Oh, this has me all kinds of excited, friends!
I’m six years into this teaching thing now, and I’ve noticed over the years that I tend to repeat myself a lot in piano lessons. Some of my most common “repeatables” include:
“How is it X:00 already? Where did those 30 minutes go?!”
“I know [music concept] is very tricky! Trust me, you’re not the only one who feels that way!”
“I see this was another poor practice week. What’s going on?”
I’m not the only one who repeats myself, though. My students do it too! On any given week, I can guarantee you the following words will escape at least 2 or 3 of my sweet students’ mouths.
“I know I played it right last week, but as soon as I got home, I forgot how to do it!”
“This is too hard. I just can’t get it right!”
– and of course….
“I didn’t have time to practice this week! It was too busy!”
Anytime there is a repeated pattern, it begs the question: how can we break the cycle? So, of course, we tackle these issues whenever they come up. I work harder to manage our lesson time more carefully, take better notes, offer incentives for practicing, remind students to complete their assignment logs, take videos and pictures of pieces being played, approach concepts from every angle, talk with parents.
Naturally, these things ebb and flow. For every student, busy schedules and difficult concepts will always be there – and, of course, every student will approach these challenges differently. That’s a GOOD thing – and probably a post for another day. I realized recently, though, that ALL of the common phrases I listed above relate directly to the first one I listed: 30 minutes is simply never enough time!
I’ve been reading up on a format that some piano teachers are offering in their studios, and I decided about a month ago that it was worth some serious thought. I’ll tell you later why it was a NO BRAINER to move forward with this new structure, but first, I’ll explain it:
65-minute lessons, split between three students. You can read more about the structure here, but the gist is that three students rotate between three stations: one-on-one teacher time, reinforcement at the keyboard with headphones, and theory/tech work. I’ve given this format a ton of thought, and spoken directly with three other piano teachers around the country who are doing the same thing (the main difference in my setup is that I added 5 minutes to the end to give space for extra questions and time to share).
I’m THRILLED to be offering this option in 2017-18 because it addresses each of the problems from above:
- Built-in “practice” time: For those who need it, a portion of time at the keyboard station each week will be for head-start practicing. This gives an edge in two ways: Most obviously, it’s just a little bit more play-time for the week. But more importantly, it flexes the practice muscle. Many students, despite being taught how to practice, simply have never *really* done it correctly. Independent piano practice time within the teacher’s sight gives students a weekly opportunity to become more knowledgable and confident about how they should spend their practice time at home.
- For those who do not need practice reinforcement, it means extra time for even MORE material and technical work. Many of my studio “go-getters” are constantly asking for more music! But, it never fails that 30 minutes is simply not enough time for these high-achievers. The extra 10 minutes of play-time each week gives these students more opportunities.
- Community! Students get to share their piano experience with two others every week. While these are not “group lessons” by any stretch (all the work will be solo – perhaps with a occasional exceptions if concepts align between two students), I know that camaraderie will be strong among each triad! Students will have weekly opportunities to share their progress, successes, questions, and thoughts with the other two students. I can’t wait to see how these interactions play out amongst my crew!
- Extra reinforcement – in every way. More time for theory. More time for getting to know composers and music history. Built-in time to ask questions EVERY SINGLE WEEK. Time for those awesome music apps I always recommend but seldom actually get used at home (these kids are BUSY, as we’ve already addressed).
Not to mention: Parents can give their students 65-minute weekly piano lessons for the same cost as a 30-minute lesson.
But what about the shorter 1-1 time?
This was my initial concern when I started considering implementing a 20-20-20 program. I’ll be losing 10 minutes of one-on-one time with each student! This is a concern I think many parents will share, so it’s important to address.
As I started fleshing out my interpretation of the 20-20-20, I wondered how I would “make up” for the lost time with each student, so I did two things.
First, I defined in great detail how I would use the two new stations (keyboard and tech). This was a very helpful exercise because I started realizing that I would actually use this time to do:
- things that I ALREADY do in lessons, but that don’t actually require direct supervision (i.e. drill work, note-reading practice, scales…), plus
- things that I WISH I had more time for, but tend to fall a bit short (composer study, self-evaluation, listening exercises, lots of technology)
Next, I went down my entire list of piano students and wrote down how I would use that extra time specifically for each student’s individual needs. I was BLOWN AWAY with the ideas that started coming forth! This was when I realized that this model is not only going to WORK – it’s going to produce INCREDIBLE results. I cannot wait to see my kids grow in leaps and bounds using this model in the fall.