How To Teach a Group Piano Class

How To Teach a Group Piano Class

Group Piano Class

Today’s post is by TopMusicPro and all-round superstar teacher, Marie Lee, who I had the pleasure of finally meeting at this year’s MTNA and who is kicking some serious goals in her piano teaching studio.

Marie has totally revolutionised her studio from private teaching to only group teaching and has seen a massive payoff in engagement, enrollments, excitement and community and so I was delighted to hear that she was keen to share some of her ideas with us. 

Thanks for all your contributions to the blog and our members community, Marie! If you’d like to connect with Marie personally, join the crew of amazing teachers in TopMusicPro.

Over to you, Marie!   

A complete revolution!

Thirteen years ago I did something completely radical and transitioned my 30-student private piano studio into a group piano class studio.

Since that time, it’s grown to over 100 students, ages three to adult.

Over the past years, prospective students’ parents and fellow piano teachers have asked me the same question many times, “What is a group piano class like?

To answer, I use the senses of sight, sound and emotion, along with sharing a typical class outline and lesson planning tips.

Group Piano Class

What does a group piano class look like?

  • Group classes typically have a combination of five to eight instruments (pianos or electronic keyboards) closely packed together with a student at each. I’ve found it more helpful to have several rows rather than one, long row. There are advantages and disadvantages to having each student face the same direction towards me or aligning them to face each other.
  • I almost never use headphones. That totally takes away the benefits of group piano and turns it into seven mini-private lessons. Not fun for anyone.
  • In addition to the teacher-student motions and interactions, there are additional dynamics between students like constructive feedback and friendly competition. These are energizing for both teacher and students!
  • There’s on-going, positive peer pressure. Students usually practice well at home because they know they’ll be playing in front of each other. Also, students want to “out-do” each other by memorizing quicker or learning a new piece on their own to show off to the class.

What does a group piano class sound like?

They’re loud!

This shouldn’t be an out-of-control noisy loud, but the combined effort of musicians coming together. Instead of a school classroom’s cacophony, think of a head-nodding jam session.

Students learn to listen to each other while playing, developing a better sense of rhythm and tempo. This ensemble playing in every class refines their ability to accompany others or play in a band. They also shout out in friendly competition through games and incentive programs.

What does a group piano class feel like?

Students are more relaxed because the spotlight isn’t directly on them. The teacher isn’t sitting right next to them — listening to and watching their every move. Students feel free to answer questions and share observations, participate better and can focus on the fun and joy of making music, still with a teacher close by.

Students feel a connection and loyalty to their “piano team.” They love making music with their friends. I currently have a class of high-schoolers that have been together since they were six years old. They’re busy and have very little time to practice, but don’t want to give up their “team.” They’ve become the best of friends!

My typical 45 minute class schedule (I don’t do everything each week):

  • Sight Reading on Piano Maestro
  • Review last week’s songs with teacher duets
  • Piano Pronto method books for ages 6+. Piano Safari for 4-5 year olds. Piano Made Fun for the Young for preschool piano.
  • Supplementary music (pop, holiday, Jr Festival, Daniel McFarlane’s is a favorite)
  • Theory game ( games or iPad games projected on a large screen TV)
  • Improvisation activity. Forest Kinney’s Pattern Play books are used often.
  • Scale work (Philip Johnston’s Scales Bootcamp, scales on Piano Maestro or improvise a melody out of scale notes and play with a backing track from the Musiclock app)
  • Rote learning of familiar melodies. Last year we learned Happy Birthday, Jingle Bells, Star Wars and chords from Adele’s Hello.
  • Arranging/Chording (LH accompanying patterns with a familiar RH melody or lead sheet. Chord progressions PDF by Tim Topham (available in TopMusicPro) and Bradley Sowash’s Creative Chords.)
  • Introducing a composition focus this year. One class per month will be devoted to composition using Jennifer Eklund’s Write That Down composition workbook and Noteflight software.
  • Some non-piano social interaction — this is a paid lesson, but I do allow them a little time to make a broad announcement, recap a family event or tell how they broke their arm (three this year!).
  • I have a comprehensive ticket and prize program each lesson that targets positive behavior. I also take tickets away when a student misbehaves. At the end of each lesson, they quickly trade-in their tickets for non-food prizes from Oriental Trading.

Group Piano Class Lesson Planning

As you’d suspect, a successful group piano class doesn’t just happen. It requires significant preparation beforehand, ensuring the best use of class time. I find that I spend at least thirty minutes per class on lesson planning.

Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful:

  • Mayron Cole Group Piano Method suggests dividing lesson time into these 4 parts, in any order: review last week’s songs, theory time, game time, learn new song(s).
  • Lay out goals of what MUST be accomplished that day then fill in the rest.
  • Always have extra activities in case you have time left over, or an activity isn’t going well and you need to change things up.
  • I rarely do theory worksheets because students complain that they feel like schoolwork. I agree! Instead, we play theory games or analyze the pieces we’re learning to earn tickets. Yes, I know this sounds like a teacher’s cop-out, but in testing them later, I find they retain theory concepts better using this approach because it involves more senses.
  • Mix up the order of activities each week to keep things lively and spontaneous. Scales don’t always have to be played at the beginning. Games don’t always have to be played at the end.


Are you liking what you see, hear and feel?

Perhaps it’s time to incorporate some group piano into your own studio — maybe a once-a-month group piano class for your private students or group workshops this summer?

Consider how many of us are more consistent in documenting our lives on Facebook than we are in our own personal journals. It’s the live interaction with others that motivates us. We want to see what others are doing, share what we’re personally experiencing, be enveloped in a sense of community, and find support through it all.

Similarly, both from formal studies and my personal experience, students that see, hear and feel a sense of community tend to stick with music instruction longer, giving teachers more time to turn students into life-long music makers. Group piano classes do that.

quote-music-is-the-mediator-between-the-life-of-the-senses-and-the-life-of-the-spirit-ludwig-van-beethoven-58-96-21Are you ready to try group teaching?

What’s holding you back? What do you need to know?

Leave your questions for Marie below.

Marie Lee

Owner of Musicality Schools in the Las Vegas area with over 100 students. Marie uses group piano classes to motivate and inspire musicians so they can enjoy a lifetime of creative and beautiful music making. Her patient, but high-energy teaching style leverages encouraging motivation for students along with the strengthening positive peer pressure of the class. She encourages creative performance methods and effective musicianship goal setting and awards to develop life-long skills of confidence and self-discipline. