Private vs. group lessons - Why choose one or the other?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Feb 27, 2004 8:13 am

Some teachers and students really enjoy and appreciate the interactions inherent in group piano lessons. Group lessons are also potentially more profitable for the teacher and less expensive for the student. Other teachers see group lessons almost as anathema to the basic principles of private teaching. For the benefit of other teachers, tell us whether you prefer one or the other and why. Teachers ask us about group lessons frequently, so your comments should have a wide audience.
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Postby Mins Music » Fri Feb 27, 2004 10:27 pm

I have never done group piano lessons. I'm hesitant to try.
1. I only have one piano and I believe it is essential for a student to have 'hands on' experience immediately, and not have to wait or jostle for space.
2. Everyone learns at a different pace. I would imagine it would be harder to 'tailor' individual repetoire for each student (which is what I like to do)
3. If one person misses a lesson, how do they catch up?

On the other hand, I teach group theory. The students are all at the same level, learning at the same time. They have individual worksheets. I use an overhead projector to explain things and demonstrate. They have a little time to work on their own. They can also work in pairs, and for games (which I use a lot) the whole group gets involved.
Individually they are given assignments. Eg, if learning about the Baroque era, they are each given a piece from that era and have a certain amount of time to 'get it together' - three weeks etc (I make sure the piece is easier than their performance level). They then have to perform the piece in front of the group, and give a short talk on HOW the piece is typical of the era. (This is just one example).

I also teach group singing - concentrating on rounds, harmony and part singing.

I offer group guitar 'courses' lasting 8 weeks. They have an accompanying CD, a folder full of exercises and songs, so it's almost like a teach yourself course. They also bring along their own instrument to use. Again, I use an overhead projector and accompaniment I can speed up or slow down. (Max in a class is 8. I do a lot of walking around to make sure they also get individual attention) At the end of the course they have a 'performance' just for family and the group, and a party. It is then up to them to practise for a few months before I offer the next level course.

But as far as piano, I stick with individual lessons, sometimes assigning duet parts to students who overlap, i.e. one finishes at 4pm, one starts at 4pm, so these students if they're prepared to stay later, and arrive earlier, get to 'rehearse' their duet together, and then perform at one of the recitals.

I'd be interested in hearing the benefits FOR group piano instruction, and exactly how you would go about it succesfully.

The reason why I'm hesitant is because I have had two students (from different schools) doing group lessons, they both wanted to quit because they didn't like it, and as a last resort their parents wanted to give them a go with individual lessons. (Which of course is more expensive for the parents) Now, they love the piano! They're playing songs they choose themselves and one is doing her AMEB exams. Their parents are very happy with their progress and relieved that they no longer want to quit (despite the extra expense).
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Postby 99-1077820195 » Sat Feb 28, 2004 11:07 pm

I have tried small group lessons. I do not care for them. I had one piano and two keyboards with headsets. It is too difficult to give the personal attention needed, even to 3-4 students. I will, however, take two students at a time provided they work well together and are at the same level. This gives an excellent opportunity to work in duets. This is an amazing way to reinforce counting and ensemble work. Sometimes the 'competition' pushes them to work harder and progress faster. Even if you only have one piano, the other can be working on the theory lesson for the week.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Mar 09, 2004 2:43 pm

In the context of reformatting the entire site, I've been re-reading every document (all 250 of them), including (Paul Pollei's Artist/Educator Interview. He has some interesting thoughts that bear on the group teaching/private teaching question. I'd encourage you all to look at it - for that and other reasons. Of course, I'd also encourage you to look at all the interviews! :)



Edited By Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor on 1078865064
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Postby Mins Music » Wed Mar 10, 2004 2:00 am

Thanks John. I will read the interview. I must admit I haven't read them all yet. I'll see if this makes me less hesitant about group lessons for piano.
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Postby Mins Music » Wed Mar 10, 2004 2:32 am

"after studying the problem, they came to the realization that the best way to teach foundation piano and music lessons was a combination of group and solo lessons."
- quote from Paul Pollei

This has also been my experience. Individual lessons, with duets thrown in and group theory lessons.

This interview didn't give any insights on how succesful working in a group ONLY gives. He stated that working one on one is not successful. His basis for this was because it was not natural and children are more used to being taught in groups.

Is there any body out there who ONLY teaches in groups, prefers it that way because they have found it more successful - for the student, that it, not financially ... I can already see the appeal in that. :p
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Postby 108-1079367823 » Tue Mar 16, 2004 3:09 pm

group lessons is another dumb and new "fun" concept.
Of course it doesnt work at all. Only individual tuition gives proper results.

