Pace of private vs. shared lesson students
Joan H., Canada
Greetings – I have 30 students, of which 5 are private, for various reasons. I have heard and read repeatedly about the advantages of shared lessons, particularly the pace of progress – that shared lessons actually progress more quickly. I am finding that my private students are moving as fast, and in some cases, faster than shared lessons. From my observations, it seems to reflect the ability to cover more content (both new and review), more efficiently with one student than multiple students, with minimal additional time (ie. 40-45 minutes vs. 30) for shared vs. private lessons.
I have crossed paths with some SM teachers who have chosen to only teach privately. So my questions are:
- What is your experience re: pace of private vs. shared lessons.
- If you have chosen to teach only private lessons, what are your reasons?
- Have you chosen to limit your “shared” lessons to a certain number of students? If so, why and what have you found to be optimal?
Patti P., Hawaii
I love teaching shared lessons, primarily because the energy is different in a shared lesson. There’s more opportunity for shared laughter & struggles, the students never feel like they’re the only one doing this, and they make music friends in the class. There’s opportunity to learn by watching others, and regularly sharing their music with others is a huge advantage in my book.
I do have a small set of private students, but I only take privates under special circumstances, where I feel it really is the best for the student.
I have to limit the number of students in a shared lesson due to space constraints. I can seat a maximum of 9 people sitting in my space, my largest class right now is a group of 6 teens with 3 life coaches. One family has 3 students in the class plus the coach, and one of the students is old enough to drive herself, so she is her own coach. This is a new class, and it’s going well. This is the largest group I’ve taught to date.
I feel like the pacing is more manageable for the shared lessons, precisely because you cannot feed as much information into the class, and they have more time to process the information, to learn it on a deeper level. The longer I teach, the more I value slowing things down a bit, especially after the first book.
Joan H., Canada
Could you (or anybody!) comment on the length of time you allow for your various size classes? Do you find the SM suggested times of 25 minutes for 1, 30 minutes for 2, 35 minutes for 3 and 40 minutes for 4 are adequate or do you allow more time than this? What about for this new class of 6?
Also, for more advance students where you are juggling say 5 streams such as Foundation, Acc, Arr, RRhythm and C & I (or B & I), do you focus on all streams each week, or split them up?
Carrie L., Michigan
I think there are some circumstances for private lessons but they are exceptions. I find that often classes progress about the same pace. The pace is not as important as the support however. Students that are in a shared lesson are able to grow musically together and the parents are able to get to know each other as well. We’ve had classes that stayed together for years and families became close friends. I have an adult pair (man/woman) that have become very close friends since coming to lessons and encouraged each other play and keep playing for a long time. One quit in the summer and the two still keep in contact. I had a student that I moved to private because I thought it would be better then he never wanted to practice anything that was ‘hard’ for him. I moved him back into a shared lesson again.
Monetarily it is FAR more beneficial to teach in shared lessons.
We have small shared lessons with the max being 3 typically because of scheduling it works best for us to keep our classes to 30 minutes all the time. This class size works well for us.
Right now we have about 150 piano students and I’d say about 10 are in private… 4 are very advanced, a few are special needs and a couple just haven’t been worked into shared yet because of timing.
Patti P., Hawaii
I think the suggested time slots for the number of students in shared lessons is good. It’s very easy to think you need to have a lot more time for extra students, but if it’s managed well, you really don’t. My class of 6 gets 50-55 minutes. I have them in an hour slot, which gives them a few minutes to gather their things and get out the door so there’s room for the next class to come in.
When the class gets a number of streams going, I don’t check each one every time normally. I think that waiting a few weeks to hear a new Acc. Project, for instance, gives them time to know it better and potentially get a new project, whereas hearing it every week might just turn out to be unnecessary. Even if they do a good job learning it in a week, there is no need to rush on to the next project. It’s good to let them have a little extra time to develop confidence. I do try to make sure I don’t neglect a stream for long once we’ve started, and reading projects are always heard every week.
I don’t want to spend large amounts of time on the other streams, per Neil’s circle in a square discussion about class time, because the biggest challenge as the students move along is the playlist, and I find that adequate time for checking it is more important than covering another stream or two. (I consider playing the playlist as part of that large circle of focus).
