If 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!
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.
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.
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:
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!