I have found that the students in group classes have a much deeper internal sense of rhythm than students who take strictly private lessons. There is an energy in our group classes that stimulates the students to learn. When we learn new ideas, songs or concepts we talk about them, experiment on the piano, play games together to reinforce the ideas.
After many years of doing both private and group lessons I can say without a doubt that the environment of learning music in a group is far more stimulating, fun and beneficial for children than private lessons. Everyone progresses at a different rate. This is no different with group classes.
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Because our classes are small the teacher has a very good idea about the skills and ability of each student. We are always assessing the progress and levels of our students as well as their motivation to practice. If one student finds the regular assignments to be too easy we give them additional assignments to learn on their own. We give our students a CD of bonus music that they can decide to learn for extra credit.
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We also always take requests from students and parents about songs they would like to play. If one student is clearly way ahead of the other students in the class and is bored than we will look for a solution that could involve moving them to a higher level class or possibly private lessons if there is no suitable class for that child. If a student is clearly struggling to keep up we would try to find a class that they could do better in.
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In my opinion the ideal way to learn piano would be to take group lessons as a base and take 1 private lesson per month. They will have fun learning new music and all the fundamentals of piano and music in the group class and during the private lesson they can learn a more difficult song that they really want to play. If you were to try to learn a new foreign language like French would you start off by taking 6 months to memorise strictly be ear a very difficult piece of literary poetry before you could even introduce yourself or ask about the weather.
You may be able to impress some people with your ability to imitate the sound of the language but you will have probably gained little to no ability to actually communicate in that language. Trying to learn a difficult piece of music before you have developed any basic music skills is no different. You may be able to impress some people with your ability to play 1 difficult piece of music but once you stop practicing that song you will forget it in a couple of months and have very little music skills to show for all the effort.
In our school we focus on teaching our students musical skills rather than difficult repertoire. We focus a lot of energy in the beginning on reading music and learning how to use our ears. Once students get the basic idea of reading music down we then start learning about improvisation, composition, harmony etc. I think a lot of piano teachers underestimate how smart kids are.
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Kids will learn basically anything you teach them. The first time I tried to teach young children about improvisation I was pleasantly surprised because they did better at it than most of my adult students. When they can read music and understand the music they are playing they have so much more fun with it. After one year of our group classes most of my students cannot play Chopin but they can read well in both treble and bass clef, they have a very solid sense of rhythm, they can improvise and write melodies and they will have played and learned over songs.
Even if they quit after 1 year they will have skills that will stick with them for the rest of their life.
My goal as a teacher is to give my students essential musical skills that they can use to enjoy music for the rest of their life. Many of the students at our school have very little or no English skills when they start. In these classes many of the basic commands are in English but the more difficult concepts are explained in Japanese. In piano lessons there are many commands that are used repetitively and students catch on to these fairly quickly. Some students who speak no English are able to integrate and fit in without any problem in our all English classes.
We also have a bilingual receptionist who is available if there are some communication problems. Here are some of the famous songs that we teach. We also learn many songs with simple basic English lyrics. We usually sing the lyrics first and then learn how to play them on the piano. Kids have a lot of fun playing songs that they have heard before so we try to incorporate these songs into the lessons.
We also try to introduce them to lots of new music. We also use workbooks written by Jacob Koller for each class where we study sight-reading, ear-training, composition, harmony etc. Each lesson has a worksheet that we do together in class and there is homework assigned at every class similar to the in-class worksheet to reinforce the new concepts that we learn in each class.
We offer 1 free make-up lesson per month for our group students only. This means that with proper notice you can come to a class on a different day of the same level.
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We recommend that students try to come to their regular assigned class as much as possible and try to keep make-up lessons to a minimum. There are no make-up lessons for our private and pair lesson students. We accept students of any level but in order to improve there must be a commitment to the lessons. We take the lessons very seriously and we want each of our students to also take the lessons seriously.
We offer a discounted private lesson rate for our group students. I think it is ideal to take group lessons as a base and take 1 extra private lesson per month.
It is not possible for private students to take irregular group lessons although we do offer ensemble opportunities for the recital. The best place to start teaching is via creativity and exploration and teaching about the chordal foundations of music from the very beginning. Not only that, they are gaining an understanding of how music is composed and structured. You must make connections between all these areas in your teaching of every student, in every lesson, consistently.
Make sure they can sing part of the melody or bass line and incorporate sight reading as much as possible. Dissect the harmony and explore the main rhythmic elements. Not sure how to approach this kind of teaching? Do you remember the time when teachers were the people who knew everything and students were the vessels that needed filling up with their information?
This is understandable given that I was also questioning my own abilities! Remember that you should be learning things just as much as your students are learning new things everyday. How boring life would be without challenging your own knowledge! In Australia and the UK and no doubt other areas of the world , music education can easily become fixated on examinations. Students prepare the pieces required for an exam, sit it and move onto the music required for the next level, often on an annual basis.
The mistake is to base your teaching around an exam syllabus and use the syllabus like a curriculum.
I want my students to leave my studio having explored a huge variety of music, both written and composed, in heaps of styles and through a process that involves lots of creativity. If you are making this mistake now, I urge you to stop and re-think your teaching practice for next year:. I guarantee your students will thank you for it. If parents are on your back, you need to educate them about the merits of a broad-based music curriculum in the piano studio.
Ask them if they want their child to pass exams or learn to love music?
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I have always been a good sight reader so I assumed that my students would be too. Just allocate minutes to help your students understand how to sight read in class and set them work to do over the week. I like using the Piano Adventures sight reading books as they are structured in a week-by-week format and they introduce and practice ideas in an intervallic and chordal manner which suits my teaching.
What would you like other young teachers to avoid? Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation.