Do you need a simple and effective process for planning your group workshops? Take a listen to this episode to find out how I do it.
- Practice Power Piano Party Group Workshop
- Group Lesson Activities: Grand Staff Twister & Grand Staff Beanbag Toss
- Three Useful Styles of Lesson Plans for Piano Teachers
- How I Make Lesson Plans for Partner Piano Lessons
- Pain Box by June Armstrong
Click on any word to jump to that point in the audio. 🙂
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Welcome to episode 40 of the vibrant music teaching podcast. I’m Nicola Cantan and in this show I’ll talk you through my process for planning at group workshops
Hey there beautiful teachers. Last week I talked to you through the sort of logistical side of group workshops so how to make decisions about how many you’re going to do whether you can do one a term whether they’re going to replace lessons for that week whether you’re going to charge for them or roll them into tuition and all that lovely business stuff. So that was last week in Episode 39 go back and check that out if you’re interested in that side of it. This week we’re going to be talking about planning out the group workshops. I touched on this and the kinds of things I do in Episode 38 as well where I talked you through the 12 bar blues improvisation activity that you can do as an ensemble with a group of students at various levels. So today what I want to do is talk you through more generally how to actually plan these things out because it’s something that I definitely have come to over time and over doing this lots of times maybe a little bit wrong and I’ve come up with a system that I repeat for every group workshop I do that helps me to stay on track when planning it and also during it.
So it’s a simple way for me to refer back to my plans as well later on. So the first first step in this planning out process is to just pick a theme and I really really recommend you pick a theme.
It can be a bit arbitrary it can just be what you feel like doing. It doesn’t have to be any associated with any particular event coming up or anything like that although it can be. But even if you don’t have a reason to pick out a theme pick one it’s gonna make your planning so much easier. This is one of those cases where actually narrowing the options makes something easier. It’s like when students are improvising or composing right. If we just tell them OK improvise something well that’s impossible. What are they going to do. They’re probably going to freeze but if we say OK play in a major then just go in your right hand and whatever chord in your left hand if we give them parameters it makes it easier and it’s the same thing for you planning at your group workshop. So that’s why I want you to pick a theme. Now there’s tons of options for themes but I’ll just give you some quick ideas. The first and most obvious and it plays a lot of people start with group workshops is performance readiness or performance preparation. So if you’re doing this group workshop to get ready for a concert or a recital that can basically be Your theme is performance right.
Because you’re going to go through concert etiquette stuff you’re going to have students perform critique each other’s performances perhaps and maybe even discuss other people’s performances look up famous pianists on YouTube and see how they perform and the gestures they use and that kind of stuff right. That builds your theme out really nicely. Another theme you might consider is practice skills this is one I’ve done a few times in the past I tend to call it practice power or something like that diminutive catchy and that’s where we work on actual practice skills and practice techniques during the workshop. You could also pick out a particular composer for your workshop and center the whole thing around them. It doesn’t mean that everything has to be aligned your theme. You can throw in other bits and pieces but it gives you an overall focus.
So composer is a great one to do a particular musical era or film music something like that where you’re picking out a genre of music that also theme and based on colors it could be all about different colors or it could be all about different animals you could theme it based on a holiday that’s coming up like Easter or Christmas or summer or any event like that Valentine’s Day whatever it is you could be met all around that.
Or maybe you do a composing workshop right. That’s a great one to do as well. So those are just a few ideas. Anything you come up with yourself is great. What I’m going to help you do is take that theme and use it to plan out your group workshop.
So step one is to pick the theme. Step two is going to be to set up a spreadsheet. Exciting times right. So a spreadsheet an excel sheet Google Sheet whatever software you have yourself or a piece of paper with a table laid out on it.