Duets are essential though, one of the best tool to develop musicality.

Siblings get lots of duets, even if they are on different levels, i always find pieces which fit anyway, or duets can be with me but it is less interesting for them (because they are afraid to correct me...)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Mar 16, 2004 3:50 pm

Ms. Svensson,

It's good to see you so active on the Board. With regard to private vs. group lessons, one of the reasons I started this thread was to get people to talk about why they feel as they do about these options. I don't have a lot of knowledge about group lessons, so I would like to know more about your experiences with group lessons and why you feel as you do, for the benefit of everyone reading this thread. Thanks for participating on the Board. :;):
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Postby 108-1079367823 » Tue Mar 16, 2004 4:00 pm

Ok. I dont believe in group lessons because as a teacher i am "200%" on the student. I watch every single movement of fingers, shoulders, arms, forearms, elbows, and listen to every single note. I demand also 200% concentration from the student. It would simply be impossible with more than 1 student at the time. Already duets between siblings often turn as a big circus, and competition to play faster and louder.
Silence is a big component of music, too.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Aug 19, 2004 11:12 am

As a postscript, I thought that those interested in group teaching might want to read our Artist/Educator Interview of Dr. Robert Pace, one of the foremost educators in and proponents of group teaching. He has a number of interesting things to say about it.
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Fri Sep 17, 2004 7:35 am

I'm new to these message boards and this is my first post... I hope I do it right. ^_^

I find group lessons to be fun, effective, and cost efficient. They would only work well if there was enough pianos so that each student would have their own. They tend to improve listening skills, ear training, and playing in front of people (nerves, etc). Theory tends to be more interesting because of the possibility of using games and contests. The students tend to push themselves a little bit more due to some small competition with each other.

Students can still work on songs that they choose as supplimental music, and the group could pick songs that they all would like to play.

As for siblings, I would most likely not put them in group lessons together because of problems of sibling rivalry, age and level differences.

I would teach group lessons (and still private lessons to those that want them or who's learning style suits private instruction better) if I could. However, my studio is in my home and the zoning laws here state that I can only have two clients here at a time. Anyone thinking of going with group lessons might want to consider that part of it carefully.

Teaching groups lessons can be challenging, but rewarding. There is more prep involved. A lesson plan is more important than ever in a group situation.

I think an ideal situation would be to have a combination of private and group instruction. I know many teachers who teach mostly private lessons but have one group lesson per month.

Personally, I took private lessons for several years, then switched to group lessons in the more advanced levels. In my last year of lessons I did half private, half group (alternating weeks) and found it quite educational.
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Postby pianoannie » Fri Sep 17, 2004 8:33 am

Kittypalooza wrote:Personally, I took private lessons for several years, then switched to group lessons in the more advanced levels. In my last year of lessons I did half private, half group (alternating weeks) and found it quite educational.

Hi, and welcome to the group!

I agree with the benefits of group lessons that you mentioned. I taught group lessons for a while, and it is a chance to be more creative, for piano lessons to be less "isolating", and for more time to review and reinforce concepts in a variety of ways. In my case, I taught beginners in groups, then moved them into my private lessons after 2 years.
I'm curious about your advanced level group lessons. Could you tell us some details about that?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Sep 17, 2004 6:53 pm

Welcome, Kittypalooza! (Any relation to Lala?) Sounds like you have a lot of ideas and experience to offer--please stay with us.

Back in the 70s, I think it was, when university music departments were beginning to install Piano Pedagogy degree programs, the idea of group lessons caught the fancy of many music educators, and especially university administrators who saw a chance to get more student credit hours for the same amount of faculty time and salary. So we were encouraged to try it (some schools made it mandatory for awhile). The idea never caught on as a widespread practice, at least in higher education, and we hardly ever hear about it anymore; the degree in piano pedagogy, however, is now widespread and has served many students whose goal is studio teaching rather than performance. I added the program here at NMSU back in 1972.

Most private teachers I've known don't like it because it takes away the greatest advantage we have, which is one on one contact. Teaching technique especially has to be carefully gauged to the individual hand, level of facility, degree of coordination and ability to grasp concepts.

My feeling is that, at least in university programs, we already have the group lesson experience in two established formats: one is functional piano class and the other is the masterclass. Both are very valuable, and a lot of us have written of the great value of masterclasses in private studios as well; duets, chamber ensemble and accompanying are also indispensable group activities. So I have to admit that, after some 40 years of teaching I find group lessons redundant, and certainly no substitute for private lessons. But there may well be others who are very comfortable with the idea, and they may suit certain students better.

