Introduction to Group Teaching
Teaching groups should be your goal. Truly great teachers owe it to the world to reach as many students as possible. Restricting ourselves to one-on-one private teaching means that only a handful of students can benefit from our instruction. Teaching in groups will be challenging at first because it’s unfamiliar. Teachers who claim group teaching does not work just don’t know how. Successful group teaching is a skill that has to be learned and developed just like guitar. The following information will provide you with the necessary training for successful group teaching so please read carefully and follow the steps keeping in mind it will take experience. Persistence is the key. Note, the financial rewards for a successful group teacher are many many times more than a private teacher and the hours are a lot less. That means more time for you to practice and gig. So let’s get started.
I spent years teaching guitar privately believing it was superior to group. After initially doing adult beginner groups I had a change of opinion. The groups were a big success but what surprised me most were the results. Students were more motivated, practiced more and seem genuinely more engaged. What’s more students often became good friends and there was this sense of camaraderie. In recent years I discovered lots of research that backs up my own findings. Here is a quote from a paper in the University Libraries. “Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking – “After conducting a statistical analysis on the test scores, it was found that students who participated in collaborative learning had performed significantly better on the critical-thinking test than students who studied individually.” To read the whole article visit – Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking.
Teach Like A Champion
Teach Like A Champion is recommended reading for any teacher but especially for group teachers. The book was written for classroom school teachers but applies equally well to group teachers who work with children in almost any situation. There are 49 techniques that are based on intense research of some of the best classroom teachers in the US. The techniques are very specific and are easy to put implement yet extremely powerful. If you study and implement these techniques you will have very few problems.
- Peer support. Students bond with other students which helps them to stick it out during tough times.
- Teamwork. They learn the power of working in teams.
- Timing & harmonising. They learn how to play in time, in tune and to harmonise with other musicians.
- Confidence. They become more confident to play in front of people.
- Practice. Students are more likely to practice what is asked because they want to stay with the group.
- Social proof. A term that says people tend to look to others for confirmation of what is right. Grouping students will increase their confidence in the program.
- Referrals. Group students are far more likely to spread the word because its social. Facebook is successful because is an online social platform.
- Competitive & fun. When we do anything in a group it is much easier to create games and challenges therefore making it fun.
- Lower price. This means you will enroll more students
- 30 minute lessons. This is enough time for students to learn if you are efficient. Check the following article. Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective.
Converting Intro Students to Group
Your first challenge will be getting students from the intro stage into a group. There are a couple of simple recommendations which if you follow should eliminate most problems and they are as follows;
- Emphasise the benefits. Make sure that you memorise the student benefits of learning in a group and keep mentioning them.
- Talk about group from the first lesson. This will help to raise any issues they have around learning in a group so can answer questions and reassure them of the benefits.
- Do not offer private lessons. If you have a private option it will be difficult to convince students to join one of your groups. If group is your only option it demonstrates your confidence in group.
- Don’t ask if but when. Many teachers make the mistake of asking students if they would like to join a group and this shows a lack of confidence in your groups. Instead ask them to choose between two or three different group times.
- Give students options. If your student seems a bit unsure let them try a few different groups so they can choose.
- Trial the group. If at the end of the intro your student has reservations explained to them that if group is not all suitable for them you will give them a refund.
The rules of group teaching
- Do not teach group students like private students. It’s not the same as private teaching. When addressing a group you need to have everyone on the same page.
- Stick to a format. Begin with 5 mins of picking to get students warmed up, 20 minutes working on exercises using handicapping then 5 mins on a song or reviewing what students need to be practicing for the week. Use the 5 mins picking so review their technique. You are welcome to create your own format but sticking to a format will help you to stay more organised.
- Set handicaps. When in class you will need to set handicaps on each skill or piece depending on each student’s level. This is explained in more detail below.
- Class rules. I recommend 2 simple rules. 1. Only play what and when I ask you to. 2. If you have a question raise your hand (and note that I will only take a few questions at any one time). Adults of course don’t need these rules spelled out but they may still need some guide lines. No matter what their age be clear about the way your classes operate.
