Creative Summer Piano Groupings

Sandburg PagodaCreative Summer Piano Groupings
Summer scheduling at The Lake Shore Music Studio is a patchwork. The schedule changes week by week, with students weaving in and out according to their family’s vacations, camps and other special projects. Summer brings a different tone to lessons. First, it seems that the students who stick around for summer are more motivated and interested generally in music than those who take the summer off. Secondly, new students arrive for whom summer is the time they have chosen to begin something new and exciting (music!) in their life. Third, students are much more relaxed and free in their minds away from the hectic pace of the school year activities. Fourth, just coming in shorts and sandals makes everything seem more relaxed (for teacher and student!)

As a group teacher, I have to be a little more general in my groupings. Students from several classes may join together, or I may do more groupings across ages or levels. For example I grouped two sisters together with their respective classmates. They were about a year apart in levels.  The older sister delighted in being the teacher and the younger ones couldn’t wait to see what was on the horizon for them.  By “teaching” it crystalized the material for the older one and made her proud of her accomplishments.
I did a similar grouping for another brother and sister combo. It made it easier for the parents to only come once a week. Let’s face it – they all need reinforcement in the same general things – note name recognition, rhythm and counting, and keeping their finger technique up to speed. For note names, games like Crazy 8ths, Spoons, Around the World or Bean Bag Grand Staff toss, or Bingo are the most often begged for games.
Sight reading for animals is another activity students enjoy. Each student finds an appropriate sight reading book, and collects a stuffed animal (for the day, they go back in the bin when the lesson is over!) for each song completed.
Duets are another great way to work across levels. Besides a wealth of fun easy duet collections to choose from, like Margaret Goldston’s Duets for Bear Lovers (Steps in the Forest is the favorite and easiest piece) most easy piano books have a teacher duet below. Some are a little more difficult, but some are simple I and V chords that an older sibling can master.
In July we typically focus on jazz, and the 12 bar blues gets a big workout. This is so easy to teach level one students, and you can expand in complexity from there. This gives a good jump on learning songs to be ready for our CAMTA jazz festival which seems to come up so quickly in November. Betsy Hannah’s Real Blues book presents the blues simply and offers a cool combo CD to play along with. Students like it when I play a walking bass and chords but they LOVE playing with the combo – (to their ears, that is the real deal.)
In another grouping situation, I had an adorable brand new 8 year old student so motivated to learn, she is coming 4 times a week. Her good friend came to the studio with a year or so of previous experience elsewhere. Although I began them individually, after a few lessons, I found common ground for them to work together, tic tac toe for reading small step and skip patterns, drawing a grand staff, improvising in various styles on the pentatonic scale (black keys) and the 12 bar blues, and transposing. These were concepts that the second student had not encountered in her previous study. Being good friends, they were thrilled to be able to work together.
In some cases an individual lesson format for students who have been faltering on a steady practice helps zoom in on and firm up basic skills that have been keeping them from making optimal progress during the year. I suggested twice a week lessons to a student whose total concept of “practice” is picking out songs by ear and now we get at least two solid days of reinforcement.
Adult students are another category of exciting summer students. For some this is their time to start something they always wanted to do. Summer shorter terms gives them that option to try it out.Others are snowbirds who will live in Florida or Arizona in the winter. This is a great opportunity to coordinate with colleagues in other states for reciprocal referrals (if you don’t want to do skype lessons with them directly.)
Some have a particular mission. For example, I have been delighting in helping a student become aware of the circle of fifths chord structure, and how she can apply it consciously to work out chords for songs she has been doing by ear for years. She is amazed, and absolutely thrilled that she can consciously put the chords she already knows into the songs according to the circle. Georgia and Autumn in New York are two of her favorites. I find the Hal Leonard Easy Thirties Fake Book a great place to find great standard songs that exemplify the ii V I or vi ii V I progressions.
For me, summertime is a golden time for lessons. What are your favorite summer projects?

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