Scheduling Group Lessons

Group LessonsIf you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I LOVE teaching group lessons.   Group lessons give students an opportunity to connect with their musical peers, and perform in front of them on a regular basis.  They also give us an extended time-frame to drill theory, listening and rhythm skills (which usually involves a lot of fun and GAMES!!).    

I frequently get emails from readers about how I go about scheduling and setting up group lessons, so I thought I’d post a bit of an overview of my group program.   If you’re considering adding a group lesson program to your studio (or perhaps tweaking an existing program), I hope this will give you some ideas!  

Yearly Scheduling

My elementary and middle school students attend 60-minute group lessons approximately once a month in place of their private lessons.    Typically, group is scheduled the last week of the month (it’s helpful for family scheduling to keep group at the same time each month – i.e., always the first week, last week, etc.).   I don’t schedule groups during the months of November and March.  We lose a week of lessons those months to Thanksgiving and Spring Break, and it’s often the time of year we’re working hard on repertoire for upcoming performances, so we stick with private lessons instead.   In contrast, I always schedule group lessons at the end of the semester in December and May, and on Halloween week.  Our group schedule gives us a bit of added flexibility in scheduling those weeks (since they tend to be busy ones for students), and they’re great weeks for performance classes, since students have repertoire polished and ready to show off those times of the year.  

My high school students meet for groups a little less frequently – typically 2 times each semester (once mid-semester and once toward the end).   I like to schedule groups prior to  festivals and performances, so they have a chance to test out their repertoire before it goes public.   

Group Size

I try to keep my group sizes in the neighborhood of 4-6 kids – that number can easily fit in my studio space, with room to move around, and it’s also a good number for games.  If there are too many kids in a group, it can be hard to keep students engaged while everyone takes turns performing and playing games.  Too few kids can also create challenges – especially if they’re at different levels.

Group Scheduling

The most challenging part of teaching group (by far!) is setting up lesson times that work for all of my studio families.  I assign students to groups based on a mixture of age & ability level, scheduling availability and gender (the last one isn’t as important as the others, but it can be fun to have all-girls and all-boys groups if you have a large enough studio to do it).  

Each year, I include a scheduling form in the annual enrollment packet I send out to parents over the summer.  I pre-determine the times I’m available to teach group lessons, and list them on the form, then ask parents to check all of the times that their student is available to attend group.   Here’s a snapshot of this year’s form:

Group Scheduling Form

 

Once I’ve collected the forms, I sit down with everyone’s schedule and piece together our groups.  I have a large enough studio that I usually have 4 or 5 elementary groups, 2 or 3 middle school groups and a couple of high school groups.  In many ways, that makes it easier to schedule, since there are groups meeting all throughout the week, we can usually find a time that works for everyone’s schedule.  It’s certainly not an exact science – I’ll often end up with a group or two that has students with varying levels (I’ll share more about how to deal with that in an upcoming post).  

I also sometimes run into students who’s schedules just don’t synch up with any of my group times through some of all of the year.  When that happens, we stick with private lessons, and just plan a “fun” week at the end of each month when we do all of our group activities and games together.   

Reminders and Schedule Changes

One thing that I’ve learned over several years of group teaching is that it’s really important to send a reminder note or email out to families the week before a group lesson to remind them that it’s coming each month.   For many students, their group lesson day/time will fall at a different place in the week than their regular private lesson slot, and it can be easy for families to fall into a routine with private lessons and forget that it’s a group week.

I send out a calendar at the beginning of the school year with all of our group lesson weeks noted.  I also send a reminder email the Friday or Saturday prior to each group week, with a reminder of our group schedule.   In that email, I ask families to let me know if they have  a conflict with their group time.  Most often, since I have groups meeting throughout the week, students are able to switch to a different group for the month.   Should a student not be able to attend any of the week’s groups, or miss their group lesson without notice, it’s noted in my policy that there are no make-ups offered for group lessons.  

Do you have questions about group lessons I haven’t addressed?   Or have successful group program ideas you’d like to share with other readers?  Feel free to leave comments below!


Comments

Scheduling Group Lessons — 9 Comments

  1. Jennifer when you have a student who can’t make the group you want them in does there private lesson ever fall at a time when you have another group, for instance you have a middle schooler can make that group but her lesson would be during elementary group. Do you have to change her privat lesson every 4th week?

    • Yes, on occasion. If I know that I have a student who won’t be attending any groups during the year, I do try to schedule my groups around their private lesson so we don’t have a conflict (that’s rare, so it’s not that difficult to work around). It’s more often the case that I have a student who can’t come to group during a portion of the year (i.e. winter or spring sports seasons). When that happens, I do sometimes need to move private lessons during our group weeks.

  2. Are the group lessons in place of the regular lesson during the last week of that month? Do parents have to pay extra for the group or is it included in tuition? Do any parents object to group lessons (I can see that happening in my part of the world)?

    • Yes, group lessons take the place of regular lessons that week, and they’re included in tuition as a regular lesson week.

      When I first started teaching group lessons, I did have a few parents question the program. I’ve found that communication is really important – parents need to be informed of why groups are included in the yearly curriculum, and what their student gains from that experience. I make sure to explain how private and group lessons work (and complement each other) to all prospective families during our initial interview, and haven’t run into any parent issues in recent years.

  3. Thank you so much for all of your good information on scheduling groups. As I mentioned in the couple of emails I sent you, I have been looking for ways to improve scheduling. The idea of going to a semester or trimester instead of my current quarter system looks like a great idea. How many group lessons do you schedule during a given school year?
    I usually have 40-45 students and can end up having more than one elementary, more than one intermediate group etc. making it possible to switch students somewhat between groups. Do you generally plan a variety of games/playing repertoire/etc. in each group?? How difficult is it to accommodate a student of a different level?
    Thank you again for the help. I am really looking to revamp some things in my studio this year and incorporating your games and tweaking my scheduling is just the ticket!!
    Barb

    • Hi Barb,

      Glad that this has been helpful to you! I usually have 7 groups scheduled during the school year (the last week of Sept, Oct, Dec, Jan, Feb, Apr, May). It’s basically a monthly system, we just skip November and March since we lose a week there to Thanksgiving and Spring Break.

      I’m working on a follow-up post that should answer the rest of your questions… stay tuned!

      • Thanks! I am really taking a hard look at how things are scheduled this up-coming school year. I need more time with my own kids, but still want to give top notch lessons. I am on an all-out mission to manufacture the games you have posted, and am looking forward to really shaking things up in my studio this coming year.

        Barb

  4. I have an adult student whose twin 6 year old daughters will begin taking lessons from me during the next school year. I’m wondering if there is any way to teach them both at the same time, rather than having them come back to back and teaching the exact same thing twice. I’m sure their parents would appreciate this as a way of saving time and money. I only have an acoustic piano in my studio. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Cheri,

      So sorry for the delay in my reply to you. I’ve personally never taught partner lessons like you’ve described… in fact, I’ve always tried to start siblings in separate sets of books and vary some of their activities so that they weren’t working on the same thing at the same time. That way, mom and dad don’t get sick of the same songs, and there’s no pressure if one progresses a little faster than the other.

      One idea that might work for you, though, is to schedule them so that they each have a private lesson, with a little overlapped time together in the middle where they could play games and work on fundamental concepts (i.e. piano key names, notes on the staff, etc.) together. So… one could do a 20-minute lesson, followed by 20 minutes of games together, then the other could have her private 20 minute lesson.

      Good luck finding something that works for you and your students!

      Jen

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