- Start small. I suggest you start small with groups of only 2 and gradually grow them to a 5 as your confidence grows.
- Assess your performance. Keep a note pad handy and write down your challenges and findings so you can refer back later. This will help you to improve faster as a group teacher.
- No favourites. Your might have good intentions to treat each student equally but in reality its easier to play favourites. Try to be aware of this and avoid it as much as possible.
- Manage your time. Keep your lessons running on time and avoid distractions and answering too many questions.
- Teamwork. By nurturing team spirit you can get students helping each other. Its very easy to get caught up with the slower progressing students but the trick is to delegate to your best students the job of helping the slower students before and after class.
- 80% group work. During the class your attention needs to be fairly spread across the group and 80% of your time should be spent on group activities and 20% on addressing individual student challenges.
- Keep it positive and upbeat. One advantage of group is you get to teach less hours. This means you can put more energy into your groups. I recommend standing and moving around the room cheering your students on and make a joke here and there.
- Keep parents in the loop. Parents need to know what’s going on in your groups. At the end of every lesson as students are packing up just have a 60 second chat to at least one parent. Occasionally bring parents in to see students in action and explain what they are doing. This is good for everyone and helps to build student confidence and parent confidence in you.
- Do not mix age groups. Groups should be separated by age. Young beginners, Juniors, Teens and Adults. Their are exceptions but I would never put children with adults. For example in some cases parents might want to learn with their child but this is not recommended. Best to put them in their respective age groups.
Teaching different levels
The biggest issue inexperienced teachers have with group teaching is working with students of different levels. This is actually not a real problem only a perceived one. I could take a beginner student, an intermediate student, an advanced student and Joe Satriani and keep them all appropriately challenged. Here is how using a C scale as an example;
- For the beginner student you ask them to say the notes. C, D, E, F etc.
- Ask the second student to play just the first few notes.
- The third student can play the scale in open position while the more advanced student can play 16ths
- Lastly Satriani can play harmonies or counterpoint or syncopated rhythms or tapping etc. The possibilities are endless. You just need to be creative enough to keep everyone challenged at their own level.
Here are some examples of handicapping for the different skills. B = Beginner I = Intermediate A = Advanced
Picking: B – Exercise 1, I – Exercises 2 to 5, A – Combine with left hand.
Chords: B – One finger version, I – Full open chord version, A – Bar chords, faster changes, combine with strumming.
Arpeggios: B – C major using 3 strings (3, 2, 1, 2 pattern), I – C major using 5 strings (see arpeggio book), A – C major using 6 strings in a sweeping style (starting from C on the 5th string and/or 6th string) and possibly double tempo.
Scales: B – First 2 notes only (C to D), I – C scale one octave only, A – 2 octaves and/or double the tempo or playing a 3 notes per string version.
Rhythm: B – Clap the basic beat, I – Muted strum the rhythm pattern, A – Add chords and/or combine rhythms into two, three, four bar patterns etc.
Reading option 1: (Song is beginner level) B – Play a slow enough tempo to read, I – Play in different position. E.g. Play ‘Song of Joy’ starting on second string, A – Combine chords and melody or play a harmony E.g. 3rd above.
Reading option 2: (Song is advanced level): B – Clap or say the note names, I – Play only the first note of every bar, A – Play as written.
Aural Pitch: B – Play 2 notes and ask if ascending or descending, I – Find the interval using their guitar, A – Name the interval without their guitar.
Aural chords/scales: B – Pick between major and minor, I – Find using their guitar, A – Name them without their guitar.
Aural rhythm: Go around the room clapping a rhythm for each student one at a time to clap back to you at their current level.
How to group students
To enable effective grouping categorise students into the following groups:
- A’s – Fast learners who are highly motivated to learn the guitar and will progress through the method quickly
- B’s – Average learners are usually keen to learn but take longer than A’s to learn new skills. This is the majority of students.
- C’s – Slow learners. Usually lack motivation and/or confidence or have a learning disability.
