After moving recently, I have had the pleasure of starting a studio from scratch for the third (and hopefully last) time. In the past, I have always had mostly transfer students. But this time, 90% of my students are brand new to the violin. It has been so much fun to set up all these students, but it has also provided some interesting challenges. I was not quite sure what to do in group lessons, when most of my students are mostly working on arm washes and good posture. What can we do if we can’t play music? Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized there are a few essentials to any group music class, regardless of ability level.
Before our first group lesson, I felt the pressure to make it a good one. I wanted all my students to be excited about group lessons, so they would never want to skip because it’s “just” group class. The lesson plan I created incorporated lots of moving- jumping, marching, running from one side of the room to the other. By the end, we were all sweaty and smiling. Moving improves moods every time. My plan is to make sure to end every group class with movement, so no matter how challenging group class was, everyone can end the class in a good mood.
Group class is a great time to teach students how to listen to music. I turn on a great piece of music, and we talk or move to the music. In one class, we listened to a Bach Brandenburg concerto and jumped to our feet every time the violins started playing and sat down every time they stopped. In another class, we stomped to “The Montagues and the Capulets” by Prokofiev, squatting when the music was low, on tiptoes when the music got higher. We listened to “Salut d’amour” by Edward Elgar and counted to four over and over. I encourage them to do similar activities when they listen at home.
Every group class, even more advanced ones, needs some time working on their internal pulse. We may clap a steady beat while singing a rhythm, pass a ball with a metronome playing, or count while listening to a recording. Creating a strong underlying pulse will allow them to play together well when we are finally using instruments in class.
When we start performing together, they will need to know how to listen to a sniff to know the tempo, character, and when to start. We have started practicing this as we clap or arm wash Twinkle rhythms. Everyone who wants to gets a chance to be the leader and sniff. This simple activity seems to really catch their attention, and they’re paying attention to each other. Get to know you activities are also valuable as we build trust and friendship in group class.
How about you? What are your essential activities for beginner group classes? How do you help your students develop a love for group class?