Objections to Keypads & Shared Lessons
Christy B., Tennessee
During the Q&A section of a recent FIS, I was asked how lessons are conducted in groups with only one piano? I explained how we first process the information by getting the patterns into our hands on the keypad, and then taking turns at the piano. The FIS seemed to go well and I did have one enroll.
After following up on a family that didn’t enroll and offering ideas for places to purchase a keyboard, I received the following reply from the mother.
Do any experienced teachers have words of wisdom regarding a thoughtful reply that addresses the mother’s concerns / objections?
How much time do the kids actually get to play on a real piano in your lessons, as opposed to the cardboard cutout of the piano keys? That was a big concern that we have, that it is more of a ‘look and listen’ lesson, as opposed to getting to actually play, plus with four kids possibly in a class and a class being only 40 minutes it doesn’t seem like there’s much hands-on time for each one, unless I am wrong?
Cheri S., Utah
I talk about this a lot, starting at the FIS and continuing with parents of current students. I believe the keypad is an important learning tool, not just a “make-do” because I don’t have space or money for multiple pianos. Here’s how it helps with learning: students learn the patterns first, visually and physically, without relying on their ears. Most people normally play at least a little bit by ear. Some people are extraordinarily good at this. So students can end up relying on their ears, instead of really internalizing the musical patterns.
I always tell my students and parents that when we go through the steps to learn a song, we’re not just learning that song. We’re learning how to learn music. We’re learning to see shapes in melodies and chords, we’re learning about chord progressions, we’re learning all the different kinds of patterns music can use–FSS, skips, repeated rhythms, mirror images, ABA structure, etc. Recognizing these patterns in music makes it so much easier to learn challenging pieces and is key to becoming a generative musician. When students learn the song through the musical patterns first, they learn to rely on patterns as a primary way of accessing music. They keypad takes away the ear and focuses attention on the patterns.
For the same reasons, the keypad is also a valuable tool for maintaining the playlist. If a student really knows a song, they can play it without sound. Practicing on the keypad ensures you really know the song and helps you remember the patterns you learned.
The keypad also helps students develop the ability to “be their own speaker” and ultimately to hear tunes in their own head. In the long-term, this is the key to sight reading, to be able to look at the music and predict how it’s going to sound. It’s also a great skill for anyone who’s accompanying or playing with a band. If they can hear music in their head, they can practice more effectively on their own. They’ll be able to hear all the other parts in their head even when they’re away from the group.
During the FIS, when I’m showing the materials or when someone asks how group lessons work, I always briefly explain how valuable the keypad is. And I continue to talk with parents and kids about how to use the tool effectively once they’re in lessons.
Sheri R, California
Gleaned from various TTP, Forums, etc. at the FIS I say something like:
The shared lessons are exciting, compelling, dynamic; they are not only participatory, but observatory. We really underestimate the power of observatory learning and in a shared lesson we get to take advantage of that powerful learning opportunity. There’s lots of interaction, it’s very multi-sensory. I’m sharing at the keypboard with a focused group that is actively involved in the process. There is a lot of back and forth, exchange, input, ideas, questions, answers, we’re working from the board, the notes book, our fingers, students are demonstrating, it’s very physical, very aural, very visual. They are really very exciting and people really love them. (I might even say the concern is understandable as piano lessons have emerged in our culture as a private activity, mostly because of the traditional approach to learning reading first. But life is a group starting with family and continuing to school, church, sports, etc. Because of how we teach, SM works best in a shared lesson environment. In fact my shared lesson students have accelerated results.)
I might also say “the purpose of a lesson is to clarify, to demonstrate, and to engage the student in order to empower them to go home and practice the 6 days and 23 hours they aren’t with me. That’s where the real learning is going on.”
Also I would outline some of the benefits of a shared lesson, especially the accelerated results, the informal performance experience, and the opportunity for regularly playing together (duets) as mostly when we go to a concert there is more than one person playing and that is a skill we get to develop in the shared lessons. I would also say how much all my students love the shared environment and wouldn’t dream of wanting to learn any other way.
