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Group Piano Lesson Curriculum: Methods and Our Program

Piano Express

What group piano curriculum and method should you use in your music studio?

When starting a group piano program, there are many decisions to be made. However, there are few decisions more important than deciding what group piano curriculum to use.

Unfortunately, there is a Catch-22 at work here.

Oftentimes, an owner doesn’t know what group method will fit their studio best until after they’ve taught group piano for a while.

Most owners hesitate or never begin a group piano program because of the weight of this decision (along with a number of other factors, like fear about losing enrollments because of a perceived lack of acceptance of group lessons).

In this article, you will learn:

  • The factors in choosing a group piano curriculum
  • An overview of five popular group piano curriculums
  • Pro’s and con’s to each system

By completely reading this short guide, you will have a more nuanced perspective of what’s at stake in your choice and will feel more confident about selecting a group piano curriculum for your studio.

The Factors: What Should You Look For in Your Group Piano Curriculum?

Are you aware of what’s at stake when deciding upon a group piano curriculum?

After interviewing hundreds of teachers, I found that most teachers make their decision based on the criteria of song selection of the group piano method.

“Will the students like the music?”

While that is an important factor, there is a critical flaw in deciding based on that criteria.

There are more important considerations. Namely:

Multi-Level vs Leveled. Is the group piano curriculum you are considering leveled or multi-level?

Leveled curriculums are more structured, easier to teach to your staff, and create greater community amongst your students. However, they create scheduling problems, especially for smaller studios! 

Multi-level curriculums allow studios to mix students of different levels. Some multi-level systems even allow you to adapt a non-group curriculum. This gives teachers maximum flexibility. However, multi-level curriculums can be more challenging to teach, as it puts more pressure on the teacher’s time during the lesson.

Individuation. How does the group piano curriculum you are selecting help students make individual progress?

Tools. What additional tools accompany the method? How do they support the student in developing their skill?

Training. What additional training and resources come with the curriculum that equip you in transitioning your studio to group?

Support. Does the group curriculum you are selecting have a robust support system?

The Top 5 Group Piano Curriculums that Schools Use

In an effort to make it easier to choose what works for you, we have compiled a list of group piano curriculums that you could use in your studio.

You will find basic details about the system, as well as where they stand based on the factors listed above.

The curriculums that will be covered are:

  • Piano Express
  • Alfred’s Basic Group Piano Course
  • Piano Pyramid
  • KeyNotes Music
  • Successful Group Lessons method

Each method / curriculum will be listed with a brief summary of how they deal with the factors.

Piano Express

Piano Express is a group piano method that was created in 2010. It is a 6-level progressive method that takes students to the late beginner stage. The final book contains exam repertoire from the Royal Conservatory of Music assessment system. You can learn more about this method on GroupLessons.com.

Here’s what it offers to private studio teachers and commercial studio owners:

Multi-Level vs Leveled. Piano Express was originally designed as a leveled system, but has been rewritten in recent years to support multi-level instruction.

This gives small studios the opportunity to start with the more flexible multi-level style and then begin to transition over to the more structured leveled style if they choose to grow!

Piano Express is the only group method / curriculum on the market that offers both leveled and true multi-level options within the same method.

Individuation. The Piano Express curriculum allows students to make individual progress (even in the context of the leveled system) in several ways:

  1. The Piano Express has an app that works “hand-in-glove” with the printed materials. Students can make progress on their repertoire both in-studio and at home!
  2. The Piano Express group class is divided into two segments: assessment and discovery. During assessment time, students work at their own pace.
  3. Because of the “revolving door” concept, students can enter and exit a class at any time. To put it simply, what students are learning during Discovery time is separate from what they’re working on in their books… so they aren’t constrained by a pre-packaged curriculum that doesn’t take into account their individual strengths, weaknesses, and rate of progress. This makes Piano Express one of the few leveled curriculums in the world that allows individual progress.
  4. The app includes dozens of HD video demonstrations of the songs and concepts in each level, so that students can move forward in their books at a pace that is comfortable for them.

Tools. The Piano Express curriculum includes sight-reading and ear training exercises. The app includes tools that test student comprehension and musical literacy. 

The app gamifies the learning experience by testing and awarding “Star Points” to students for their performances. This has the effect of increasing student practice time as they try to get perfect scores on their songs. It also is a key factor in students choosing to move forward in their books at home… a choice they make on their own!

The method and Discovery books are printed in 9×12 with high gloss covers.

Training. Piano Express comes with a complete training course that is included with usage of the system. It also includes detailed training on how to market the system to both new families and current families. There is an “owner” training. There is also teacher training for owners of larger studios that intend to have their teaching staff teach the system.

There is also an extensive reference section in the training with hundreds of videos that give demonstrations of every lesson in all 6 levels. These videos range from 15 minutes to 30 minutes each… making it one of the most documented methods in the world.

