading is introduced. As soon as you give this student something to sight-read the circumstances dramatically change. Perhaps this student’s reading skills are passable enough to read new music given them as a learning piece to be worked on for a few weeks, but as soon as this student is given something to sight-read they balk and at very best only haltingly play through the song. So what is a teacher to do with a student who is bored by sight-reading books and drags their feet at any mention of sight-reading.

Sight reading part 2

This past year I started using an ipad in lessons. Originally I had the ipad for personal use but after hearing everyone rave about how much their students loved the ipad I decided to give it a try in lessons. The results? My students absolutely love it! Though quality instruction and feed back can never adequately be replaced by technology; technology can be utilized to a teacher’s advantage. Though there are not apps for every skill a students must learn at the piano, a few high quality apps are worthwhile. Some of my favorite apps to use are sight-reading directed. I seem to always have a small number of students who are auditory learners and either find sight-reading a challenge, or are completely uninterested, and avoid these types of assignments at all cost. The ipad will not work miracles but with the added technology feature these students are much more willing to sight-read their music. Students love the feedback from the ipad.

One of the apps my auditory student’s love most is pianomania. Because students play to a background track auditory students are receiving the auditory stimulation that often times make music so appealing to these kids. But the part they are playing is not predictable enough for them to simply learn by ear. There is music to appeal to all kinds of preferences pop, classical, folk song tunes, and much more.

Another app my students enjoy and often purchase for home use is my note games. It often moves at a slower pace and is affordable for students to use at home.

There are several other apps for sight-reading, and many for rhythm, theory and much more but these are the ones I use most often. If you have an ipad or other tablet I would love to hear what your favorite apps are in the comments below.

 

Helping Students Become good Sight-Readers: Part One

Most teachers have students who struggle with sight-reading. Sometimes these are transfer students who have developed crutches that eventually limit them in their progress. Or perhaps these students are ones who just don’t seem to “get it” quite as fast as other students. Perhaps some of these students have a learning disability and simply need concepts explained in a different format.  But often times these students excel in some area of lessons but for some unexplained reason struggle with sight reading. There are a myriad of reasons why these students struggle and drag their feet at any mention of sight-reading, but over the next several weeks I will be exploring several ideas teachers can use to strengthen students sight-reading skills and even bring fun to sight-reading.

Sight reading part 1

There are many methods to teaching students note names. Some of the most popular methods include mnemonics such as FACE or Good Birds Don’t Fly Away, guide notes, intervallic reading, and drilling flash cards. Though each method has its staunch supporters, the most important skill of note reading and building good sight-readers has another component that cannot be forgotten. Student’s must be able to play the specific note on the piano. Knowing a note is a C is valuable but I have often seen transfer students try to guess which C it is on the piano, or maybe students find the right one but then they look at me with an inquisitive glance full of uncertainty.

I am sure that all teachers want their students to know how to not only read music but also do so with confidence.  Therefore it is imperative that students not only name the notes on the staff but also know where that specific G is on the piano. This need not be a boring task but can be fun.

Here are five short game ideas you can use to increase your students sight reading skills:

  1. Help students understand and then memorize where all the C’s are on the staff and piano. Student’s should then be asking themselves what C (or 8va) the note is closes to and then find it on the piano.
  2. Hide flash cards around the room and as they find the correct one have them play it on the piano.
  3. Switch Rolls. You become the student. As you play a set of flash card see if the student can catch any of your mistakes. This is as easy game to keep score with; if you get it right you get a point but if you get it wrong and the student catches you and correctly plays the note they get a point.
  4. Get out a white board take turns drawing notes and playing the corresponding one on the piano.
  5. Get a large floor staff and stack of alphabet cards. As the student draws a card the then place a “note” on the correct line or space. (I made notes out of black felt and drew a floor staff out of foam core board from the craft store. This works great for me because it is not too large for my small space and is durable. There are endless ideas for creating a floor staff. If you don’t have a floor staff yet, you should get one soon; the options for use are endless and they are a valuable tool for kinesthetic learners.

 

Stay tuned for part two, about helping Auditory learners with sight-reading.