You might also remind them about how they learned Ode to Joy in a group. I would suggest they give it a try for a month (or whatever your minimum initial sign up is) and see for themselves. I would also reassure them that all the students get to play every week (unless you have really large shared lessons) and that there’s a balance among all the components of the lessons.
I might also tell her specifically about the keypad that even in private lessons students use them as it is one of the principle tools that enable easy and fast learning. It is an important component in the multi-sensory layering approach that has SM being such a breakthrough and that students who develop the skill of using the keypad become better players, memorizers, and readers.
Here’s a list of benefits of shared lessons:
- Life is a group: families, school, soccer, etc.
- Observatory and Participatory/Experiential
- Music is to share—community experience
- Ensemble work—sing together and play together/duets
- Camaraderie, lasting friendships
- Public performance experience in informal environment
- Peer pressure—motivating to learn with others, especially teens
- Multi-learning styles
- Less expensive
- Fun, exciting, energy, lots of activity, group dynamics, vibrant, inspiring
- Lots of questions you may not have thought of
- Lasting friendships
- Mentoring—teaching people to teach in groups & student to student
- Difficulties not unique to you
- Accelerates learning
- Enhanced peer support in house and out
- Effect of demonstrated success
- Wider possibility of venue
- Comparable results
- Win-win teacher, student, organization
- Individual identification with group
- Ability to hide
Hope there’s something here that you can use to frame your response to this family.
Jeanne W., CT
I use two keyboards as well, and it works great. At one point in the training materials Neil talks about getting a couple of keyboards. Then in other locations it seems to be discouraged. But I think it’s great and the kids love it. And we can do group playing that way which they really love and is another way to experience these pieces, especially accompanying. They’re rotating and moving and all having a great time. And other times we’re all just around the piano. I think it’s nice to mix it up and give everyone more keyboard time.
Ian M., Indiana
I’ve mentioned this response on the Forums before – It came to me during my first experience at the Teacher Symposium three years ago. This question was asked in one of the sessions and I just tried to think of what Neil would say and I came up with this:
“Every student is going to get as much time at the piano as he or she needs: 15 to 20 minutes a day, most days of the week, preferably at the same time each day.”
There are ways to add to this in a conversation so that you don’t sound flip or dismissive of the parent’s concerns. Each student will have the opportunity to be coached at the piano in class, but that is not where the magic happens. Because you’ll have the extraordinary support system of the video and the rest of the Student Home Materials, re-creating at home what you’ve learned in class will be easy. Here in the lesson, I’ll coach the students in how to execute the piece; but the magic is going to happen at home during your practice time.
An analogy I sometimes use is that when you learned to tie your shoes, you were coached in how to do it. Then you practiced it, and it became, in time, something you didn’t have to think about. That’s how Simply Music piano lessons will work. Now, I’m not saying that I’ll coach the students and then they’re on their own – if the student and the life coach can make sure that the practice happens, but still have difficulty with a piece, we’ll revisit it in class, just as a new shoe-tier would be able to say “can you show me how to get that second loop through again?”
I also stress that in order to get the results, you have to do the work. I coach my families on how to practice fairly often through Foundation 1 and into Foundation 2. I often think that if I say something that makes sense, then people will get it – but it’s not always the case. So now I say things more often, in order to reinforce the concepts – adding this to what I already do with CTE, practice slowly, etc.
Nicole O., California
This question comes up often with my prospective students/parents. I tell them that Simply Music is designed for groups. And because of the way in which students are learning songs via patterns and specific tools and strategies, I could teach 10 or 20 people at the same time… and we wouldn’t need a piano. I mention that the “lesson” is where students are given those tools and strategies, but that the REAL learning and processing takes place at home on their own piano. You may want to remind them of the differences between traditional and SM lessons. Private vs. Shared… Multi thought process vs. Single thought process… usually a parent simply needs to experience the class to get how it actually works.
Lori N., Utah
I often remind parents and students that lesson time is not for practicing or for performances. I find that’s best brought up when it is not an issue of the moment. When at the piano, I make sure they understand the concepts, can do small sections showing me that they understand, and that they are watching with the purpose of learning as others play, not just biding their time till it’s their turn. You can see it in their faces when they turn on that absorptive, soaking it in mindset.
