Group lessons are a fantastic asset in a piano studio. They bring kids together to make friends, learn in new ways, and make music as part of an ensemble.
This is especially important for piano students, as they usually don’t fit into school orchestras or bands. If we want them to experience a musical community and music making teamwork, we often have to create it ourselves.
This year at Colourful Keys I’m running regular group ‘Piano Party’ workshops. I’ve always included some group lessons in my calendar, but this is the first year that there’s one almost every month.
Each music workshop includes games, ensembles and rhythm activities plus a special focus. As it’s September and I want practicing to get a kickstart, I chose Practice Power as this month’s theme.
Here’s how the 90 minute group lesson unfolded…
What’s your name?
I learned this activity from Tim Topham’s podcast with Vashti Summervill. It’s such an fun and inspirational episode, if you haven’t seen it definitely check it out.
If you don’t have time to watch however I’ll summarise it for you. 😉
- The teacher claps a steady beat while asking “What’s your name?”
- Each student needs to answer with their name using the same number of beats. Demonstrate the different options such as “Nicola.”, “Nicola Cantan.”, “My name is Nicola”, “I’m Nicola”, etc.
- Once they have chosen how they’ll answer, repeat the exercise asking them to clap the rhythm of the answer this time, not the beat.
- Repeat the exercise again this time with the students only clapping their answer, while saying it in their head.
There are further steps Vashti mentions in the podcast, but for a one-off group this is as far as I took it. The exercise took about five minutes.
This is a singing game I learned at the Kodály Society of Ireland training over the summer. It’s a really fun activity that teaches the concept of duple vs. triple metres.
Everyone needs a pair of drumsticks. You can pick up drumsticks pretty cheaply on amazon (I have these ones) or at your local music store.
- Sit in a circle and place one drumstick on the floor beside your left knee. Hold the other drumstick in your left hand.
- On beat 1 pick up the stick to your right with your right hand.
- On beat 2 tap the sticks together.
- On beat 3 place the stick in your right hand beside your left knee.
- To transition to duple metre for the chorus, omit the tap. Just pick up and put down with your right hand.
I couldn’t find a good video to demonstrate the actions, but here’s the song:
Next up we created rhythms using proportional rhythm cards (I’ll share these with you soon). We used popsicle sticks as barlines and composed 4 bars each.
Once the rhythms were composed we practiced saying each using the rhythm syllables (I use the Kodály rhythm syllables; ta, titi, etc.). When everyone had got the hang of that we added rhythm instruments.
Each student performed their own rhythm using the rhythm instrument of their choice. Then we swapped rhythms and instruments and tried out the next one, again solo.
We swapped two more times, this time with everyone playing their rhythm instrument in unison, and the leader (whichever student was in front of the rhythm) saying the rhythm syllables.
After these warm-up activities, we headed into the main portion of this Piano Party. The special focus for this workshop was Practice Power and we had a lot of fun with it!
I wanted my students to be able to say what was “wrong” with each other’s practice, without it feeling like an attack or judgement. That’s when I thought of this role-play idea with doctors, assistants and patients. Solved.
First I demonstrated some symptoms myself, and the students worked as a team to find out what was wrong with my practice. This resulted in lots of giggling as I played at warp speed, with giant pauses in the middle, and hitting wrong notes over and over until I found the right one to continue.
Then we named our first doctor, assistant and patient. The doctor is adorned with the stethoscope, the assistant gets glasses on top of their head, and the patient prepares at the keys!
Choose a short piece or section of a piece for the patient to play. It’s the doctor’s job to assess which ailment the student has, and what solution they would like to use to fix it. The assistant must then prepare and administer that solution from the practice kit.
I can’t count how many times all of us erupted in laughter doing this. It really helped to take the pressure off the student playing so we could look at their practice with fresh eyes.
The kids loved this game! The element of “falling” in the water really makes it a hoot. I love the tension that one wrong answer can get you sent back to the beginning.
I used the level 1 cards this time around as most of the kids are only 6 months into piano studies. You can download the Symbol Splash game in my previous post here.
Next up it was time for some blues! It’s so easy to adapt the 12 bar blues for any mix of students.
- Absolute beginners can play just the bass line with whole notes.
- Elementary students might be able to play open fifths or chords.
- Intermediate students could handle a walking bass or boogie style accompaniment.
I gave the soloist a glockenspiel to improvise on. This gives beginners greater freedom, as they’re not worrying about fingering. They didn’t even have to find the right keys as I put post-it flags on the bars to hit.
Pure creativity, no barriers.
For a completely different group improvisation idea, check out the Debussy Do piano party plan.
For the last few minutes we did some listening observation. I put this at the end of the class so I could calm everyone down, and return the kids to their parents in a relaxed state. 😉
We started with a few pieces that describe animals. I asked them to tell me about the pieces (high/low, loud/soft, fast/slow, articualtions) and then to guess which creature it might describe. For this I used:
- The Bear – Vladimir Rebikov
- Butterfly – Edvard Grieg
- The Horseman – Robert Schumann
We then listened to some examples in different time signatures. We clapped/tapped along in a pattern distinctive to each metre and then asked them how many beats there were in a bar.
These are the patterns I used:
- 2:4 – Lap, clap
- 3:4 – Tap right knee, tap left knee, tap left knee
- 4:4 – Lap, clap, shoulders, clap
My students really enjoyed this listening activity and I think they got a lot out of it. Active listening as a group is something they don’t get to do too often. It’s a completely different experience to the listening we do in every day life.
Do you have group lessons in your piano studio?
What are your favourite group activities? Did you find some new ideas in today’s post that you’re excited about?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and ideas in the comments!