From my experience A’s and B’s can work well together in a group scenarios. The A’s can be an inspiration for the B’s and the A’s enjoy being a little ahead of the game. A’s almost always have a good reason for being an A. Perhaps they have have music lessons before, have very supportive parents or just do more practice. I find B’s and C’s can work together but A’s and C’s can be a stretch. Remember you also want to consider age when grouping. Putting adults with teenagers is not appropriate.
The grouping strategy
Your students will enrol at different times and grouping students at first will seem difficult. Let me paint the picture. Your first student enrols week one then your second student a week later and so on. Students will be different ages, some may have experience and then there is the issue of coordinating times. It all seems like an overwhelming challenge but the way to think about it is this. Each group is a building process. Don’t expect perfect groups.
Strategy. When a student finishes their 5 week intro either put them in to an existing group or start a new group. For example you have a teen finish the intro and no teen group. Simply start a new group with the teen. Now lets say that you don’t get another beginner teen who can do the same day/time for another 6 weeks and by that time the first teen student is halfway through Senior Checklist 1. The idea is to still group them but if need be give them some extra coaching to bring them up to speed. Most importantly don’t leave the more advanced student sitting around while you talk about the notes on the first string. Keep them challenged at their level during the class. You will find over time the students will sync together and you will discover ways to work them in together.
There is also the possibility that lets say these two teen students get too advanced for another beginner to join. That’s okay. Just leave them together as a pair because you will inevitably get students who either have experience so can jump straight in to say level 2 or 3 or a student who practices hours every day and progresses quickly.
The last scenario worth mentioning is when you lose students in a group and only end up with one student. Again that’s okay. Just keep looking for the opportunity to group them. Generally if your groups are too slow to build you need to be focusing more on marketing to ensure new enrolments. If this is the case check the marketing section.
A common question new G4 teachers ask is how do they track the progress of each and every student and each and every class. The short answer is you don’t. Tracking student progress is done via the checklists. The checklists keep student, teacher and parents informed at all times. The checklists tell students what they should be working on but for a better explanation here is how I avoided the need for writing any notes skill by skill.
- I would always start off picking slow and work up the tempo. This meant it did not matter where any one student was. Starting at 60bpm meant everyone could join in. I did not use a metronome most of the time but I did of course encourage them to use one at home. I was the metronome and when a student could hold the tempo at the required speed I ticked their box but they would still start off slow each and every lesson.
When it was time for chords the first thing I would do is start from the first chord regardless of whether it was ticked or not. As I moved through the chords and could see a student could now play a chord I would put a pencil mark through it on their checklist. If someone could play all the chords confidently I would get them to move through each of the chord changes as quickly as possible while I helped those who were still learning some of the chords. The idea was to get the more advanced students improving their changes while the other would work on just learning the chords.
- Arpeggios and Scales I did much the same as chords by starting from the beginning (reviewing) each time but it was also very easy to handicap them by giving them more difficult arpeggio patterns or with scales getting them to play sequences.
- Rhythm. I again would start from the first exercise relevant to their level. So if they were S1 I would start from Lesson 1 Ex.1 every time we did rhythm but I would move through it quickly until we got to an exercise where someone was having trouble. At that point I would take a minute to slow it right down and help the student by breaking it down. I would only spend a minute or less giving them something to practice (e.g. the first 2 beats) but would then switch to the others to keep moving through the exercises until they reached their current challenge again repeating the process of slowing it down and breaking it down. With 5 students and 10 mins you have enough time to get to each student’s level. In most cases they tend to get stuck at the same exercises anyway plus the longer your group have been together the more they sync.
- Reading is much the same as rhythm where we revise all the exercises but what I would do if someone was quite advanced is get them to play in a different position up the neck. In other words they play Song of Joy on the 2nd string instead of the 1st but I would also ask them to read the exercise at their current level. If they were at say Lesson 7 while the others were at Lesson 5 I would get them to play while asking the other students to track the notes on the music.
