Since 2000 I’ve been talking to piano teachers around Australia (and from time to time around New Zealand, even less often in the UK, and just twice in Malaysia), and it doesn’t matter where I go, Sydney, Belfast, Bendigo, Wellington or Penang, teachers ask me “how can we fit it all in a half hour piano lesson?”.
The short answer is “you can’t”, and in a way it’s a relief to just get that admission out of the way. It takes a lot of energy and self-deceit to pretend that 30 minute lessons on an almost weekly basis for 10+ years will produce master musicians, and once we recognise that this time frame is insufficient we can start looking for better strategies.
So, if half an hour isn’t enough, what can we do about it?
1. We can re-examine how we define ‘enough’. What are the goals we are setting? Are they the goals we want to work towards?! Most of the time, in former Commonwealth countries, teachers define ‘enough’ by examinations (do we have enough time in 32-40 x 30 minute lessons to prepare for a excellent result in a Grade x examination?). Defining what is ‘enough’ involves talking to students and their parents about what they want to accomplish, as well as interrogating ourselves as to what we think a piano education should encompass.
2. We can look at ways of getting the most out of the thirty minute lesson. Have we built inefficiencies into our lesson model? Are our teaching methods wasteful of our limited time resources?
3. We can explore how more learning can take place between lessons. Are we structuring appropriate learning experiences to take place when we are not present? Are we informing students and their parents of ways to enhance learning between formal lessons?
4. We can restructure our teaching so that lessons are longer. This may involve a serious culture shift in some teaching studios where all lessons have always been charged in 30 minute units (even if they lasted for 45 minutes!).
5. We can offer once-a-term (or twice-a-term) learning opportunities which enhance the learning being done in the one-on-one context. This might be anything from a performance masterclass through to a Baroque dance class, from a scales concert through to a blog carnival, from a group harmony class to a studio-wide YouTube concert.
6. We can encourage students to take on additional musical commitments. This could range from learning a second instrument through to accompanying worship services at church/the choir at school, or being part of a jazz ensemble, and beyond.
And as with any such list, I’m sure we could add more to it.
But it’s these six ideas I’d like to explore a little further in follow-up posts: redefining ‘enough’, teaching more efficiently, facilitating out-of-lesson learning, creating and implementing scheduling changes, enabling group learning opportunities, and encouraging participation in non-solo piano music making.
In the meantime, do you find that half an hour is simply not enough?