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Ways to incorporate group classes into your studio offerings. After experimenting with various formats over the years, I’ll share my experiences with each. We’ll also touch on how fees come into play and the times of year that seem to be the sweet spot for holding these enrichment classes. For the cherry on top, stay tuned to hear about the big group class revelation that took me ten years to figure out.
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. My students and I have experienced and played around with about every structure imaginable.
When talking about group classes there are really two different categories. Group classes that are your full-time weekly lesson format or group classes that are included as more of an enrichment class in addition to students private lessons.
To narrow down our discussion, today I’ll be talking to the second style where students are getting classes on top of their individual lessons. In this episode I’ll walk though the variety of formats I’ve experiment with and will share my experiences with each. I’ll also briefly touch on how fees play into this as well as the weeks of the year that seem to be the sweet spot for holding group classe
For the cherry on top, stay tuned to hear about the big group class revelation that took me 10 years to figure out.
Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers.
Hey, everyone, I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. As a piano teacher and independent studio owner myself, I love talking about all things IMT-life related especially when it comes to organization and productivity.
We’ll talk about everything from running and organizing a studio business to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.
Before we dive into discussing all of these group class formats, there’s one important detail I feel like I should mention. My tuition structure has always been based on an annual (that is, school year) fee. It’s a flat all-inclusive fee – with the exception of materials which I charge a separate $90 flat annual registration and materials fee for in May. This means I don’t charge fees for recitals or different rates for lesson weeks vs. group class weeks and such. Families either pay 1 annual payment, 2 semester payments, or 9 monthly payments, and then Summer is separate. My policies have a general statement that lesson structures and offerings may vary slightly from year to year. OK, so, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on fees but I’ve had people recently ask about it, so I wanted to make sure that was clear up front.
My first go of group class formats was to run them every Monday evening. Each week of the month was a different group with four in total. So, every Monday night following my private lessons, I had a different 60-minute group class. One thing I liked about this was that it was very consistent and students continued to get a private lesson while getting a bonus group class each month. The main reason I ultimately moved away from this format was because I felt like I was constantly planning for these classes. Plus, it was a spot in my week that I couldn’t fill with another paying student.
Next, I moved to a format where students still had a private lesson every single week but rather than doing group classes every Monday, all group classes were scheduled the first week of the month. Thus, students still had one week a month they came twice. The nice thing about this is I was able to focus my planning into one week and have all my group materials out and then put it away for the rest of the month. When it came down to it though, I still had the issue of running the group classes after also teaching a full teaching schedule which once again ultimately turned into exhaustion.
Enter the dynamic Charlene Shelzi from TCW Resources. After attending a workshop hosted by my local music store featuring Charlene, she inspired me to evolve even further. Charlene esposed holding group classes in lieu of private lessons one week of the month. The brilliant thing about this is it allowed me to focus the entire week on group class activity planning plus, due to the way they were structured, cut my active teaching time down a bit.
Those weeks were completely life-giving as they gave me a little breathing room to simply catch up. Not only that but I had previously only been doing 60-minute group classes since they were scheduled at the end of the day – like 6:30-7:30 or 7:00-8:00 and 60 minutes just never felt enough time to do all I wanted to in a well-rounded manner.
Dedicating an entire week to group classes allowed me to expand them to 75 minute. Sometimes I even think 90 minutes would be great depending on how many students you have and the level. My range is 3-6 students with the sweet spot being 3-4.
To give you a brief peak into my general group class lesson plan structure, I like to include four activities: performances, audiation activities, ensemble work, and music theory games. If you’d like to learn a little more details on these, check out a blog post on PianoPantry.com called “Group Lesson Planning Made Easy” and I’ll link to that in the show notes.
While this format of holding classes the first week of the month in lieu of their private lesson was a huge improvement. The one downside I noticed though was that my students tended to not practice as much one of those weeks and thus it felt like their progress slowed due to not having a lesson every 4 weeks. Enter the next group class evolution!
We moved from once a month to every 6-8 weeks – still in lieu of the private lesson. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!
This format has stayed with me now for several years and I have minimal if really no arguments against it.
Now let’s talk about the times of year when holding these classes seems to be of the most benefit for all. My sweet spots include 6 times during the school year.
- The first is during the first week or even the first two weeks of fall semester
I can’t take credit for this one as the idea came from my good friend, Christina Whitlock of the Beyond Measure Podcast. You can listen to her talk about it in episode 38 which I’ll link to in the show notes. The way I see it, having a lighter week the first week back to lessons is a nice way to ease into the schedule. Plus, it gives families an extra week to nail down those schedule requests. Christina has lots more convincing reasons which I’ll let her share with you when you listen to her podcast!
- The second week week I like to hold group classes is in the fall – generally it’s a week I have a speaking engagement scheduled out of town at the end of the week or it’s a week I have a conference going on that weekend. The week of Halloween can also be a fun one.
As far as reasons go, there’s not much to say here except the fact that students have a good month under their belt and will be prepared to perform something, plus it’s a nice mid-way point between the start of the semester to the holidays.