- Aural again like rhythm where I would always revise. Theory I would touch on as required. E.g. I think understanding intervals should come before aural.
- Songs were listed on their checklists so it was easy to see where we were up to. If we were working on a song I would always begin from the start of the song working up to the point where they needed more instruction.
To sum it up I was able to eliminate keeping notes because I would generally start from the beginning every time. The idea was to be constantly revising what they already knew as quickly as possible to get to the place we needed to work on. This instilled in students the idea that you don’t just learn something and forget it. It’s about constantly revising. I was not allowing them to do something once get a tick and move on. I viewed the checklist like a song repertoire. On performance night you can’t be saying you forgot the intro because it’s been 3 months since you learnt it. Every time we did say chords they had to play every chord they had learned up until that point before we moved on to the next chord. The bonus of course is it frees you up from writing notes. You never have to think about where you are up to. Just start from the beginning every time but treat it like revision.
The final point I want to make is that G4 was designed so any G4 teacher could step in and replace any other G4 teacher. I was building schools and I want teachers to be able to fill in and replace each other without the replacement teacher wasting a whole lesson trying to assess where students were up or what they were working on.
If I was to come and take over your classes I should be able to step in and teach without the need to be reviewing another teacher’s notes. The checklists should tell me everything I need to know instantly and by taking the above approach I can step in with missing a best.
Children in groups
When teaching children in groups start with the two rules which are as follows;
1. Only play what and when I ask you to.
2. If you have a question please raise your hand. Note that I may ask you to put your hand down if its not the right time for questions.
The rules are important for maintaining a positive, productive classes. The rules should be delivered in a confident and friendly manner (never angry or frustrated) but with a strong enough delivery for students to take you seriously. The students most likely to be disruptive are the ones who do not practice enough. They will attempt to distract you to avoid being asked to play something they have not practiced. If you allow them to continually disrupt your good students will leave and you will be left with students who don’t practice. Students who don’t practice should not be forgotten. If they are not practicing and struggling to keep up get them to do a private lesson with you to address the problem. The problem will almost always be related to confidence. Perhaps they are struggling with a particular skill or exercise and just need some help. If this does not solve the problem please post in the Facebook group to discuss the problem.
Doug Lemov (Teach Like A Champion) Quote Great teachers ensure that they have 100% of students with them for the teaching and learning; their expectation is 100% of students, 100% of the time, 100% of the way. Great classroom managers generally step in to address distractions earlier than other teachers, allowing their interventions to be almost imperceptible. The recipe implicit in their success is simple and powerful: catch it early and fix it non-invasively without breaking the thread of instruction. Starting with the very first direction you give, students assess how “optional” your directions are. Waiting until 100% of students have followed your very first directions of the school year sends the message that your directions and expectations are not, and never will be, optional. Click the following link to download the note. Teach Like A Champion Notes.
The best coaches are clear about their plan. Its okay to check for understanding and student confidence but the problems begin when you stray from the plan. An example might be taking a song request to keep a student happy. This makes your lesson less productive or worst, students begin to lose faith in your leadership.
Developing your group teaching skills
Think about learning to drive a car. All the theory in the world won’t make you a good driver. You need to get behind the wheel and go through the motions but a good place to start is through observation. Just sitting in the passenger seat watching the driver and the road will give you some insights into how to drive but more importantly will give you the confidence to drive. “If they can do it so can I.” So when it comes to group teaching one of the best things you can do is observe other experienced group teachers in action. It can be anywhere. School teachers, sports coaches, karate classes, dance classes, aerobics instructors etc. Go out and observe and even participate as a student. Get familiar with the whole idea of group teaching. Teaching privately is actually very much the exception. Most teaching is done in groups. Schools, colleges, universities, most sports and so on. If you have kids enroll them into different classes so you can go along and observe. If you don’t have kids see if any of your friends have kids and ask them if you can go along and watch explaining your reason why. Try being an assistant coach with a local sports team. Teaching groups will only become natural to you through experience so you need to actively seek out opportunities to get the experience you need.
