Last week was “group lesson week” at the studio.  For me, this meant planning activities that would keep my students begging to come back.  For my students, it meant coming to my home for a different kind of lesson & hanging out with my other students.

With Christmas coming up, we set up the tress (outside & in) & our twins were unleashed upon the decorations to show off their creativity.  (Our tree has been fully booby-trapped in preparation for Santa & a new Creeper with a Santa hat has been added to our decorations.)I am happy to say that the main level of the house has never looked cleaner … if only it could last until the holidays!


Planning a Rhythmically Good Time

Mission:  Keep students engaged & having fun for 90 minutes straight (& keep my sanity by the end).

Challenge:  One group consisted of 7 students ranging in age from 5 – 11 years old.  Most of them do not have long attention spans.

Focus:  Tie into our studio rhythm challenge as much as possible.  And, get the Christmas/Winter music out to students!

Students were expected to bring their binder with practice pouch (which contained the all important pencil & points card.)  When they walked in, the intro activity was waiting on the table & instructions were on the TV.

Intro Activity:  Analyze Your New Song

  • We tend to follow the same steps every time we see a new song, so I put those steps up on the TV for a quick reminder of what to do.  (form, dynamics, articulation, accidentals, etc.)
  • Students also completed a “PSSST! Your Teacher Thinks This Is Theory” worksheet in conjunction with their new piece.
  • Older students worked independently while I spent more time with my 2 youngest students.
  • Supplies:
    • pencils (for those that forgot or to tap out the rhythm)
    • pencil crayons for marking their music
    • PSSST! Your Teacher Thinks This Is Theory” worksheets for each student
    • easy access to piano for students that need to see the keys
  • Homework:  Chose a motive or section of your song to begin practicing this week.
Intro Activity
Intro Activity

Rhythm Cups

  • The ever popular rhythm cups activity was back!
  • Techie details:  Rhythm page was on the TV & my cell was plugged into the speaker for better sound
  • With a mix of student abilities, I made sure the basics were down & didn’t stress about complete accuracy from every student.  When it came to the faster tempos, each person did their best & we celebrated the wins.
  • Supplies:
    • Plastic cups:  Depending on the rhythms you choose, may want to label RH & LH.
    • Wendy Steven’s Rhythm Cups & Backtracks … She now has bundles of various levels & the audio tracks as well.  There is also a holiday edition if you are interested!

Ensemble: Dynamite

  • I created a 4-part, simplified version of Dynamite (Tao Cruz) that I expanded to 7 parts.  Why Dynamite?  Almost all my students knew the song & the 2 main rhythms can easily be simplified.
  • Students had fun singing & getting their groove on to the song before we moved to the piano.
  • Challenge:  7 hands on the piano at the same time … with several students that have very short attention spans.  I told the kids it would either go really well or spectacularly bad … but we would have fun either way!  It sounded nothing like the song, but I think I’ve come up with a studio project that should let us keep working on the song.
  • Supplies:
    • Card stock with each part printed on it.  I used a short hand for the notation with note letter names & pictures of the type of note.
    • Video or audio of the song
Ensemble setup
Ensemble setup

Craft Time: Practice Planners

  • After showing the students how an example practice planner & what the different sections meant for their practice, we watched a how-to video.
  • Thankfully, I had a parent come early to help with the largest group.  Between the two of us, we were able to help all the kids.  I even had a chance to take pictures for the first time that evening.
  • The kids LOVED designing their practice person!
  • Supplies:
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Colourful card stock
    • Washi tape in assorted colours & designs
    • Colourful post-its
    • Lots of fine-tip markers
    • Instructions from Teach Piano Today on how to make the craft

Student Practice Planners

Take Homes For Students:

  • New Christmas or winter song (depending on religious beliefs): Enough analysis done to begin working on it independently this week.
  • Theory worksheet related to their new song to complete … also taken from “Pssst!  Your Teacher Thinks This is Theory“.
  • Practice Planner to start using this week.

Additional Resources I Used:

  • Lonely Screen:  Our TV is hooked up to a small computer.  I downloaded the online app to allow my iPad to screen cast to our non-Apple TV/computer.
  • Keynote:  I made a quick ‘presentation’ that walked students through each activity.  In the presentation, I included graphic links for the rhythm pages, how-to videos, etc.
  • Music Playlist:  During the intro activity, we listened to Christmas music.  For our last activity, each group of students choose the band/artist they wanted to listen to while working.

The End Result of All This Fun?

  • Happy parents:  Not only did they have a chance to do super-secret Christmas shopping, but they also came in at the end of group lesson seeing their child(ren) fully engaged in the craft.  I’ve also been hearing how much fun they had seeing their kids with the theory sheets since the group lesson.
  • Happy parent volunteer:  She saw firsthand how engaged all the kids were with creating the craft.  And, then told other parents about it when they arrived.  Did I mention that she helped clean up while I was talking to the other parents?  Yup.  Best clients ever.
  • Happy students:  “When is the next group lesson!?!”  Need I say more?
  • Happy, but tired teacher:  My students reviewed quite a few rhythm (& non-rhythm) concepts & had no idea!  It felt like we got all the benefits of lesson, but super charged.

Tips to Group Lesson Success:

  • Prep as much as possible beforehand.
  • Have a plan … about 15 minutes per activity.  Better to have too much planned than the kids taking over.  (“The sofas look very bouncy, don’t they?“)
  • Organize everything beforehand so it is easy to reach.
  • Have an independent intro activity so kids gets settled in as they arrive.
  • Have an ending activity that is really engaging.  Or, a great, healthy snack.  Parents only see when they drop off & pick up.  Seeing their kids happy & engaged goes a long way to seeing the value of group lessons.

A list of your favourite things …

Perhaps you are in the midst, or have just finished, group lessons in your studio.  I hope that these ideas will make the whole process (planning to party central) go a whole lot easier.  Feel free to share your favourite activities, resources, or tips for a successful group lesson.

Have a great weekend!


    1. Sorry, Amy! I don’t think I will be sharing the actual ensemble for download since then I will run into copyright issues.
      For educational purposes, we are allowed to modify songs so they work for our students (though the law can be a bit vague on what constitutes too much modification). The moment I upload the ensemble, I’m pretty sure it would fall under arrangement & then I need to get permission from the composer/publisher, as well as pay a fee for the rights.
      What I CAN do is write up a blog on how I simplified the rhythm & created the ensemble using what was already in the song. Then, you could use that to create your own ensembles for your group lessons. Would that be something that would be helpful?

      1. Oh, of course, I didn’t even think about copyright issues! That sounds like it could be helpful for a future blog post but don’t go to too much trouble!

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