Ever since I started teaching piano full-time just over ten years ago, group classes have always been part of my studio offerings in one way or another.
While we’re not necessarily going to cover the variety of group class format options in this post (check out episode 3 of The Piano Pantry Podcast for that), I do want to share an overall group class lesson plan format that has consistently proven successful for all of my group classes no matter the level.
In this post, I’ll be referring to the style of a group class that is more of an occasional enrichment class, not a weekly “group piano lesson.”
Each class generally includes four key areas:
- Audiation Activities
- Ensemble Work
- Music Theory Games
In this post, we’ll talk about why each area is important and will share some of my favorite go-to resources.
If you’re wondering why in the world they’re playing on a digital keyboard in this photo instead of the grand piano in the room, it’s because they were doing practice performances for our library Christmas performance where they had to play on a digital keyboard.
We all know how important it is for students to get as many chances as possible to play for someone other than themselves and us. Group classes are a wonderful, low-stress environment to do so.
Since I have a group of four digital keyboards, it works well for students to enter the room, warm up on a keyboard while waiting on others to arrive, then once everyone has had a chance to warm up, about 3-5 minutes after class begins, we do our performances.
Sometimes we use listening forms to encourage and guide the students through active listening. On other occasions, we simply listen then discuss what we hear including things like meter, tonality, the mood of the piece, etc.
Most recently I’ve been using my own Visual Listening Guide but in the past have also used:
- What Do You Hear? from ColorinMyPiano.com
- Performance Thermometers from Compose Create
- Performance Class Listening Worksheets from Compose Create
In this photo, students are dancing along to the Move It! DVD listed below.
Teaching our students to hear music is sooo important. While I know many would agree, I know many would also say that they don’t know where to start because it’s something they’re not comfortable with themselves.
Let me urge you that even if you’re not comfortable, go outside your comfort zone to find ways to incorporate active music listening in some way, shape, or form. It could be anything from Dalcroze-based movement, to immersion in classical music, to Music Learning Theory (MLT)-based audition activities.
For me, it’s the latter. The term “audition” is often misinterpreted as simply “hearing music”. The portion of the definition that gets dropped but is key to its true meaning is that it means “hearing music with understanding.”
MLT-type activities may include things like singing short songs and rhythm chants, moving in a variety of ways that use movement with flow, weight, space, and time; echoing short tonal and rhythm patterns; and supporting harmonic audition through the singing of chord root tones to short tunes.
In its most basic form? Can your students hear a piece and determine if it’s in duple or triple, major or minor (or something else)? That’s a start!
Resources I pull from include:
Music Moves for Piano by Marilyn Lowe
Music Play by Alison M. Reynolds, Beth M. Bolton, Cynthia C. Taggart, and Edwin E. Gordon
The Early Childhood Music Curriculum: Experimental Songs and Chants Without Words by Edwin E. Gordon, Beth M. Bolton, Wendy K. Hicks, Cynthia C. Taggart
Move It!: Expressive movements with classical music by Peggy Lyman & John M. Feierabend
Shades of Sound’s Music History Coloring Books from the Playful Piano can be a fun way of introducing classical music.
Granted, this is one of those things that is much easier considering the fact that I have 4 digital keyboards. If having multiple pianists is a challenge, you could consider having students play along to the ensemble using a variety of percussion instruments and then rotate taking turns at the piano.
Since we only spend 10-20 minutes doing ensemble work, it’s important that it’s almost sight-readable for all students in the class.
Miss Dorla also has a lot of wonderful pyramid piano ensemble arrangements that have multi-level scores available for each piece. I’ve only recently discovered Miss Dorla and haven’t had a chance to use them myself but I can’t wait because they are an absolutely brilliant idea!
Other resources I’ve used extensively over the years include:
Four-part scores with a conductors score, and optional accompaniment. These ensembles can be set up using 2 or four keyboards. Using the recommended MIDI sounds for each part can spice up the ensemble even more.
Similar to the Hal Leonard series, the Alfred ensemble book includes four-part scoring and electronic sound suggestions. Both correlate leveling to their corresponding publisher method books.
TCW Resources Rhythm Ensembles
These have been a hit this year and work great during a group class. We tack one or two ensembles each class and they sound really cool when put together.
A fun and unique way to explore rhythm. My students enjoy the rhythm cups series but I found my students weren’t quite as excited about doing them every class (progressing through levels) as I expected. They seem to enjoy it more as a one-off activity a couple of times a year.
Music / Theory Games
I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that gamifying learning is a wonderful outlet for student learning.
While we can always play short little games in our one-on-lessons, play becomes even more fun when the student has a companion other than the teacher to play with. Plus, there are a lot of great games out there that are better with three or more players and take longer to complete than the small amount of time available in a lesson.
Game time is when students really start loosening up and having a good time. Class always ends with game time because it’s a guaranteed endorphins boost and there’s nothing better than students leaving your class full of energy, smiling, and having a good time.
That’s marketing there, baby. BOOM!
I won’t go through all the games out there because we all know there are a LOT but I am going to direct you to another blog post I shared a few years ago where I try and keep a list of a lot of the games and resources that are out there.
Granted, it’s become a lot harder to keep up on it especially as the internet continues to explode with content as well as the fact that we now have Top Music Marketplace. (I’ll just say right now I DON’T have all of those resources listed in the document!) It’s a start though. Check it out here:
What are some of your favorite types of activities to include regularly in your group classes? Share in the comments!