I also often remind them that the magic happens at home. I only see them for 30-40 minutes once a week. Their time playing at home is when they will turn on that focus and start to become the self-generative type of student we want them to be. (See “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle.) At least that’s my ideal. I’ve had Neil’s Time Management workshop on my mind lately and am trying to hone my skills at having more effective and efficient lessons. Having a student have a lot of time at the piano is not necessarily the most efficient use of teaching time.
Kerry H., Australia
I would echo the comments made by other teachers on this subject, but would like to share how I handle this situation. What I’m going to focus on, is mostly how I endeavor to prevent this from being an issue, which is the way I prefer to address this. However, if I hadn’t done this up front and discovered someone had an issue like the one Christy shared, I would do a version – perhaps an edited one – of what I will outline here. I have mostly put the actual conversations I have with students / parents in double quotation marks, so you can see what I actually say.
Firstly, I think it is important to understand what is in the background for people when we talk about shared (group) lessons. I know that culturally, private one-on-one piano lessons is what people are used to and are expecting. Some people may have some experience of so-called ‘group’ keyboard lessons (either by participating or hearing of them), but what happens in this type of group lesson is 10 people in a room, with 10 keyboards – each student having a set of headphones, and the teacher wandering around the room and helping each student. This way, the student only gets about 5 minutes of the teachers’ time. To me, that is not a group lesson, it’s 10 private lessons happening at the same time. So when we mention ‘shared’ or ‘group’ lessons – this is generally what people are hearing, even if it’s not expressed.
Therefore, I like to anticipate this is a concern people have about the shared lessons, even if they don’t say it – which often they don’t. So in my free Student Introductory Sessions, and because I’m mostly teaching shared lessons, I always have a segment where I explain about the logistics of the lessons. Here (following) are the types of conversations that I have. I may not have all of them in one session, it just depends on how much time we have and my sense of what is needed with the particular group I’m addressing.
“Not only is the SM program different from traditional lessons from the point of view of the content and how it unfolds, but it is also different in the way the lessons are structured. This program is ideally suited to teaching in what we call ‘shared lessons’ or groups and I am mostly teaching in shared lessons because I actually think they are better. In fact, I only teach private lessons under very specific circumstances. I find that students in shared classes usually progress faster and do better than students in private lessons. And for me, you’d have to have a very compelling argument about why you wanted to have private lessons. So, for that reason, I am only going to discuss shared classes today.”
“So let me tell you a little bit about the shared classes.” They are fun, dynamic, interactive and the students learn so much from each other! I think private lessons under-value the importance of observatory learning in the process.”
“Now when I did that demonstration earlier of Ode To Joy, even though I had Mary as the volunteer, all of you learned the patterns and I could have picked any one of you to come up to the piano and you would have been able to do that successfully.”
Then I say to Mary:
“Mary, when I had you as the volunteer up the front, were you even a little bit nervous or self-conscious?”
The person usually says yes, but if they say no, then I would say:
“Well that’s great, however, I find that most people do seem to feel a little nervous or self-conscious when they are the volunteer.”
Then I turn to someone else in the room who wasn’t the volunteer and ask them:
“So were you nervous when Mary was up at the piano?” And of course they say no and everyone smiles. So I explain further, “That’s right. And with private lessons, it can be quite intimidating, where you have to come up with all the answers and do everything yourself for the whole lesson. But with shared lessons, it gives you a chance to sit back and be relaxed, watch others and just take it in – maybe even learn from their mistakes. And the students take turns at being the volunteer at the piano.”
“The other thing that’s important is that SM is teaching you a way of learning. When I was a kid I had one-on-one piano lessons, and I would sit at the piano – the teacher sat beside me – and it was like she was watching me practice. I would play something and she’d say ‘no, wrong, do it again’.”
“I think that’s a waste of the lesson time. With SM, it’s not about students having everything down and fluent in their fingers before they leave the lesson. It’s about teaching students how to learn and what to do, and then they go home and practice during the week. This is a much more efficient use of the time and one of the reasons students are able to make such great progress, but it’s also why it lends itself so well to shared lessons.”
“There are actually a lot of strategies that we use and games that we can play, that just work better in a shared lesson. And there is a little bit of healthy competition that helps keep students moving forward and making better progress. I commonly find that my private students tend to drift forward.”
