When I was in college I taught between 40 and 60 private lessons a week. On top of that, playing two or three nights a week with a band and practicing three or four hours a day.
I was exhausted pretty much all the time. I needed a way to free up some more time and help my students grow more musically.
So, I organized all my private students into guitar ensembles that had four to seven members and required that every one of my students participate in an ensemble once a month. Each student would get three private lessons per month and then a fourth lesson was in an ensemble format.
At first I thought this was going to create some scheduling problems because there was no way every student was going to get an ensemble time at the same time as their private lesson. Couldn’t be done. I was worried I’d lose several students, but I contacted everyone and let them know that this was non-negotiable. If they were to continue studying with me, they had to be part of this program. I told them that my students needed to be as serious about their music lessons as they were soccer or some other commitments that have schedule changes with games or whatnot. It worked! I had freed up some time to work on other things during the month and the benefit to my students was huge.
I saw improvement in their individual playing that was impressive. The social aspect was especially cool. I organized all my students based on age and level. I had beginning 6-10 year old groups and it was fun to watch them work together and correct each other and help each other. I had a 35-60 year old intermediate group and we focused on music they all found to be interesting to them. I had several teen-aged groups. Every group had boys and girls and it was amazing to watch how much they each practiced to impress each other.
It was important to stand my ground regarding this scheduling change. The students (and their parents) ended up realizing that they were getting good instruction and that I was trying to help them all become better. They stepped up their game, as did I. Win-win.
Having our students involved in ensembles creates another reason for them to practice harder. It puts even more accountability into the equation. Most students studying stringed instruments or band instruments get a group experience outside private lessons, but it’s trickier for instruments like piano, guitar, and others. I think it’s important to make those experiences happen for our students and I was lucky to have a situation where I could make it work for all involved.
Author: Corey Christiansen, Executive Director of Music at EA School of Music