What I want you to do is take the left hand column and write in five minute increments starting from your workshop time. So I’ll give you an example let’s say the workshop is going to be 90 minutes and it starts at 2:00 p.m. So you’re going to write it in that left hand column you’re going to write 2:00 p.m. next road and you’re going to write to 0 5 and to 10 to 15 and go forward that way. And actually if you just select a couple of cells and drag down in the corner Excel or google sheets or anything we’ll just repeat that pattern for you. So you don’t even have to write them all out if you don’t want to. Having five minute increments means that you can be pretty fine grained about how you plan the activities about what you’re going to do because you’re not really going to do anything for less than five minutes but there certainly are things that only take five minutes so I like to plan it out there that way rather than going in bigger chunks. And it also helps you to see visually how long you’re spending on certain things and how it’s all breaking Dan Rather than just writing in that duration for something. This helps you visually map it out right because you’re going to fill in the same activity for several of those chunks or units in a row if that’s what the activity is going to take up. So you’ve got your five minute increments and the left hand side. The next thing to fill in is your big activity. So I recommend planning one big thing to do at your group workshop. That’ll take up a lot of the time because a bunch of little things will be way more blinding for you way harder to figure out.
And it will feel choppy to your students actually they’ll get tired way faster. I’m a big advocate for jumping between activities in regular lessons but in group workshops you really do need something big to grasp on to for a large portion of the time.
Otherwise you’re just jumping all over the place and the kids will get restless. They’ll get a bit jumpy and they might start getting distracted from the activity even though it’s such a short amount of time they’re not going to stay on task nearly as well. So plan something big. Some examples of something big. For example you could have the 12 bar blues improved that I shared with you two episodes ago in Episode 38. That would be something big because it does take quite a while for everyone to rotate through all of those stations. So if you’re not sure what I’m talking about then go back and check out episode 38. You can get to it at vibrantmusicteaching.com/38 the numbers 3 8. That could be one big activity to do for a big chunk of time. I mean that might take 30 to 40 minutes even you could spend on that because you could first talk about the blues and go through it and talk about the structure and go over that and the scale and set everyone up Choose your rhythm instrument rotate everyone through every station that can easily take 30 to 40 minutes. Another big activity might be if you have a composing theme. Well the big activity is the actual composing whether you’re going to do it all as a group where you compose one piece altogether or whether students are going to split up and work in pairs or something like that. That’s going to take a large chunk of the time and other activities are going to prepare for and go along with that composing activity. Okay. Another option might be that you’re going to do an improv based on one of Beethoven’s pieces or you’re all going to create an ensemble together at least based on one of Beethoven’s pieces for your Beethoven theme.
And in fact this is what we do in the Beethoven bash. So there’s a workshop plan that just came out in the vibrant music teaching library which I talk you through in a video and give you a full laid out plan for and that’s actually based around Beethoven so it’s called Beethoven bash and that would be one of the big activities in that. OK so lay out your big activity whatever that is and fill it in for the time. It shouldn’t go at the very start of your workshop but it should go close to the start. Probably about 10 or 15 minutes in depending on the length of your workshop and highlight all of the sales that that’s going to take up in your sheet highlight all of the section that it’s going to take up. So say it’s going to be 30 minutes it’s gonna take six of those five minute units and write in what it is whatever the activity was 12 bar blues or whatever and I like that also the same color so that you can see that big chunk taken up that always when I do that moment when I decide on my big activity and it takes up a huge chunk of it that’s when I breathe a bit of a sigh of relief right. Because the cycle most of the time is actually sorted. This isn’t such a big deal. Then the next thing I would do is think about if you need a break.
If you’re doing an hour or even an hour and 15 I would say definitely no break. Ninety minutes is debatable and I’ve actually gone back and forth on this myself but I’ve started doing the break again and I think I’m going to stick with it just a five minute break somewhere around the middle to give everyone juice makes a huge difference to their energy because they get that little head of sugar they aren’t dehydrated. That’s a big problem with energy levels at these kinds of things. And it gives them a chance to just sort of chill for a moment maybe chat to each other maybe not maybe you just have the silence for a second. And yeah it makes a big difference to how much they pay attention in that second half of the workshop. So I’d say 90 minutes or more definitely if you’re doing two hours. You need a little break in the middle and just some juice to have on hand or even just water is fine. Don’t feel like you have to make a big feast for her bunch of kids to have at a break so that the first two elements locked in you’ve got your big activity or activities. If you’ve a couple and you’ve got your break now you’ve got a five to 10 minute chunk to fill. At the start and then you’ve got the rest of the time to fill the five to 10 minute chunk at the start. You need to do something as a warm up activity. Ideally this would be something where people can slip in.
