Need Large Class Tips
Mary R., Michigan
I remember Neil brilliantly teaching a large group at a recent seminar but I didn’t take good enough notes. I have just combined kids from 3 different lessons into one group of 6 and two of the moms are balking—want more playing time and individual attention for their kids and think it is too crowded when I have them all stand around the keyboard.
I am still feeling my way and wondered if those who teach groups of 6 or more might share some tips. Do you bring everybody up to watch when one is playing? Do you divide them in groups and have them work out passages on keypads? Do you make use of duets and games–if so any particular successes you could share?
Any advice would be helpful. I REALLY like the efficiency and the energy of this size and would like to have more not fewer!!
Joy V., Texas
All the things you said are right on the money — and it will take some getting used to for the moms.
My only suggestion is make sure ALL students play on the practice pad what you have taught them before you let them on the piano — the piano is not the place to work it out, the practice pad is. When the moms see that the kids are all getting it at the same time, hopefully they’ll settle down. I have learned to watch upside down and just go one child at a time to watch their fingers on the practice pad before going to the piano — if all get it, it can be done super fast. That’s also where they get the individual time, when they don’t get some little piece of it and I walk them through it from their seat (or better yet, the student next to them shows them what they need to fix before I can even get the words out of my mouth).
I think when I have small groups I tend to be a little more generous with playing time. I have a group of 2 that completed level 2 but have other streams going on (variations, arr, comp, improv, acc projects) and I know more to be added later on so I decided to explain (set-up conversation) that because of these streams, I may have them play a song and stop them if I’m convinced they can play it well. I also explained that I will instruct them as a method coach should. For example, I may show them patterns on their fingers and make sure sentences are clear in class but they are responsible to review their student home materials and put it all together so we can fit more in our lessons. They understood…so I decided to do this set-up conversation with all my classes. I make sure that I always mention they are free to contact me if there’s any problems. I actually had a parent called me up during their practice time and asked, “can you tell me where the chord are for this piece?” …and I loved the fact that he did that. I was available so I was able to help, but even if I wasn’t, I return calls. I hope that made sense and helped. It always seems like most things boil down to set-up conversations.
Sheri R., California
If the students had all started from the beginning in a larger group the parents would have been used to it. Hopefully you can see them through this.
If all kids are at the piano when one is playing (more often in a larger group there is one or more playing at a time, great ensemble experience to learn how to keep playing through mistakes with always tons of compliments when they do), one of the others gives the beat, all the others are singing, or singing and clapping, or just listening, and I always tell them all to watch because if there is a mistake they are the ones who are going to tell the other student, not me. If it’s a random mistake we move on, if it’s something that needs to be addressed, we do. But either way, the students not playing are engaged in observatory role–tell parents how powerful that is for their own child’s playing.
Sometimes just one or two are at the piano and the rest are playing along on keypads on their laps while I watch them (as I can hear the piano player). Students should be able to play their songs without sound too!
We do round robins where students play the freeze game (students stop when I say freeze and next student starts where that one left off). You can go through cycle of six students two or three times pretty quickly with this game.
Or round robins where they pick popsicle sticks and just play part of a song–often I tell them to start at verse two, or line 3 of the blues, or something like that, which causes them to think and shows a deeper knowing when they get it.
I usually only listen to entire songs by each student if we have extra time in a lesson at the end. By request from me or parents or other students, popsicle sticks, or their own personal current favorite.
In a group that size I play games on keypad where I ask them all to play a Csus chord, or show starting hand position of I’ll Be There, or place finger four on the black note in the V section of Chester, or the sky’s the limit. . .
In the lesson, after students have processed new material in fingers, their own and on a partner’s, I pass out two or three keypads for six students and have them watch each other and help each other get it accurately there. Then on to the next segment of the lesson.
I rarely have students process new material directly on the piano at a lesson except in the first few lessons when there is plenty of time for that. I listen to the new song the following week and get the song into their hands and on the keypad in the lesson.
I also have students review playlist on keypad sometimes and others have to guess what they are playing. This is especially good when lessons are transitioning and previous class still hasn’t quite left; it’s a quiet activity.
It’s possible to keep the energy up and everyone engaged 100% of the lesson! The lesson is not about how much playing there is (although there are ways to have more than what you may be experiencing currently); rather, it’s about engaging, clarifying, demonstrating, and empowering them to process at home!
Good luck Mary! You are right, the efficiency and energy of shared lesson of six is great! By the way I am doing a blog talk radio show tomorrow at 1:30pm PST on the benefits of shared lessons for those who are still wondering about taking the plunge.