Your biggest challenge
Group teaching for most guitar teachers will be the biggest challenge they face. Especially for those teachers who have a history of teaching privately. Group teaching is the key to earning more, working less and getting better results all round. One on one has is benefits but the more experienced you get with groups the more you will want to teach groups. Your earnings as a private teacher are very limited compared to group. You might be thinking that its not about the money but the reality the more money your business brings in and the more efficiently you can use your time the more you can give back to your students. The major music schools around the world like MIT and Berklee Music etc were not built on private tuition. They were only able to grow through group teaching as it funded their growth in better facilities, resources and teachers. These schools also specialized. MIT actually started out as the Guitar Institute and specialized in rock whereas Berklee specialized in jazz. In both cases they had a clear vision in mind and students who enrolled understood the curriculum but what made these schools successful more so than what they taught was the student interaction. Students seeking just skills could seek out a great teacher and offer to pay one on one. Students who wanted to interact with other students would attend MIT or Berklee. In other words they were attracting the right kinds of students and not just from their surrounding areas but from all over the world. Private tuition and group are two very different styles of teaching and I think the challenges that most teachers face when first teaching groups is that they tend to use a private style of teaching in a group scenario. To date every problem mention by a teacher I have heard relates to applying a private teaching style to group. For example many teachers are trying to satisfy the individual desires of each student in their group. Remember that MIT and Berklee both have a curriculum. They teach specific subjects with specific outcomes. Successful group teachers like bands do what they do best and don’t try to please everyone. They instead attract the right kinds of students based on what they teach but they only achieve this by being clear and consistent about who and what they are.
A Typical Group Lesson
Ask students to enter the room and setup. Students should know the procedure for getting setup and doing within 60 seconds. This is critical for ensuring time is not wasted. Here are the steps to setting up.
In the waiting room take guitar out of the case and tune up if possible before the lesson starts. (Note that beginners may not be confident in tuning their guitars so you may need to do it in the lesson. The way I did this was to simply grab their guitar and tune it quickly. When you do it everyday you get very quick.)
- Students to enter the room and choose a seat.
- Students to open their folders to the Practice Log.
- Students to sit correctly and begin picking exercise to warm up.
Picking and Practice Log check
As students are picking go around to each student, open their folder to the PL and make a comment to the student. If practice is good make a positive comment. If low ask them to tell you what happened and then reply accordingly. E.g. “I understand. School is full on at this time of year but was it really impossible to find 20 mins on these days? Remember that it’s consistent practice that matters in the end. Give me 20 to 30 mins a day and I’ll turn you into a good guitar player sooner than you think.”
Warm up the lefthand using the caterpillar exercise on each string. The warm up should take no longer than 5 minutes.
Skills 2 x 10 minutes each
Begin working on skill one and then skill two. Generally aim to rotate the skills each week but feel free to choose the skills you feel to be the most important. In some cases you might even do a double where you spend the entire 20 minutes on one skill. When teaching the skills try to relate them to well known songs. Even the songs on their current checklist. Your aim is to make the skills relevant.
Song for 3 to 4 minutes
Teach the next part of any song on their checklist. The idea here is not so much about learning a song but to building song memory. Do not give them any sheet music as this is a memory exercise. Use these few minutes to teach them how to memorise music.
Review the lesson
Finish by asking the students one at a time “What’s one thing you are going to practice this week?” and “Does anyone have any last questions?”. Show them how to pack up in 30 seconds or less and ask the next class to come on in and get setup.
Young Children In Action
In this video the teacher uses songs and movement to engage the children which introduces them to timing and pitch. Notice how he sits at their level, uses large hand and arm movements with lots of expression getting the children to follow his lead. The whole time he is scanning the group to ensure they are all involved.
Karate Class example
Effective Small Group Teaching
This video offers some good advice on teaching small groups generally.
Team Building Strategies For Your Guitar Groups
Please click the links to view the blogs below.
Blogs On Group Lessons (for students)
Here are some blogs you can check out and even share with your students.
Please visit the Q&A section for more on grouping students.