A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy. In this series, I’ll share my notes and a few favorite quotes from the sessions I attended. You can read more about NCKP here. The Art of Group Piano Teaching presented by Christopher Fisher
"Students become responsible for their own and each other's learning"
Positive Benefits - limitless performance opportunities build confidence and poise - group teaching fosters critical listening and problem-solving skills - students can take on specific roles for listening and providing feedback ("players" and "checkers" who check feet, posture, wrist, thumb, knuckles, etc.) - discovery-based learning environment with teacher as facilitator - ensemble playing develops a strong rhythmic foundation
Suggestions - start small; begin with one age group or level of advancement - try partner/dyad lessons: 15-minute private lesson + 30-minute overlapped group lesson - try summer camps; one idea is to have each student bring in their favorite pop music/lead sheet and have a few other students join them to form a rhythm section
Materials - most materials for group teaching can be tailored from any standard method (see Piano Safari)
8 Group Piano Games 1. "Pass the Rhythm"
- based on the children's game, "Telephone" - students form a line - the person at the back of the line reads or creates a rhythm and taps this pattern on the back of the person standing in front of them - once the pattern has made its way all the way down the line, the person at the other end claps and counts the rhythm out loud - variation: "Play What I Play"
2. "Rhythm Bee" - based on the spelling bee - students form a line - students take turns drawing a rhythm card and clapping and counting the rhythm out loud - if the rhythm is incorrect, the student is out
3. "Musical Chairs" - one student improvises, based on a given set of basic parameters - other students walk around a circle or row of chairs until the music stops - the person left standing is the next improviser
4. "Musical Editing" - students are given copies of a score - the teacher performs from the score, adding expressive markings that are not marked - the students "edit" the scores, based on the performance
5. "Technique Tournament" - group students into teams of mixed abilities at the end of the term - each player draws a key signature from a cup at the piano and performs the technique exercise for the round - example: Round 1: all major scales/arpeggios, Round 2: all harmonic minor scales/arpeggios, Round 3: Hanon Exercises Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, Round 4: Technical Skills, Book 4 (Magrath)
6. "Style Improvisations" - teacher gives students a basic introduction to two musical styles (i.e. blues and country) - students self-form into two groups, research their style, and present an overview lecture - the experience culminates in an ensemble performance by each group (ex. one plays the harmonic progression, one improvises a melody, one performs a rhythmic cell; then, students rotate) - this prepares students for solo improvisation
7. "Performance Today" - assign students a composer and composition to research (you can even include age-appropriate biographies for them to read) - students should do their best to become that composer - in the final class, students are interviewed as their composer by other students in the class - the class ends with the students performing their assigned compositions
8. "Sight Reading Composition Exchange" - students compose a brief sight reading example, based on given parameters - students exchange their compositions with a friend or draw one from a hat - each student previews and prepares their assigned example and gives the world-premiere in class
For more ideas, see Teaching Piano in Groups
Teaching Demonstration by Amy Glennon
Preparatory/reinforcement activities for learning landmarks - have students remove non-landmark notes (magnets) from the grand staff - sing "this is the sound of Treble G" on Treble G - have students move note heads to landmark lines on a white board or smart board - call out landmarks and have students play the notes on the piano
Preparatory activities for spot-placing - play the "landmark or not" game with a wooden floor puzzle - "Is this a landmark?" - ask students to put an x on the closest landmark to the given note (no interval ID or note-naming just yet)
Preparatory activities for eighth notes - preparation for reading eighth notes should begin at least 4 weeks before the new piece is introduced - speak the words to "Peas Porridge Hot" and put the rhythm in your feet - next, clap the rhythm without speaking the words - ask one student to improvise on the rhythm while the rest of group speaks the words and taps the steady beat - speak or sing the words to "Yankee Doodle," marching to the steady beat, then putting the rhythm in your feet - ask a small group of students to play the steady beat with rhythm sticks, ask another group to improvise on the rhythm, and ask the others to chant the text
Preparatory activities for dotted quarters - have students move with the piano accompaniment: quarter notes + eighth notes - have students move with the piano accompaniment: dotted quarters + eighth notes - ask students to point and sing, showing the words only (add extra spaces to illustrate the dotted rhythm) - have students move + sing with the piano accompaniment - introduce the notation (using straight eighths and quarter notes); transform to the dotted rhythm using ties - demonstrate how to count the rhythm - divide students into two groups and perform both rhythms at the same time (reading) with rhythm sticks
Preparatory activities for crossing 2nd finger over thumb - teach this away from the piano (try playing in the air) - teach a warm-up pattern (by rote) that concentrates on this, singing the finger numbers - introduce a piece like "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho"
Preparatory activities for marking the score - ask students to point to intervals of a 2nd and "circle the 3rd" - ask students to "put a rectangle around the repeated note in the first line"
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