by Dr. Julie Knerr
Why Partner Lessons?
Partner Lessons are a great way for students to begin their piano study. Not only is it more fun to learn with another person, but it is a great way for teachers to generate more income.
Both Katherine and I have taught many pairs of partners in the past. I am currently teaching only one Partner Lesson due to the transition in my teaching this year, but I hope to have many more duo pairs in the future!
Variety in Pieces
Piano Safari lends itself well to Partner Lessons, due to the variety in pieces. Because some children are more visually oriented, while others are more aurally inclined, the mixture of Reading Pieces and Rote Pieces appeals to both kinds of learners and allows students to blossom in their strengths while addressing their weaknesses.
My two students in a Partner Lesson are ages 9 and 11 and just began Piano Safari Level 2. They worked through Level 1 in a Group Class last year. Their Partner Lesson is an hour long once a week.
Unit Maps and Piece Cards
The Unit Maps and Piece Cards are especially motivating and useful for Partner Lessons.
Here is a Unit Map for Unit 1 in Level 2, with the pieces they are currently studying. Notice that they are playing all these Pieces and Technique Exercises, and we just have two more to add before they are finished with Unit 1. They will then graduate to Unit 2 and begin filling up a new Unit Map.
I have found that they love playing all their pieces, even ones they have had for a while. Part of the lesson becomes more like a fun jam session, as we play together through all the pieces on their Unit Map that they know well. (I have two pianos, but Partner Lessons can work with one piano as well).
- Sight Reading Cards. The first 10 minutes of class is reserved for Sight Reading Cards. One person marks the 3rds on their current card while the other plays a card, and we switch back and forth. They work through the cards at their own pace, staying in the corresponding level to the Unit we are studying in their Repertoire Book 2 and Technique Book 2. It is a big motivator to work hard on the cards to catch up to your partner and earn chocolate that comes when graduating from a level of cards (in this case, Level F, pink cards). Then we play the Rhythm Tapping part of the cards on the drum together.
Mastered Pieces: Looking at the Unit Map, we play through pieces they know well, like Safari Friends (each student can take a page, or we can just play together), A Prairie Dog Companion (playing in different octaves, different keys, various tempos), Kettle Corn (one person playing and the other playing the rests on the drum), and Technique Exercises like Tree Frog (each student chooses a key for them to play together). This is my favorite part of the Lesson because it is so fun to play pieces they know together.
New Pieces: I might then have one student go to the cute little desk I picked up at an antique shop last week and mark the 3rds on a new piece we will start.
Isn’t it adorable? (Yesterday one student told me that 2000 years ago they had ink instead of pencils, so since my desk has a place for the ink, it must be 2000 years old!!! She was so impressed with my ancient antique.)
- Individual Help: While that student is marking 3rds, I will work with the other student on a piece they might be having trouble with.
- Then we switch.
- Playing New Pieces: One student watches while the other student plays. They then switch. It would appear that this would take more time to teach, and it does, but the benefits of watching and learning before playing are well worth the time.
- We play through the new pieces sufficiently that I am sure practice at home will go well.
- Note Name Flashcards. Then we might move to the table to practice our Note Name Flashcards.
- Assignment Sheet. I have them write out an Assignment Sheet to keep them accountable for practice. They earn a piece of candy for well completed assignments from the week before. This is a huge motivator, even for these slightly older children. So is the peer pressure of keeping up with your partner.
Completed Assignment Sheets like this make me so happy! She definitely deserves a chocolate!
Challenges of Partner Lessons
The most challenging aspect to teaching Partner Lessons is keeping the students progressing at the same rate. One of my students has had pneumonia and been absent for several lessons, so the other student is moving along a little faster. To keep them studying the same material in Piano Safari, I do two things:
- Supplemental Pieces: I keep them with the same assignment in Piano Safari and add supplemental pieces for the faster student (Halloween and Christmas music, right now).
- Differentiation: I also differentiate the pieces they are both working on. For instance, the slower student might play A Prairie Dog Companion with right hand, as written:
To keep the faster moving student engaged (although this piece never gets boring for them!), I ask her to:
- Play it hands together in parallel motion
- Play it faster
- Transpose it to different keys
- I refine the staccato technique as much as possible.
Since there are layers of learning in every piece, it is easy and beneficial to differentiate to keep a fast moving student challenged.
For another example, in Reinagle’s Minuet No. 1 (which is every student’s favorite piece. They feel so accomplished learning a “real” Classical piece), the slower student is working on playing hands together while I require the faster student to play with good hand balance, check to be sure the thumb is loose, and make the best phrase endings ever.
Seeing the faster student add these layers motivates the slower student to catch up so that she too can add layers of perfection.
The students and parents both love Partner Lessons. All the parents in Group Class last year insisted on continuing as a group or in partners, rather than in private lessons, as they saw the benefits of learning with peers. Due to scheduling and distance, only one Partner Lesson pair emerged, but it was so interesting to me to have the parents uniformly prefer Partner over Private Lessons!
If you haven’t tried Partner Lessons before, it might be something to consider.