Rotating Lessons: All Your Questions Answered

Lesson resources, Technology, Tips


Rotating lessons or what is also known as 20/20/20 lessons seems to be a popular format many teachers are trying out in their studios right now.

I call mine, rotating lessons because it describes exactly what the students are doing when they are at lessons, rotating in stations. I’ve been offering rotating lessons in my studio for over 20 years now. I thought I would share what rotating lessons look like in my studio, answer some questions you may have and share some ideas. Perhaps it will even spark another idea that will work best for your students!

Why rotating lessons?

This is an interesting question because we all usually have that initial reason we do something. Something that lights a fire to try something new. For me, it was to simply offer families a “cheaper” lesson option. Of course, after starting them I found there were many other benefits which I will get to later…

Are rotating lesson options for everyone?

Simply put, no. (But I have seen teachers who have made it work) This is what I have experienced so take it for what it is. Your experience may vary.

Rotating lessons are NOT for:

  • Your really good practicers or self-motivated students that move along quickly.
  • Students who participate in exam programs
  • Young students (more on this later)
  • Students who have a hard time staying on task or work independently

Rotating lessons work perfectly for:

  • Students who are overscheduled.
  • Students who do not participate in exam programs.
  • Students who want/need a lighter course of repertoire.
  • Students who can stay on task and work independently

Here is how I explain rotating lessons on my website

“Rotating Lessons are recommended for students age 6 and up, and follow a lighter course of repertoire. Students will typically receive only a couple of pieces each week. Rotating Lessons are a recreational option, but regular practice is still expected. Students enrolled in this option may not progress as quickly as those enrolled in Private Lessons. Rotating students attend weekly for 60 minutes and rotate through 3 stations. Each student will receive approximately 20 minutes of private time with the instructor, with the rest of the time spent in Music and Keyboard Lab activities. Quarterly bonus group lessons are included and replace the regular lesson for that week. Requirements: Student must have access at home to an iPad 3 or higher, or an iPad Mini 2 or higher. Each student must also purchase a separate subscription to the Piano Maestro app.”

A couple things you may notice in my description…

First, I am very clear about what they can expect. I don’t want parents to expect their child is going to progress quickly only to be frustrated because they aren’t where they think their child should be. While they will progress, it will be at a more slow and steady rate because there simply isn’t enough time to go through very much repertoire.

You also probably noticed that I recommend for students starting rotating at 6 years old or older. The reason I don’t like to do this option with younger students is mostly because 4-5-year-olds (and even some 6) have a hard time working independently. They usually need more direction and guidance especially if it’s an activity that requires some reading.  (Note: my students do not participate in lab time until they are at least 6 years old. When they reach the appropriate age, lab becomes a ‘bonus’ for them. I do have lab activities that are geared more towards this age group.)

Last, you might notice my requirement. I actually added the Piano Maestro requirement just a couple years ago because I feel that if a student can use piano maestro at home outside the studio they will progress a little quicker than if they didn’t have this tool. If they don’t have an iPad and have no desire in getting one, rotating lessons is simply not an option for them.

Okay, I know you are asking…

How do I charge for rotating lessons?

Because this was the option that I wanted to give to help families save some money, I charge about 20% less than I do my normal hour lessons (30 min lesson/30 min lab). This is because I do spend a little less private time with the students and they are “sharing” the hour with one more student. So why don’t I charge 33% less since there are 3 sharing the hour? Easy… Because I do have one more station I need to plan for. Always account for your prep time.

I do know some other teachers that have started to teach this format and they don’t charge any different from the regular private option they have. That is totally up to you. For me, rotating lesson was a win-win solution for families that needed that “break” financially.

What does a typical rotating lesson look like?

In my studio, I have a separate lab room. While one of the students is working with me in the living room, two other students are working independently in the lab room. In that room, I have a desk station, a computer station (rarely use anymore during lab- this is also my “office” area) and a Clavinova station. One student will be at the desk station on the iPad typically and the other student will be over at the Clavinova and many times the 2nd iPad. Occasionally we might use the computer but I have found that I am using the computer less and less. There is just SO much available on the iPad that the computer just isn’t necessary anymore. Also at the desk station is where students do writing assignments and games.

Panoramic view

While I’m teaching one student in the living room, the other two students are in the lab room which is adjacent to the living room. I open the double doors in the lab room so I have eyes on them easily while they are doing their work. Then every 20 minutes we rotate stations.

My view when I’m teaching in the living room.

I typically stand when I teach so I can easily move over a step or two and get this view.

What if I don’t have a separate room I can use for the other stations?

If you don’t have a separate room, that is okay. I know plenty of teachers that have a set up like this all in the same room. Once upon a time, I did too! My advice is to buy good headphones. Seriously do this regardless. I personally buy the “big cup” headphones that go over the ear. I’m not picky on the brand. I find them at Ross, TJ Maxx and even on Amazon between $15-20. I don’t want to spend more than that because well, kids are kids…

Do you have an assistant helping?

I don’t but I have done that before. When I did, I had my daughter and some of my teenager students help out with certain students that I felt needed more direction. I haven’t needed to do that for awhile but if you find that it is needed, go for it! My friend, Marie Harris who teaches in Utah has teacher assistants helping her in the other stations and I know it works out really well for her. On her website, she explains, “They are selected from my older students and/or others who are qualified to assist me. The use of teacher assistants is twofold. First, teacher assistants allow flexibility and meet the needs of multiple students. Second, the teacher assistants themselves gain valuable teaching experience.

Does it have to be 20/20/20?