I’m always surprised by quite How punctual most of the students in my studio are but there’s always gonna be someone who has to arrive late or yeah just even a few minutes and you don’t want to be sitting there staring at each other waiting for them to get there to start the first activity.
So pick something where you can just start it with whoever is there and people can join in. Great suggestion for this that I got a while ago was for. Guess what I am kind of thing. So you in a musical symbol appropriate to a student’s level onto their back pen or tape or whatever and then the student themselves asks other students questions about it. So I dynamic I and note I note value what you know and they can ask yes or no questions and try and guess what it is. This works great because as students walk in and arrive their thing pinned to their back and it gets to explain to them or they can figure it out by what’s going on around them. And this can actually keep going for the whole group workshop. So when I’ve done this students when they get upset we take it off their back but we just leave it on otherwise which is quite fun because they can at various points. Just ask another student behind them beside them hey is it a travel class or whatever. Yeah. Then they take it off. Right. So that’s a really handy one to do and I loved getting that tip from one of the members in the vibrant music studio teacher’s group on Facebook and other things I’ve done are just a song where people can just slip in and we can be singing it on repeat a song that comes with a clapping activity or some kind of actions to go with it where we can just do it on repeat and students can join in as they arrive or a game that works when you start in the middle.
You need something like that for when people arrive or the last option would be. And I use this a lot actually. A listening activity. Guess what this is. So the play Guess what era this is from. Guess what composer this is or I love to do this with themed things. So for example I have animal tracks that are all representing different animals and they can guess what animal it is. I also love to do this. I’ve been doing this recently with June Armstrong’s book which is called paint box. Sorry that’s the name I was thinking Kaleidoscope and that’s not right. Paint Box and each piece represents a different color and that’s a really fun one. Kids love guessing that and it works especially well since I have such young students and much older students. The colors is a great equalizer for that. So that’s a good one for when students are just dripping in as well. And from there. Just use your theme to come up with other little exercises and activities games and improvisation prompts and things like that and drip them into the remainder of your plan. You shouldn’t actually end up with too much time left at this stage depending on how long your workshop is and that’s it. That’s my simple process. I print that out at the maximum size I can and I leave it on my little teaching desk so that I can quickly refer to it. And the reason I write at 2 p.m. 2 0 5 etc. rather than 5 minutes 10 minutes just enter the workshop is that I can quickly glance at my watch and see OK it’s two twenty five.
We’re ahead of schedule. This is next exercise should take a little bit longer. I can take my time with it or while we’re way behind and I definitely want to do that. Fourth activity that we have. So we should speed this up or I should call the game early or whatever it is. So that’s been really handy and that’s been the easiest way for me to stay on track and feel like I know what’s going on without reading some lengthy description of what I wanted to do because that’s just impossible. You’ve got ten or twelve kids looking at you for attention and you are just not going to be able to read full sentences in that time. So just having the time there and the title of the activity is enough to jog my memory. That’s it. That’s my process for planning group lessons and I hope it’s been useful for you. As I said there is a group workshop plan and now available to buy music teaching members. So if you go into the library or the video library that that’ll be right at the top at the moment. It’s called Beethoven bash and there’s games and activities all around. One of our favorite composers right. So we can learn more about him and have some fun learning about music history. You can hop over to the video library to grab that and if you’re not a member of course you can sign up first and then you’ll get instant access to it and every other resource inside vibrant music teaching so you can go to VMT.ninja to sign up and get access to the Beethoven Bash.
That’s it for this week. I hope you had fun with it and that you have fun at your group workshop. With your new group. Workshop lesson plan. And I’ll see you next week. Bye for now. If you’re finding it hard to come up with ideas and games and composing ideas and everything else for your group workshop then you need to join vibrant music teaching. There’s a whole library of principles and games and creative problems as well as fully planned. A group of workshop plans for you to use in your studio just hop on over to VMT.ninja and sign up today.
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