Article: Enriching Private Music Lessons with Group Classes

Enriching Private Music Lessons with Group Classes 

Author: Dr. Angela Po Yiu Chan, Ph.D. (Director & Founder of Lambda School of Music and Fine Arts, West Island, Montreal, Quebec)

In most instances, music lessons are given in form of private one-on-one instruction. The assumption is that teaching is a hierarchical process, where the teacher imparts experience and knowledge directly to the novice learner. Musical performance is unquestionably an art form and skill that requires precise integration and honing of fine motor skills through consistent repetition. Yet, when teachers are caught in the daily grind of focusing on the mechanics of performance, a number of equally important, yet intangible elements can easily be overlooked.

Quebec Montreal Music Lessons LAMBDA School
I find it to be pedagogically effective to infuse group lessons in my teaching to address certain "intangibles" and to calibrate the mindset of students. Firstly, group lessons increase efficiency, as important topics only require to be delivered once in class. Specifics can subsequently be applied in private lessons at the instrument in a more contextually oriented and personalized manner. Secondly, we can delve into the topic in much greater depth without constraints of time as in a regular private lesson. Thirdly, group classes offer a more dynamic learning context, where students are at greater liberty to express their thoughts in the presence of their peers. This promotes an atmosphere for mutual learning amongst participants.

In my group classes, I cover a wide range of topics, from effective and efficient practice strategies, to pre-competition preparation, concert etiquette and choice of concert attire, the aesthetics of sound and motion, comparative analyses of expert performances, and debriefing students after major competitions and performances. These are all essential base knowledge that students need to be equipped with, yet it will be excessively time consuming to implement in a private lesson should any of these areas be covered to any meaningful level of depth.

I also encourage parents to attend some of these group classes, as I believe that it is not only important for parents to fully understand what their children are aspiring to accomplish, but also help parents develop a level of felt significance of the values quintessential to the development of genuine musicianship. I understand that as a teacher, we spend approximately an hour per week with most of our students. That translates to approximately 1% of their total waking hours per week. If we indeed hope that our efforts in grooming our students come into fruition, it is important that parents become our ally and continue to facilitate the learning process at home.

According to my personal experiences and that of other musical colleagues, we understand that the process of becoming a concert pianist is a very lonesome and arduous journey.

To break from the solitude of monotony, I encourage interaction between parents and between students in my piano studio. With time, both parents and students develop into a cohesive community. Parents are mutually supportive of one another, sharing their experiences in encouraging and guiding their children towards practice. They also deeply care about the progress and development of other students within the studio. Students enjoy sharing music by playing for one another (in a non-competitive manner), and they cheer for one another's successes in concerts and competitions.

In this supportive learning community, children not only enjoy what they do, they also interact with peers who share similar goals and aspirations. Young students look up to seniors and strive towards their personal best. More experienced students serve as role models for younger students, and also take on the responsibility of helping and encouraging them. This fosters a community of friendship and dedication towards musical learning. In this environment, the focus is not exclusively on the relationship between teacher and student. Rather, a cohesive learning community is established where responsibility is shared. Learning and teaching experiences are enriched through bonding and sharing between parents, and between students. Music, practice, performance and art become indispensable elements woven into the fabric of the daily lives of both parents and students.

Recently, five of my students won an international music competition and they were all selected to perform at Carnegie Hall. This debut concert is a monumental achievement for these young musicians, and indeed it is a moment to celebrate. However, I find this to be the prime opportunity to sensitize both student and parents to the fact that this is only the beginning of a new phase.

A group class can be effective in putting success in perspective, and in bringing awareness to the importance of humility and professional ethics. Below is the encapsulated summary of the notes for my students (age group ranging from 8 to 16) and their parents. I hope this may be of interest to your students as well.

Montreal Quebec Lambda Music School West Island TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR YOUNG MUSICIANS

(1) We work hard and work smart - we never count on luck 
(2) We have discipline 
(3) We are humble 
(4) We always keep learning and practicing 
(5) We work slowly and patiently 
(6) We always progress to the next level 
(7) We do not get discouraged - we learn from our mistakes when we fail 
(8) We are very critical of our own playing 
(9) We perform music on behalf of the composer 
(10) We share music from our hearts and souls

Content Copyrighted: 2011 Dr. Angela Chan

All Rights Reserved


Author: Dr. Angela Po Yiu Chan, Ph.D.

Biographical Information:

Dr. Chan has given solo and duo piano performances in Canada, Europe, the USA and Asia, and has been featured on the Discovery Channel (Canada), Global TV, PBS, CJNT, Australian Television Network, Maclean's magazine, the Gazette as well as various radio stations.

She has adjudicated a number of competitions including the Concours de Jeunesses Quebec- Ontario, the Young Music Explorers Videotape Piano Competition and the Young Music Explorers Piano Scholarship Competition. Dr. Chan has led numerous workshops and masterclasses in Quebec and Ontario and hosts a column on piano pedagogy in Musifax, a publication of the Quebec Registered Music Teachers' Association.

Dr. Chan is founder and director of Lambda School of Music and Fine Arts in the West Island of Montreal, where she also heads the Lambda Piano Teacher Accreditation Program. Since 2008, Chan has formed a joint piano studio with renowned Montreal-Korean concert pianist Wonny Song with whom she is also co-authoring a new piano method book series. Dr. Chan also belongs to many music associations such as the Quebec Registered Music Teachers' Association, the National Music Teachers' Association and the American Liszt Society.

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