Nope! I have a good friend, Lynnette Barney from Tucson who has a 30/30/30 option that works super well for her. She calls hers ensemble lessons and I would highly recommend that you listen to her podcast interview, Teaching Outside the Box with Tim Topham as she explains exactly what she does with her students.

Another lesson option I have in my studio is what I call private lessons with lab which is basically 30/30. 30 minutes with me and 30 minutes in lab. Whatever you do, the key is to find the win-win! So figure out what would work best for you and your students at this time and go for it!

Do all your students do lab? (Whether rotating or private with lab)

No. Unless they are a sibling who I feel can handle it, students younger than 6 do not do any form of lab time. When they turn 6 and I feel they are ready then we add it in. Also when my teenagers reach their Junior and Senior year I allow them to opt out of they want. In addition, if I have a family that is adamant about not participating, they can opt out. (I don’t advertise that it is optional) I won’t force anyone to participate. I will simply point out what they will be missing out of and let them make that decision themselves. Tuition does not change if they opt out and it does happen on occasion.

Do you have rules?

You bet I do! Rules are important because it sets up the expectation right up front. You can actually download a set of my iPad/Tablet rules for free. Just click on the picture below. 

Are there any other benefits to rotating lessons or lab you haven’t mentioned yet?

Yes! One of my favorite benefits to having 2-3 students here at the same time within the hour is being able to do music games together. If it’s private/lab students I can simply end 5 min. early with each student and we have 10 minutes to play a game! With rotating, if students are all doing well, I can shave off just a few minutes of each private time and we have time to do a game together! OR something that I like to do without shaving off any private time is to have the two students who are in the lab room play a game together and then when it’s time to switch stations, they play the game with another partner.

How do you keep students on task and engaged?

Since students are typically working independently it is important to be prepared on what exactly you want students to be accomplishing during lab time. My lab time was starting to become a little stagnate in that we seemed to be doing the same 5-10 things over and over again and I wasn’t 100% confident that my students were really getting what they should be getting out of it. So last year I was determined to change that and spent over 1000+ hours creating music lab task cards. Now that I have a year of using these task cards under my belt, I can say mission accomplished. Students are on task, engaged and reflect on what they are doing and learning during their lab time. You can find out more information on the task cards by clicking the picture below.



I don’t have a lab but am interested in getting started. Do you have any guidance on this?

Yes! I have a FREE course on the basics of starting up a lab. Feel free to register here. Looking for a more in-depth course to set your music lab up for success? Take the next step and register for Music Lab – Setting Up For Success below. Hope to see you there!

Is rotating lessons for me?

Only you can answer that question but I will say, if you have students that have a hard time filling the time you have one-on-one with, students that just need that extra reinforcement but not more pieces, students that are over scheduled and really don’t have a lot of time to practice, then it may be something you should try. If you find that it doesn’t work for you, then simply don’t offer it the following year. I’ve had to make adjustments along the way figuring out what worked best for me.

If it’s not for you, then that is okay! That is the beauty of being a teacher! We all have a special way of doing things. What works well for me, might not work well for you and visa-versa. For example, as enticing as group classes are (students learning pieces together versus getting together for activities), that format is just not my talent. So instead my students gather for group lessons several times a year where we do music activities together.

If you have more questions about rotating lessons, please leave a comment below and I would be happy to answer them!

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  1. amystudio88

    Hi, Jennifer. I’m curious what lab activities you find work for kindergarten and first graders (ages 6-7) I still struggle to find lab assignments for them that they can do on their own for a whole 30-minute lab without needing help. Many of them still can’t always read instructions on their own. Apps I’ve used for this age include Music Lab Pro, Moozart, Music Cubes, Piano Carnival, Tune Train, Young Genius, and Sproutbeat but some of those they can get through everything on the app within a few lessons. Ideas?

    • Jennifer Foxx

      Hi Amy, Great question! They are the toughest to plan for, for sure! I have a set of early childhood task cards that I use with that age group. I also use the creativity task cards a lot with this age group as well.

      Tasks we do include apps like you mentioned, videos, computer programs (though I’m not using these as much but if you have any old software that still works…), websites and some keyboard exploration activities. I also like to use coloring/drawing activities/worksheets with this age group especially.

      Also as far as them not getting through everything on the app, I don’t worry too much about that. Just have them do what they can in the time they have.

      As far as reading instructions, I take a quick minute when they arrive and just explain what they are doing. I actually like doing that when all my students arrive (I usually don’t have problems with lateness) if I can. It prevents a lot of questions being asked once we get started with lessons.

      One thing I have pondered is doing a quick recording on the iPad before the new lesson week starts for students to watch me explain the instructions before they get started on their lab tasks. I think I may try that this year and see how it goes.

  2. Amy Chaplin

    Thanks for all that! I also usually take a minute to explain their assignment but it seems like they always need me at least once or twice during. I guess it’s just part of it! 🙂

  3. Christine

    Hi Jennifer I was curious what happens if one or 2 of your rotating lessons cancel their lesson? Do you still do an hour with one? Also do you try to have similar ages share the hour?

    • Jennifer Foxx

      Hi Christine, When 1 or 2 cancel their lesson then I do 2 stations. So they get a “bonus” of a little longer lesson time with me when that happens. It turns into a 30 min lesson/30 min. lab. OR sometimes I use that extra 20 min and we play a game together.

      It’s nice to have similar ages but it’s not necessarily necessary. For that option I personally don’t do it with my teens so really most of my students in that option are similar ages anyway.


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