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Group Classes: A Wonderful Addition to your Studio

Teaching group classes is perhaps my favorite aspect of managing a private teaching studio. During this hour, I watch students grow musically and foster breath-taking friendships. We learn entirely through games and group work to keep the process enjoyable and group spirit alive. It's "WE" over "ME" 100%. 

Since we end each class with solo performances of a review piece, students become very comfortable playing in front of their peers. The benefits are really endless. After many years of teaching with this structure (weekly individual lessons + weekly group classes), I would say that group classes "glue" the whole experience together. Besides, isn't everything more fun when you're surrounded by your friends? 


Who: 3-6 students of the same general age group and level

What: a group/performance/theory/improv/musicianship class

Where: your studio 

When: each week (each month is ok as well, but not as effective)

Why: it's fun and it's EXTREMELY effective

Here are the 6 core elements to include (though there are plenty more that make appearances depending on class age, level, and the group dynamic). 


1. Seated Warm-Up

The purpose of a seated warm-up is to welcome the children into the class. There are hundreds of various possibilities for the warm-up, but some ideas include: name games, follow the leader (clapping, singing, percussion, gesture/movement), or a simple metronome-rhythm game such as passing around a tennis ball along with a metronome.  


2. Dalcroze Eurhythmics (Movement Element)

Movement is incredibly important for young children to truly enjoy a group class. Connecting movement to rhythm concepts (march to this beat, step on beat 1 only, pass around ball and reverse the direction when you hear ____, the list goes on and on), ear-training, voice and music theory is both effective and fun. From a teaching perspective, the key is to be as creative as possible. For instance, if you're teaching thirds, use tape to make a huge staff and practice jumping from line to line, space to space and singing along. Your students will not forget thirds anytime soon after a fun activity like this.


Freeze Game Idea: Freeze dance is the most fun game ever for children ages 4-6. It is also very simple: play a piece and (dramatically) stop at the end of phrases. When the children hear the music stop, they must "Freeze" wherever they are. During this fun game, children are practicing active listening (in contrast to passive listening). We are also training body awareness, which is so important with the little ones.

  • Tip: Make sure you have rules in place or you will witness your nice class devolve into a catastrophic jungle within seconds. Ideas: start position, clear boundaries, etc. 

3. Rhythm Reading Activity 

Rhythm Reading is a critical skill for all musicians. Rhythm activities may be integrated in many ways throughout the class (simply having children "march" to the beat of music that you play - switching speeds is always fun). However, having a dedicated time for rhythm reading -- counting aloud & clapping -- is crucial to fully develop the skill. 

  • Resources:
    • Music Mind Games Big Blue Jello Cards (I use this for the first few months of teaching before moving onto numbered rhythm reading)
    • Rockin' Rhythms (TCW Games



4. Notation/Reading

Practicing notation reading outside of instrumental lessons is very advantageous. The use of games and a non-pressure situation allows children to really work on this skill. Of course the goal is for instant recognition of all notes, keys, chords, and so forth. 


5. Instrument-Specific or General Musicianship Activity

It is always wise to use group class to reinforce the concepts you are teaching during private lessons. For beginning students, this might be something as simple (but important) as a beautiful bow. For older students, this might be discussing how to close a phrase, or tastefully 'take time' or why beginning a crescendo with too much sound is ineffective.... The list goes on forever of fantastic topics to discuss. 

If you are getting ready for a studio recital, you may use this time to prep the students and practice beautiful bows, smiling at the audience, walking calmly to the stage (EVERY DETAIL MATTERS!), assuming beautiful "rest" and "ready" positions, and so forth. 

SUPER FUN Game Idea: DISTRACTION TESTING. While one student performs a polished piece, the others attempt to distract the player. This is one of my all-time favorite games, and admittedly, we've gone a little wild at times: The Dyson vacuum has been used, metronomes at various speeds, loud talking, 'fake' crying, coughing, lights flashing on and off, dancing, the musical husky has been summoned to sing... 

Pedagogically-speaking: If your students can get through the distractions their peers inflict upon them, they will make it through the next studio recital's minor distractions no problem. 


6. Performance Time

We end every single group class with performances. Every student must play a review piece of their choice, complete with a bow, rest, ready, etc. as if they were playing in a recital. By integrating performance into a weekly class, I've noticed that students do not suffer from performance anxiety - they know that making mistakes is a part of live performance and that it is OK. However, since students are much more comfortable performing by memory for their peers, substantial mistakes are very rare at formal recitals. 

  • Tip: For very young students still working on form: Use this time to practice a beautiful bow and how to be a good audience member. Students will take turns walking to the piano, taking a beautiful bow while the others clap, and slowly walking back to the class. While this might seem insignificant, standing up in front of others and mindfully bowing is a big deal! Remember, we are laying the groundwork for years down the line! No matter how lopsided the bow, we smile and clap emphatically to let the students know they are doing a GREAT job! 

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for your own group classes!