- The third week of the year I like doing group classes is the last week of lessons before Christmas break
Let’s face it, the closer we get to Christmas, who really wants to practice much? My student’s Christmas performance is the 2nd Saturday of December so doing a lesson the week after always feels futile. Plus, I schedule all the group classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, giving me a couple of extra days as a nice start to the holiday break.
- Fourth, and my BIG revelation this year…The first week back to lessons in January
Never have I ever done this until this year. Ten years, people, more than ten years it’s taken me to realize that this is a brilliant time to do a group class. I’m sorry, but no matter how many practice activities or challenges I’ve tried to do over the years, my students never practice much over the holidays and honestly, I don’t blame them.
Often times they’re getting new materials anyway that first week. So, in this instance I did a little different format for the January class and it went brilliantly.
Students were asked to come prepared to perform one piece they had learned in the previous year. Most of them played something from Christmas but a few pulled out older ones.
Because I’m lucky to have 4 keyboards in my studio with headphones, each student was given their new repertoire and they started working on it at their keyboard. I rotated between them every 5 minutes to help them out and get them started on each assignment. The last 15 minutes of class we played a game and called it a day! It was fantastic.
Similar to the week prior to Christmas, having that 3-day group class week made it a nice way to ease back into the full-time lesson schedule after the holidays.
- The fifth week like to do is in middle to late February (Valentines week is always good if you like theme week-classes)
Similar to the mid-fall class, this one is just at a good point in time. They’ve had 5-7 weeks of lessons and will have something fresh they can perform plus it gives us a little change of pace as Spring Break nears.
- Lastly, is the week prior to Spring Recital
This gives students an extra chance to practice performing their pieces and we talk about recital etiquette and such.
Lastly, let’s talk about the logistics of scheduling as we all know scheduling multiple families can be quite the feat. I’ve done this three ways over the years.
Up until last year, families would fill out a Google Form at the beginning of the year and I would go through and find combinations of students that fit best with their schedule. Their scheduled group lesson time would always be with the same people and at the same time every week we had group classes throughout the year.
For some reason this year just started to feel different, and I honestly can’t quite pinpoint why. I think I’m finding communicating with families via text and more in-time to be more useful than trying to book an entire year of group classes.
I’ve tried out two different scheduling routines this year and both have actually worked nicely.
The first way is the week prior to the class, I send everyone a Google Form with time options for the upcoming class week. Then, I schedule them while having everyone’s availability in front of me. The nice thing about waiting until the week prior is that schedules can change and it’s nice having their most recent availability.
The other way to do this year is to decide what 3-4 students I want in a class then I group text those families giving them 2-4 time options and asking for all times they COULD make work next week. The best way I have found to execute this is to text 1 group at a time and don’t text the next group until you nail down a common time for the first. It seems tedious but I haven’t had much trouble with this. I just work on it little by little one text at a time throughout the week.
Now, I know all of you enough to know your probably shaking your head thinking I’m crazy for doing it these new ways at the last minute but you never know what does and doesn’t worry until you try. Of course, you can also use music studio management apps for things like this but I’ve always found my families do better when they have less apps to add to their mix. Most just want to communicate directly with me and my studio is small enough it’s completely manageable.
Well, that’s a wrap for episode 3. I hope you were able to glean some ideas from my experiences and find a way of incorporating group classes into your studio that’s useful, sustainable, and life-giving for both you and your students.
If you have any follow up questions about this episode, you can send me a voicemail through the link at the bottom of the show notes.
Speaking of the show notes, you can find links to resources mentioned in todays episode including a blog post on group class lesson planning made easy, more talk from Christina Whitlock on the benefits of holding group classes in August to kick of the year, and more.
If you’re online, you can find me at PianoPantry.com/podcast, on Facebook @PianoPantry, or on Instagram @amychaplinpiano.
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Merci beaucoup! That’s French for “thank you very much!”
My little word of thanks leads me into this episode’s fun fact. In the first episode I shared a demonstration that I can say the alphabet backwards in less than 5 seconds. Don’t forget, if you share that same amazing skill, demonstrate your abilities by sending me a voicemail through the link at the bottom of the show notes. I would love to features others so I don’t feel like I’m all alone!
In episode two, I shared that my favorite thing to bake is cookies and gave links in the show notes to 5 of my absolute favorites so check those out.
Today I wanted to let you know that after 20 years, I’m trying to bring back my 4 years of high school French. Yes, I just dated myself. My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer to celebrate our 20th anniversary and I’ve been diligently practicing at least 15 minutes a day since last May.
I’ve tried 3 of the most prominent language learning apps: Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Babbel and have to say hands down that Babbel has become my favorite. It feels “gamified” enough to me which is why many tout Duolingo but Babbel really spends time teaching the rules as you go.
Au revoir, mes amis professeurs de musique. Merci d’être là et je vous parlerai bientôt.
Bye, my music teacher friends. Thanks for being here and I’ll talk to you soon!