Support. Piano Express has a support community that is integrated with the training. This is hosted on the Skool platform. Support is available by chat, email, live Q&A’s each month, phone, and on social media.

Additionally, there is “official” support available for the app, as well as the method.

Alfred’s Basic Group Piano Course

Alfred’s Basic Group Piano Course is a curriculum from the immensely popular Alfred publishing group. It is a beginner course for young students. It purports to build foundational skills and includes basic support tools for teachers who are teaching the course.

Multi-Level vs Leveled. The Basic Group Piano Course is a leveled experience that was designed to be taught in a classroom setting. 

Individuation. As with most leveled systems, students are expected to make progress at the pace of the group. However, there are chances for individuation as there are theory exercises that students can complete in the workbook.

Tools. The workbook conveniently includes repertoire, theory, sight reading, and ear training all in one level! The method consists of two levels that are about 80 pages each. The method ends at the equivalent of Faber Level 1.

Training. There is no associated training with the method.

Support. There is no teacher or owner support with the method. I would further add that the Alfred group piano system is similar to a number of other group piano methods that are simply just a “book series.” Other examples would include the Mayron Cole method.

Piano Pyramid

Piano Pyramid® is a multilevel group piano curriculum for ages 8-14. The system helps students go from beginning to early-intermediate levels of piano proficiency.  It includes a Teacher Guide and five leveled student books, each with the same piece at a different level. The complete curriculum is a three-year cycle.

Multi-level vs Leveled.

Piano Pyramid® is a multilevel method that allows students to play with students of other skill levels in an ensemble.

In a typical classroom, five different levels (beginner to early-intermediate) are able to learn together. Students play out loud (unplugged) in the context of a group. Each book in the m method has twelve ensemble parts that are learned during a 32-week session.

Individuation. Piano Pyramid® allows for individual progress.  Classes follow a tiered teaching/learning model that enables students to move independently. Each of the units provides an opportunity for the teachers to evaluate the students and assess what type of help they need to continue their progress.

Tools. The method consists of books that allow for ensemble playing, solo performance, music theory relevant to the pieces learned, basic piano technique, and scheduled assessments.

Training. Teachers and studio owners are given detailed training so that they can successfully run this system in their studio. Piano Pyramid® Academy is where the training happens.

Support. Support is available for those who want it! The creator holds regular Zoom webinars and 1:1 coaching.

KeyNotes Music

KeyNotes Music is a group piano program for ages 3-Adult that focuses on collaborative learning and music-making. It was created by Melanie Bowes.

Multi-Level vs Leveled. KeyNotes is a leveled method with beginners being grouped by age and advancing students being grouped by ability and skill. 

Within each curriculum there are strategies for differentiation so that students can progress at a pace appropriate to their needs and potential, while working together collaboratively as a group on learning objectives based on concepts and skills.

Individuation. The method has been designed to allow for individual progress through processes and strategies backed by research and educational studies. The main vision of the program is to teach everyone together but enable individuals to progress at their own rate.

Tools. KeyNotes is a program that nurtures the whole musician through movement, listening, singing, composing and playing. Each workbook is based on topics or stories which engage young students in the musical and learning processes.

Training. Keynotes has a teacher-training available to licensees on their site, as well as training for every lesson in the various levels. This is self-paced and delivered by Melanie (who has a background in teacher training in schools and universities).

Support. KeyNotes has an onboarding process which includes a strategy call with the creator of the system. Support is available through email and messenger. There is also a teachers’ Facebook group so that licensees can ask each other questions.

Successful Group Lessons Method

The Successful Group Lessons method is a training that shows teachers how to take any method in the world and use it as the basis of a multi-level group in their studio. It is better suited for solo teachers. One of the chief advantages of this method is that teachers can continue to use the method they are used to using.

Multi-Level vs Leveled. This is a multi-level method… but with a twist. There are no associated books or curriculum with it. Rather, it is a training that allows you to adapt any normal progressive method and make it a group method.

Individuation. SGL not only allows for individual progress… the entire method revolves around it! Students make individual progress in their books… and since they are using traditional method books, teachers can freely supplement or even use different methods with each student (allowing the teacher to make choices based on each student’s needs).

Tools. Since this is a training (as opposed to a curriculum / method), a teacher has a great deal of flexibility in choosing what tools to use to support their students.

Training. The SGL method has extensive training that fully covers logistics, what equipment to buy to set up your group studio, how to market your group lessons, and (most importantly) how to teach any method in the context of a group.

Support. Successful Group Lessons has an active teacher community in a private Facebook group. There are occasional Q&A webinars that are hosted on Zoom.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: If you have a group lesson curriculum that you would like included here, simply contact us on our contact form and suggest it for inclusion.

Conclusion

We live in an exciting time in the history of music education. Owners and teachers are increasingly spoiled for choice when it comes to materials, methods, and curriculum. However, with such variety, it can be difficult to make a decision! I hope this guide has helped you to learn the pro’s and con’s of each system… and assist you in making a decision that best fits your studio!