Shared Lessons

Group Obstacles

Beth S., Tennessee

Hi, all. I have been enjoying all the discussions going on lately.

I have some questions about groups. So far I have taught only privates (with the exception of a sibling pair). In the future, I would like to broaden my studio to group lessons as many of you do. Whenever I think of doing so, however, these obstacles come to mind, and I keep wondering how you are doing it successfully.

1. Absences – despite having to pay for missed lessons, this is a problem in my studio. I have several who miss frequently, sometimes as many as two times a month, and every week it seems I have at least one or two from my student body who doesn’t come for one reason or another. How could a group be successful with so many absences?

2. Different pace – in my mind, this is the biggest obstacle. I noticed this came up under a different subject heading when the conversation was going on about including material fees with the monthly fees. Despite similar age brackets, etc., I am always impressed by how students learn differently. While one student gets a thing quickly, another will develop some quirky rhythm or habit that just requires more help, sometimes extensive help. Also, I spend a great deal of time on compositions with my students and this requires a lot of personal attention.

3. Scheduling – I may have a few students who could be put together, but they would have completely different schedules and live on opposite sides of town. Additionally, when I have siblings in different groups, how could I expect a mom to come at two different times, when she’s doing good to get here once, and that not always regularly.

4. Different start dates – my studio has been built by individuals trickling in, not by groups of people wanting lessons.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer to get me over these hang-ups.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

Here are some thoughts on your specific concerns:

Basically, it boils down to putting the responsibility on their shoulders for being at lessons, or learning any missed material. In the Teacher Workshop Series, there is an audio recording called “Managing Practice Time” that is excellent. It also covers how to have students make up forgotten songs, or catch up on songs with a new group or if they’ve been on vacation. I have put the practice system that I learned about from this recording into use with all of my students. It is fantastic, and it works.

Also, I have all my groups exchange e-mail addresses and have told them that if they miss a lesson, they are responsible for getting the lesson notes from a classmate and covering the material to the extent they are able.

Students learning at different rates (Neil talks about that in different training materials)
Here are a few options, either alone or in some combination:

  1. Teach the quicker students arrangements as extra projects, or give them composition projects.
  2. Have the quicker students help you teach portions of the songs to the slower students once they know them – it’s a great tool-learning exercise for them. Neil talks about asking students to be “mentors” to other students to help them learn.
  3. Rearrange your groups if the pace is too different. I do this every so often, and it’s no big deal. You probably won’t be lucky enough to merge groups that are in the exact same place in the program, but it is not difficult to have one or more catch up. Again, that is discussed in the Managing Practice Time audio recording.

If you are spending a lot of individual time on composition, you would have to approach it differently in shared lessons, just out of necessity. The Simply Music approach, at least in the beginning, is mostly about encouraging them to explore, with guidance from you. They also glean a lot just from listening to other students’ ideas and hearing their compositions. It really doesn’t have to take up a lot of lesson time.

You don’t need to concern yourself with the convenience factor. You are offering the service; it’s up to your students to worry about making arrangements. I have parents with siblings in different groups on different days. It’s just the way it works. Most parents are accustomed to driving here, there, and everywhere for any number of activities. Your parent who has enough trouble getting siblings to you at the same time and are absent a lot, probably doesn’t have the time needed to commit to lessons in the first place, really.

Start dates
This is another area Neil discusses – if you plan to teach shared lessons, you have to plan on focusing a lot of marketing effort in a relatively short amount of time in order to generate a lot of inquiries close together. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend an outrageous amount of money. I hosted a chat a few years ago on low-cost advertising that had a lot of ideas we have used in Omaha – I believe it’s on Simpedia. The two things that have generated the most inquiries in a very short time were free. (a 2-part news story on TV and some newspaper articles – all solicited by SM teachers here).

One of the things I like about shared lessons is that the parents naturally will not expect as much “flexibility” from you if they are not the only ones to consider at their lesson times. And, if you get enough students in groups, you won’t feel as compelled to bend to their wishes out of fear of losing students. I always try to work with parents and scheduling issues, but I no longer compromise my schedule or my expectations of them as students just to keep them.

Teaching shared lessons definitely requires a little more effort, but the payoffs are huge, and many!! Everybody comes out ahead. I would recommend you just go for it!

Sheri R., California

Regarding absences:

I think parents make more of an effort to be sure their kids make it more regularly to lessons when they know you can’t shift their lesson time as teachers sometimes do when teaching only private lessons. I think sometimes parents might even call and think to change the time if their child didn’t practice that week. That is not good for the student and it certainly isn’t good for the teacher!
Shared lessons seems to hold them more accountable. As another teacher wrote, they are still to be held accountable for what they missed by talking to other students for assignment.

I also offer 6 makeup workshops a year for those who have missed–they happen at random times that I announce a week ahead of time (and it’s not usually about what they missed as it could be a month later) and if they can’t make it at least they know I went to the effort of making it available. Of course, there is nothing wrong with not making it available; after all, if you miss school the teacher doesn’t offer make-up days!

You’ve asked good questions, but the bottom line is you learn as you go with shared lessons what works and what doesn’t. I think shared lessons are well worth whatever the learning curve is! Some others offered some good ideas before me so I hope it’s enough for you to get over the “hang-ups” and get on with the joy of shared lessons!