I’m happy to introduce our March guest, Megan Desmarais. You will want to make sure you read her post as it is filled with wonderful ideas. Be sure to visit her blog, Pianissimo- a very piano blog when you get the chance.
Common Time: Creating Community Within Your Studio
As a piano teacher, one of my goals has always been to create and maintain a sense of community within my studio. Since playing the piano can, at times, be a fairly solitary experience, I also want to show my students that it can be the opposite. Enjoying and making music is also a communal endeavor and friendships are made surrounding music. Here are ways that I get my students interacting with each other:
I used to teach only 30 or 45 minute back-to-back lessons. Students would see the one student that came before them, and the one student that came after them, but they would never see the other 30 students that I taught until a recital. Because of logistics of entering and exiting my studio, students wouldn’t even hear each other play.
When I moved to a new state and started a new studio from scratch, I decided to change my format. Now, all of my students come in twos or threes and stay for an hour. Sometimes they come with a friend or siblings and sometimes they are randomly matched based on scheduling. Regardless of who comes together, there are countless ways to help students collaborate: working on flashcards, playing duets or ensembles, playing games, trying an iPad app together, talking about the listening assignment. A huge bonus is that veteran students are encouraging to beginners and beginners look up to older students. They learn a lot from each other! This format isn’t a group lesson, because students are still getting individualized attention, but it is an excellent compromise to turn a solo activity into a more social activity while maintaining the feel of a private lesson.
Nearly every studio has recitals and they are a great way to get your families together. However, the atmosphere of recitals can affect how students and families interact. A formal recital, even with a reception, doesn’t always foster conversation and interaction. While there is definitely a time and place formal recitals, it is nice to shake things up. I love changing the venue, formality, and feel of my recitals.
This recital was modeled after a trivia night that I had attended. Students spent about a month leading up to the recital learning piano trivia. Families sat together around tables and students helped their parents answer the questions. In between rounds of trivia, students performed ensemble pieces.
This Christmas recital took place in the gallery at a local art museum. It is a very formal setting and not conducive to visiting. My students filled over 4 hours with music. Even though this recital setting did not involve a lot interaction, each student contributed towards the ultimate goal of sharing music with the public.
Student-Only Recitals and Activities
In addition to larger recitals, I have also made a point to create smaller, less formal events for my students. Each year I try to have at least one recital that is just for students. They play music for each other, but we also make sure to spend plenty of time doing other activities that get the kids talking, working and playing together. Here are some recent activities:
-Name That Tune with kazoos
-Get To Know You Bingo customized with facts about my students
-Rhythm games with egg shakers
-We put together a 5-part ensemble from Lynn Freeman Olson’s “A Folk Gathering.” 9 Kids played the piano parts and about 15 played the percussion parts, all together.
-Students trained for Piano Olympics and came together for some friendly competition and to show off their theory skills.
Piano Camp is the ultimate piano studio community builder! Spending a whole week together is a sure way to help your students get to know each other. Since Piano Camp allows for some down time and a variety of activities, it is easy for students to relax and become friends. My group of Piano Camp students from last summer are always asking when they will get to see each other again.
Even though my students play at different levels, have different personal goals, learn differently and play different music, they are all unified with my incentive program. It helps us to all speak a common language and work towards a common goal.
Each year, I create a themed assignment book that each student uses to track work and progress. The goal is to earn points – every 20 points allows a student to record a song of their choice. When students have earned 10 songs, they get to make their own CD.
Having this unifying framework makes it easy for students to relate to each other. They like to chat about their latest recording. They are good about helping each other follow all the steps to making a recording. They stand around our progress chart displayed on the wall at the end of their lessons and find their name and look for other familiar names. They talk about their plans for designing or naming their CD.
We celebrate the completion of our CDs with a CD release party. This event is purely social. Students see their CDs for the first time, their music is playing in the background, we eat ice cream and play games. We applaud students for their hard work in a relaxed and fun setting.
These are ways that I have been actively building community within my studio, but of course, a sense of community will look different from studio to studio. For other studios, community activities might look like this:
-Regularly scheduled group lessons, theory classes or master classes
-Field trips to professional concerts and performances
-Organized challenges that all students can participate in. For example, a practice challenge where students individually compete to practice so many minutes during the course of a month
Teachers, do you feel like there is a sense of community among your students? What are some things that you are doing to foster camaraderie? Share your experiences in the comments!
Megan Desmarais, NCTM operates Megan’s Piano Lessons, a piano bustling piano studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma that includes kids K-12, adults, Skype lessons to students overseas and Kindermusik classes. Megan also blogs about teaching, learning and loving the piano at verypiano.com.
Megan studied music at the University of Tulsa and received her Master’s in Piano Pedagogy from Wichita State University. She is active with her local Music Teacher’s Association and currently holds the position of historian.
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