Group Instrumental Teaching II – Space & Time

11KLAS-tmagArticleSometimes it is possible for instrumental teachers to exert a degree of control over their teaching environment, but for many, such as those dashing from one school to another, the arrangements can often be somewhat makeshift. So how can we organise the available space – in the time available – for maximum efficacy? The undoubted benefits of group tuition can only be realised if careful consideration is given to issues such as this and those we shall consider in the rest of this article.

It almost goes without saying that as much as possible needs to be done as regards arranging seating and equipment, before the students arrive. This may well mean allowing some ‘lead time’ for situating chairs and music stands as required, while at the same time removing or ‘hiding’ items which might prove distracting: if potential distractions are not easily movable (school drum kits for example) set out the room so that the students are facing away from them if at all possible.

As far as seating (or standing) arrangements are concerned, different instrumental families will have differing requirements for the comfort and safety of the students concerned (stray violin bows near eyes come to mind!).  Whether the teacher is going to be mobile during the lesson is a matter of which instruments are being played and/or of personal preference.  However, whether the teacher is to be mobile or not, the ability to establish eye contact with each of the students as required is an important consideration.  Not only will this assist in maintaining good order and concentration, but it will also help enormously in securing the all-important involvement of all the students.

It is better still if the students can easily see each other: observing peers is a vital component of the encounter-learning discussed in the previous article and the peer appraisal that we shall discuss below, so we need to do what we can to facilitate this. Sitting or standing in straight lines or facing away from each other (yes, it does happen) are to be avoided, although the planning of configurations that allow eye contact need to take account of the space required for guitar necks, trombone slides and in extremely tight spaces there might even be safety issues (violin bows coming close to eyes for example). The approach to the layout of group lessons with electronic keyboards will be similar, but with the slight difference that in order for the teacher to demonstrate frequently (this is vitally important as is discussed in another article), he or she may need to move around the group rather more than with other instruments.

In a school situation where one group follows another, keyboards need to be made secure by being placed on tables rather than stands. The all too common arrangement of keyboards next to each other with the students all facing the wall is really not conducive to effective teaching and learning. Better to spare no effort in securing a more suitable layout such as that suggested below, but of course, great care is called for in ensuring that electrical cables, extension leads etc., are situated in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of their being tripped over or meddled with. The illustration shows keyboards, but it would be equally suitable for other types of instruments, provided that enough space is available and the angles are adjusted accordingly.

Keyboard Layout CompA layout such as this allows for a line of sight between the players and the teacher who, in this configuration, can be anywhere and can easily move around to check and/or demonstrate to an individual. It has the same benefits for other instrumental families.

If the lesson has been planned so as to use notation, then each student will require access to a music stand, which has been unfolded and height-adjusted before the start of the lesson.  Some instrumentalists will require chairs, others will not. If chairs are required, these also are best set out before the lesson, so as to waste no time in getting started.  Younger children usually have very little idea when it comes to setting out chairs for a group, so in the name of efficiency, do it for them! Chairs should be of suitable shape and height, so as to encourage the students to sit straight yet relaxed and to adopt a comfortable posture appropriate to their instrument.  Teachers who, when visiting schools, are required to use staff rooms need to be aware that low ‘easy’ chairs are not suitable, and that upright chairs will need to be brought in, again, before the students arrive for their lesson.

Young students, especially, often need to be reminded to leave their instrument cases by to one side of the room completely clear of the area in which the lesson will be conducted.  The less clutter there is in the teaching area, the fewer will be the opportunities for distractions, fidgeting or ‘accidents’.  A minor point perhaps, but the time wasted in attending to many such minor points soon adds up!

It is appreciated that peripatetic teachers often feel that pressures of time will prevent much of the above pre-lesson preparation from being put into practice. However, if time is able to be found, or made, or even if chair and music stand ‘monitors’ have to be appointed, this, along with a willingness to plan journeys carefully and arrive a few minutes early, will pay enormous dividends in terms of the efficient use of lesson time. In other words, the time given to this kind of preparation will be time invested, not spent.

Making the Best Use of the Time Available

When a group of students arrives for a lesson, certain routines have to be gone through:  Instruments have to be taken out of cases, assembled, cases put to one side and sheet music taken out etc before the students are even ready to go to their places and prepare to play.  This process has the potential, quite easily, to eat into the lesson time by 25% or more.

To read more about this and many other aspects of instrumental music teaching click here.

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One thought on “Group Instrumental Teaching II – Space & Time

  1. My experience with group lessons covered keyboard laboratory lessons for years 7-12 in a Public Secondary College, and Violin/Guitar (appreciation) lessons Years 7-9 in a Boys Technical School where I was the only Class Music Teacher in the School. Each School had visiting Instrumental Staff in attendance, and we started a Brass/Woodwind Percussion Band in the latter school. I also attended schools as an itinerant Strings Teacher Years 2-10 where all Stringed Instruments were taught by the one teacher.

    When visiting Primary and Secondary Schools as an Itinerant String teacher, in portable, general purpose or cramped areas, students brought their instruments in when they arrived at school. The cases were placed around the walls, and before the first students came, I would check the tuning, so that it took less time from playing during the lesson. We were able to leave the wire stands erect and store them that way in cupboards or store rooms. We would check the strings tuning for Violin,Viola,and Celli, during our string pizzicato warm up, singing their string names as they sang them, to my piano accompaniment. Guitar class just strummed across the chords already learnt, with different rhythms. Students were expected to tell me if they were out of tune and we would repair damage.

    One thing is certain, Instrumental Music Teachers need to be adaptable, optimistic, healthy and very energetic as we foster a love of live music, and share our passion with young students. I returned to Classroom teaching at the end of my schoolteaching days as I enjoyed Colleagues around me, Staffroom contact, and a school where music – if ethnic in style – was appreciated. There were of course the many reports to be written but it was part of the game. It is great when people of mixed age groups and abilities can make music together.


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