Group Piano Class – Ideas from Spring 2019

Students experience the joy of music through folk dancing.

Group piano class is one of my favorite events of the year. About six of my students are able to make it, and we gather in my basement studio. During this hour, we enjoy each other’s company, listen to each other’s pieces, play a couple group music games, and folk dance.

The students usually bound out of the house with big grins on their faces, and anxiously await the next group piano class. I think it’s because I usually pick a rather lively folk dance, but maybe that’s my bias talking. I used to teach in a general music classroom and would jump in and do the folk dance if someone needed a partner. It has always been a favorite of mine.

Typically, I include the following elements in a studio class:

    • Folk Song with activity or game
    • A chance for students to each play a piece or part of a piece for the other students
    • Rhythm or melodic dictation activity
    • Group game
    • Folk dance

In the future, I hope to have enough students attend where I can have two group sessions on one Saturday. This will allow me to group the students who are farther along in one group and make the games harder. The ones who have been taking for a couple years are ready for a bigger challenge on the games.

The following is a description of what I did for my spring 2019 Studio Group Piano Class.

Folk Song and Performance Opportunity: Obwisana
Students did not know what order they would be playing in today. Instead, whoever wound up with the red flowered bean at the end of our folk song was the selected one to play next.

We sang this song while we passed around bean bags on the beat. I followed the instructions from Beth’s Notes blog. I had one special colored bean bag, and whoever had that bean bag when the song ended went to the piano and played a piece we had been working on in lesson. It didn’t have to be anything special or perfected. The performer joined the circle again, we sang Obwisana, and the next student with the special bean bag performed.

Rhythmic Dictation: Heartbeat charts, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners

I broke the students into groups of two. I put my beginner students with a more experienced student so the beginner wasn’t frustrated. Each group received a large handful of popsicle sticks, an 8-beat heartbeat chart, and a couple pipe cleaners.

A student writing out a rhythm using heart beat charts and popsicle sticks.

The process is this: (1) Teacher claps a rhythm. Teacher can use rhythm syllables if needed. (2) Students clap and say the rhythm using rhythm syllables. (3) Only when all students can clap and say the rhythm do I allow them to “write” the rhythm. When everyone is done, we clap and chant the rhythm one more time.

Extension ideas for use in private lesson: If you do this in a lesson, you could have the student use this rhythm for improvisation.

Folk Dance: Fjaskern (Hurry Scurry)
This book contains wonderful instructions for many folk dances.

I pulled the instructions for this dance from the amazing book Teaching Movement and Dance: A Sequential Approach to Movement by Phyllis Weikart. There’s more recent editions, but I have the one published in 1989 and it serves my purpose just fine. (I bought mine used from Amazon.) The music file is “Fjaskern” Fjaskern from the Rhythmically Moving CD. (I scored this whole set for super cheap on a Facebook music teacher buy-sell site!)

Here is another picture of the students folk dancing.

This folk song doesn’t take long to learn. It’s very simple, but the fun part about it is that this particular folk song gets faster and faster so by the end everyone is giggling and smiling trying to keep up. And by the end, everyone collapses because they are tired!

Before we did the folk song just one more time, I had a second game planned.

Rhythm (or melodic!) Game: Steal the Bacon

This one came from an online PDF I found from the Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia.

The instructions are:

To prepare for this game, you will need a set of flashcards. Each card should contain various 4-beat or 8-beat rhythmic or melodic patterns. The class is divided into two teams and each team stands in a single line down the back of the room. The flashcards are spread out on the floor or stuck to the board at the front of the room.

The teacher performs one of the rhythms. The first student in each line must race to the front of the room and be the first to grab the appropriate card. They then take the card to the teacher for verification. If correct that student scores one point for his/her team. Both students return to the end of the line and the next student in line plays for the team. 

Oh man, did I learn who the ultra-competitive students are from this game! They practically knocked the board down to get to the rhythm card first! But it was a blast! Also, I had students help write these rhythms as a time-filler when they first arrived and we were waiting on a few more students.

Folk Dance: Fjaskern (Hurry Scurry)

As the parents arrived to pick up their students, we decided to perform “Hurry Scurry” one more time for them!