Trick question – who is better qualified to teach your child music: a professional teacher or another music student? Surely, the professional teacher, right? Well, not exactly. Research done by Eric Mazur of Harvard shows that the fellow student can do a better job of teaching a student if the teaching professional facilitates the learning environment. Why? Because the student who has just recently mastered the material has a better understanding of the common misconceptions faced by a new student than the professional teacher who long ago mastered the material. Given this insight, it becomes clear why group class is such an important part of the music curriculum.
To be clear, all teachers at the Suzuki Music Institute of Central Florida understand the importance of guiding and nurturing children’s development and play a crucial role in children learning to play their instruments. Private lessons provide the benefits of building technique, sequencing appropriate repertoire, delivering insights on articulation and phrasing, teaching students to read music quickly and accurately and many other benefits that only a master teacher can offer. Group lessons bring all the concepts learned through private instruction into a group environment that accelerates growth.
One of the best things about group classes is that it motivates students. When a child sees one of their peers perform a piece, it builds confidence. After all, seeing is believing. If another student can perform a piece, the student believes that they can play it too. At our school, students, representing a diverse range of ages and experiences, perform a set of shared repertoire for each other every week. It has been our experience that students overcome performance anxiety and look forward to playing for each other. Regular performances help students to memorize their pieces, and for some of the more recalcitrant students, who are reluctant to memorize their pieces, memorized performances by other students set the standard. Positive performance examples provide the motivation for students to excel and meet the approval of peers. Students who didn’t want to memorize their pieces suddenly want to perform their memorized repertoire!
When students hear their friends playing together, they are compelled to join in even if they don’t know a piece completely. As they play, or attempt to play, week after week, they hear the music all around them. Almost by osmosis, they start to learn the pitches and rhythms. In a sense, they fake it until they make it. Another added benefit of playing in a group is learning to perform pieces with a steady beat. Students that might rush or lag behind hear the steady beat provided by the teacher and student leaders and play along even if it means dropping a couple of notes. Students begin to innately feel the rhythm.
Best of all, it’s fun to play in a group. Some of my best memories from my childhood include group performances in the community playing my Suzuki repertoire and favorite Christmas songs. There is a sense of community that is built through group performances and it gives young musicians the opportunity to socialize and make friends with other students. Trips to assisted living facilities with my fellow Suzuki students made, what would have been a lonely experience, a fun, heart-warming experience. We shared the gift of music with seniors that might not be able to get out and enjoy concerts in the community anymore. In return, we gained performance confidence which served us well for competitions and auditions.
The motto of the story is that there is power in numbers. Music lessons can be a solitary experience. Students practice alone. Lessons are alone with a private instructor. However, music is a language. It is meant to be shared. It is through this sharing that learning is accelerated. Group classes provide the environment to share, to learn and to grow. These learning communities are absolutely essential to encourage the positive growth of music students.