Cheri S., Utah
Patti, if they work on an ACC project for 2-3 weeks, is it included in their class notes each week, or do they just somehow know to keep it up until you’ve heard it and “passed it off”?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
In the upper levels, there is no way to get to all the streams every week. I think the key is to keep the conversation alive regarding what is expected. I keep reminding my students that we will definitely not get to every project during class every week, but they are expected to keep them going at home.
It is easy for them to track, as they mark all of their “current projects” on their playlists.
I think it’s advantageous to the students as it gives them the opportunity to get more solid on things because they often have 2 or 3 weeks in between the new assignment and actually playing it. Those projects might be Accompaniment, Blues & Improv, C&I, extra reading projects. I try to follow through each week the current acc. and arr. assignments, but sometimes that may mean just asking “is the blues project going okay, any questions?”, then addressing any issues or simply saying, “Great, we’ll get to that next week. Keep it up.”
It’s a skill we have to develop, managing multiple projects in a way that keeps them all going. Kind of like juggling – first several tries you keep dropping things, but once you practice enough times, you figure out how to keep all the balls moving and in the air.
Patti P., Hawaii
My class notes for the week only have the new assignments, and I remind them of this frequently so they don’t think that they don’t need to practice it just because it isn’t on their class notes.
If they have practiced their Acc. project the first week it is assigned, then the subsequent week, they know what that assignment was (plus it’s marked on their playlist) to continue working on it the following week. As the teacher, I have to keep a list of all the current projects so I don’t forget to check in on them every few weeks, but a quick look at their playlist tells me whether they have continued to practice that project.
I also tend to ask frequently “Who read their class notes this week?” Sometimes the more experienced students think they don’t need that anymore & the parents have slacked off on making sure they do. This could happen with private or shared classes, of course.
Julia B., Canada
All of my classes are shared except for one –and that is a student that moved away and we now continue lessons through skype. If she moved back she would be part of her group again. (She is moving at an identical pace to her old group, by the way).
My largest current group is 4. I really like 4 in a group, but I would definitely try larger if circumstances lined up to make that happen. The most significant factor for me with the management of larger groups, is how each individual processes the new material, or retains the previously learned material.
For example, I have a group of four 7 yr old girls that all learn at the same pace and maintain their playlists well. I could put 6 more in that group and we’d be absolutely fine. They LOVE being together and would be miserable in private lessons, frankly. On the other hand, I’ve had groups where 1 or 2 students needed a much slower pace, lots of reteaching on the playlist etc, and the others were ready to move ahead. This was much more difficult to manage.
Advantages I see to groups: developing friendships, energy, learning through observing, encouraging each other through ups and downs, sharing of ideas, ensemble opportunities, singing for accompaniments, playing duets, experience playing in front of an audience etc. It is so gratifying for a student (adult or child) to play a composition and have it received with enthusiasm by an entire group of peers. And I agree with Patti, I think the learning occurs at a deeper level. And the “Fun Factor” is exponential!
Regarding lesson times, I used to go overtime a lot. (My brain does not track time well) Now I stick to the suggested times, with 5 minutes or so in between to allow for note writing and transition. Some teachers do back to back, but for me the 5 minutes in between is really essential otherwise I start to feel too stressed out.
In managing all the streams, I always have students write notes on each stream even if we didn’t get to it that week. That keeps each stream front and center for the students and myself, and there is no time lost because they “forgot”.
It amazes me that even after years of lessons I will hear “I forgot to read my notes”. Once some of them hit puberty all their good habits go out the window! And, as Patti said, parents often aren’t providing as much oversight. So, I switched my level 8 and up students to a 1 page playlist which includes all songs and arrangements that I require from F1 through F9. There is no room for them to write their current projects on this page, so instead I have them write notes on a simple form that has check boxes beside each line they write. When they check in at the beginning of class I look at their playlist and at their notes to see if they’ve checked off all their projects and are maintaining their playlist. I am really happy with this system because the two pages are manageable for them, there is no extra step of transferring their projects to their playlist, and they are being trained to read their notes each week.
Joan H., Canada
Thanks everybody for these most helpful comments. This is so true, regarding the ease of which students/parents overlook the “read notes” line at the top of the playlist – perhaps because things start out so simply at the beginning of lessons with a simple “to do” list. I’m inspired to make that a focus for all my students at this week’s lesson!