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Postby 75-1095335090 » Mon Sep 20, 2004 7:48 am

pianoannie wrote:I'm curious about your advanced level group lessons. Could you tell us some details about that?

It has been several years since I was in those advanced group lessons, but I'll do my best.

In my group there were three of us, two on piano and one on organ (all digital). The method books we started with had an organ version so we could all play the same songs. Often in the lessons we would each do a different part, two on right hand, one on left, then switch.

Other groups often had each student using a different sound on their instrument to make it easier for the teacher to tell who was doing what. I don't remember doing that that often in my classes, but my teacher did walk around a lot.

When we had practiced a song at home already we often played it together, everyone playing HT, and our teacher would often call out reminders to listen to each other's dynamics and phrasing and try to match it. We made an amazing trio when competition season came around....

Other things we did:

Ear training: we did this neat rhythm thing where we'd all sit there and clap quarter notes, then the teacher would clap one bar of a different rhythm (while everyone else continued keeping the beat) and the student next to her would have to clap it back to her, then right after that they clapped a different bar of rhythm which the student next to them had to clap, and so on around the circle. Sometimes she made it harder by making us listen to the next rhythm we had to clap while trying to clap the last rhythm she gave us. We'd also do intervals and chords but I don't remember exactly what we did.

Improvising: we'd establish a steady chord progression and take turns improvising on it while the others kept the pattern.

Composing: we'd play our song for each other and the others would give some constructive critisism (I liked how you did that, why did you decide to use that? etc...)

Arranging: Sometimes the teacher would assign us each a song that we were learning together to arrange (drums, sound changes, background stuff) and the others in the class would listen to you play with that arrangement, comment on it, then we'd try it as a group.

When exam or competition season came around we would sometimes take additional private lessons once we had picked our song(s) to get them fleshed out a bit. In the group lessons we would play them for each other and tell the others what extras we had planned if they weren't already obvious, then get input on other ideas that might work.

This was especially weird sometimes because the other pianist in my group was almost always in my group at competition... meaning we were competing against each other. The first year we didn't know that because we hadn't been against each other before and the folks arranging it refused to tell anyone before hand. After that, though, we figured out that it only made sense. There weren't a lot of students at the studio who could have been in our competition group. Oddly, though, knowing that we were competing didn't really change how we did anything. It only really bothered me the last year I was in it because I had heard her song and I knew that mine would never beat it. On the other hand, it wasn't a bad thing to come in second to such a great pianist. (If you're wondering, she played Chopsticks... imagine losing to Chopsticks! lol)

We didn't do a whole lot of theory, except some review for exams, because at that level it was expected that we'd take seperate theory classes. The other two girls in my group took the theory lessons at the studio we had our lessons at, but I didn't bother because my highschool had an amazing music program that covered everything (and sometimes more) than the theory class was doing.

My memory has run dry now... if anyone has any specific questions I can try to answer them. If I had to change one thing about the group lessons is that I would add music history. That was always my weakest subject and it seems to me that that might have been so because none of the places from which I was getting my musical education covered it very well.
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Postby Tranquillo » Tue Oct 09, 2007 1:13 am

This is a very interesting topic!
As far as group lessons.. I havent had any piano group lessons but I have been taught music as school .
I am no teacher but I have h other students and teachers ideas and opinouns on group lessons.

As far as group lessons in school I have been taught musicology and basic theory. The basic theory part was the most un enjoyable part to me as I already knew the content. It was fustrating to consume myself in something that I clearly understood. - One disadvantage of group lessons that everyone is at different abilities. Having said that there were many people completly lost in those lessons with the basic theory. Not sayin they were 'dumb' but they needed individual attention to understand the concepts.

Along with that there are those ones that really had no idea what was happening the teacher used to get them to use the whiteboard - e.g. draw a crotchet ... This was infront of the class. Such ones I could see felt 'embarrsed' because they didnt know.
My piano teacher doesnt agree with group lessons as they do not have that individual attention. People at complete differnt abilities makes it hard to teach and hard to entertain 'the bored'.

HOWEVER ... I remember a few things that were no doubt beneficail in the school situation. In terms of practical ... most pianists are 'lonely'... we were encoraged to play in ensembles and accompany others. I really enjoyed learning musicology ... we looked into genrés : Jazz and Rock and looked into the development as well the the emotion and expressive way music has been projected and how much it has evolved over time. Musicology was one of the most intriguing areas that we learnt in classes ...

Thats all I have to say...
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