Group Lessons at CMA - The Philosophy and History Behind Them

Over the years, Creative Music Adventures in Wallingford has become known for our group piano lessons. This took us several years to accomplish for many reasons. But one of the main reasons is that we had to become open to learning new ways of teaching an instrument that has been traditionally taught one on one. We were finally able to use the group dynamic to the students' (and our) advantage when learning. The families that were also willing to think out of the box and have seen their children grow in ways we've never seen before in private lessons.

Growing up, I was a typical piano student. I went to lessons once or twice a week and had really great teachers. Sometime I practiced, sometimes I didn't. But after hearing a few mind-blowing recordings I decided I wanted to play music forever.

When I started to get in more "real-life" musical situations I felt the shortcomings of the traditional lesson format. I could read music but only at my own pace. If I had to accompany someone, play in a band or recording session that required me to read at tempo - I was not very good. I thought I had good time because I could play with the metronome. But I learned there was a difference between grooving with the metronome and grooving with others. I thought I had good ears because I did really well on all the ear-training exercises presented in my lessons. But when I had to play with others, I painfully experienced the need to hear things differently than the way they were presented in ear-training exercises - and it wasn't very pretty (it was actually super stressful!).

So as I got more into teaching, I always wondered how I could give very beginning piano students the opportunities to develop their musicianship in a way that could prepare them for not only solo piano repertoire, but opportunities to accompany others, play in bands, compose, improvise, perform confidently and learn music by ear and sight equally.

After experimenting for years, I found it pretty ridiculous that we had students wait until they were in a school band program, jazz band, a rock band with friends, college ensembles or accompanying gigs to become a well-rounded musician. After having kids play in ensembles from the first lesson (at age 4), we found that kids were way further ahead in most areas of musicianship and technique than our private student had been for years. This being said, we did have to learn to teach in a totally new way from folks and programs who had some success in teaching in groups. But the results were evident.

Here are some of the main discoveries…

  • Students learn to read in real time - no more famous piano-player pauses
  • Students improved their technique by learning from the other students - like soccer or dance practice
  • There were no more "ear players" versus "readers" - their weaknesses caught up to their strengths
  • The energy level in lessons skyrocketed - each lesson was like a big musical party
  • Student became great communicators of musical concepts since they had to work together so much
  • Students were more motivated to practice to keep up with their peers
  • Performance anxiety turned into performance excitement since they were always learning in front of each other
  • Students began composing and learning pop songs on their own much more than in private lessons

I could probably go on and on but hopefully these points may help folks who have trouble understanding the potential benefits of group lessons. Especially for those of us who learned in the traditional ways. At CMA we've gone this direction with the utmost respect for the private lesson tradition. This is just how things have evolved and we are very thankful that our teachers and students have been patient as we've improved our group teaching methods over the years.