“So what happens in the lessons is this, I just have this one piano. At the beginning of the lesson, I would usually hear everyone play a little of something they were working on at home. This is the time for me to give you coaching about what you are doing. However, I don’t need to hear a whole song, to get a sense of where you’re at and be able to move you forward. But when one person is getting the coaching, everyone’s getting the coaching.”
“When we learn the new material, we might start by having everyone learning the patterns into their fingers away from the keyboard, and then we take turns at being the main volunteer to put that on the piano, and everyone else is crowding around watching and learning at the same.” I don’t even show them the printed keyboard at an Introductory Session or prior to them starting the lessons, as I don’t think they need to know about that yet.
I also explain that, “Sometimes we will do a ’round robin’. For example, in the Blues song I demonstrated to you earlier, there are 3 main chords that get used in one part of the song. I might teach everyone the 3 chords and have one student do them [and I demonstrate playing very quickly the CAGE chords from Alma Mater Blues] and then the next student and the next, and so on…. so that everyone gets to do those 3 chords. Then the students go home and practice it. So the lesson is for the learning, and at home is for practicing. And if we waited until you had that down in the lesson, what would you do at home during the week?”
“It also helps to be in a shared class when we are working with rhythm. In a private lesson, if a student didn’t have the rhythm right, they might not be able to hear so easily that they don’t have it correctly, but when they can hear one person do it and the next person and the next person…it really helps them to get it.”
“At SM our philosophy is that music is to be shared. And most of what we do in life, we do in groups. I think private piano lessons can be a very solitary experience, but one of the great things about the shared lessons, is that students get used to playing with, and in front of others, and being willing to share their music, even if it’s not complete or perfect. In fact, I have some adult groups who meet for coffee before the lesson, and kids and adults groups who get together in between lessons and help each other practice. And I just think that’s fantastic!”
At some point, I usually explain that “the key component in our Student Home Materials is a video with an edited or summary version of much of what we do in the lessons. That way, students can watch and review it as often as they need to, to be clear about what to practice at home.”
These are the very conversations I have to address the concerns that many people have about learning piano in groups. And sometimes I let them know, “I know it seems hard to imagine how it could work, but I have students who have participated in shared lessons who before they started, also couldn’t imagine how it could work, but now they say they prefer it and actually can’t imagine how you could do SM in private lessons.”
One of the few reasons I would do private lessons with students, is if I had someone in a shared class and for one reason or another their class members stopped lessons and I had no-one else who was even close to the same level to put them in a class with yet, or no-one else that was available at the same day and time, then they might do private lessons for a while. In most cases, those students have asked if they could be on a waiting list to get into a shared class as soon as I was able to organize it for them.
Teachers, this is honestly my experience and how I feel about teaching shared lessons, so it is easy for me to share about it like this with students and parents. However, If I had not taught many shared lessons yet and were talking to others about the benefits, I would say things like, “At SM, here’s what students experience with shared lessons….”, or “here’s what some students have said about shared lessons….”. Once you experience teaching more shared classes for yourself, you would be able to relate some of your own stories.
If I were Christy, I would call the parent if possible, and have some of the above conversations with her. I would firstly include the description I gave of what some people think of when we say ‘group’ piano or keyboard lessons. Explain to her that those lessons are not what you would call group or shared lessons, because they miss out on all the benefits of learning with others. Then pick from some of the other conversations I’ve mentioned above. I often acknowledge, that the only advantage to private lessons in my view, is that as the teacher, I could tailor the program specifically to a student’s progress, but I also explain that I think the benefits of being in a shared class, far outweigh any benefits of being in private lessons. And in my studio, I mostly don’t have room for private students and under most circumstances are not taking on any new private students – and I tell them that.
Perhaps you could send her a complimentary copy of Bernadette Ashby’s book – ‘A World Where Everyone Plays’. I think this is a great tool to help people get a real sense of the program. It might be worth it, if they ended up becoming a student and staying only for a month. Of course if they stay longer, it turns out to be a very good investment! You could tape your business card in the front, or write your name and number on the inside front cover. Just a thought….