Group piano students get many advantages over one-on-one students. They get to experience playing as part of an ensemble each and every week, and they have built-in accountability to practice.
Whenever group piano lessons of any kind are mentioned, the most common questions are:
- Isn’t that impossible to schedule to get the same levels together?
- What do you do if they’re not at the same level?
The truth is even if you do figure out the scheduling madness needed to convert your private piano studio to group lessons and match the levels perfectly…soon they’ll be out of sync anyway.
Students move at different paces. You are almost never going to have two students who progress exactly the same through everything.
I teach students primarily in buddy lessons which are overlapping lessons where students have a portion of their lesson time with me, solo, and a portion of their lesson time with a piano buddy. I also love teaching partner piano lessons, and I teach some preschoolers in small groups too.
Working with 2 or more students together has huge benefits and it’s worth dealing with this levelling issue to get those benefits, but I understand why this roadblock could be standing in your way.
Let me share with you how I overcome students being ahead or behind two different areas. All of these ideas will work for group piano students, piano partners and piano buddies.
When students aren’t catching on to reading at the same pace, that might seem like a deal-breaker, but it’s actually the easiest one to fix!
I think of this as the “easy-medium-hard” solution.
Say you have two, or several, students in the same method book. Some could be going faster, some could be going slower.
So you’re stuck in limbo a little bit. The slower student never gets to fully polish their pieces, and the faster student always ends up a wee bit restless.
Well, now is a great time to introduce different supplemental books for each student.
- The method book will now become the “medium” book
- The slower student will get an “easy” supplemental book so that they can gain more confidence with reading
- The faster student will get a “hard” supplemental book to provide a challenge
As I said above, students will never progress at exactly the same pace. This simple solution can keep everyone happy and moving forward.
My number 1 tip for technique remains the same for any piano student who’s struggling, group or not. What’s their setup like at home?
Do they have a decent instrument with weighted keys? Is their bench at the right height? Do they have somewhere to rest their feet if they can’t reach the floor?
These things aren’t particular to group piano students but they’re important to ask first, every time. Our students are (hopefully) spending far more time at their home instrument than our studio one so the home setup is vital.
Once that’s straightened out the next to try is just making it clear that you value good technique. Show, don’t tell.
- Start with technique work first in every lesson
- Tell the parent to start practice at home with technique work first too
- Have students critique each other’s technique, observing and then offering one suggestion for what they could do better next time
- Sit the struggling student as close to you as you can so that they can easily see and mimic your movements
If this isn’t enough, you may need to find some time to work with this student one-on-one during the group lesson. Give the other students independent work for just a few minutes and try to get to the root of the issue.
Do you teach in groups or partner lessons?
How do you handle it when students are ahead or behind? Do you find it to be an issue?
4 thoughts on “Tips and Tricks for When Group Piano Students are Ahead (or Behind)”
I did have semi private lessons but the levels were not the same and I ended up giving too much time to the slower student. I tried independent work but that person also needed my attention because they couldn’t figure out what to do. One quit and the other will get a private lesson. This was for violins, which I also teach. Really hard to hear who is out of tune when two people are playing and I now have a huge appreciation for orchestra conductors. But, it did work with their orchestra music and we had fun. Would give it a try again if I had more time with the students.
You definitely always need longer for shared lessons of any type than for groups. Hope you give it another go and it works out better next time. 🙂
Thank you for this! It affirmed what I tried on my own! I gave s harder piece to the student who was ahead of the group to supplement the lesson book.
I love your blog and all the wonderful tips! Thank you!!
Glad you’re enjoying it Cherri! 😀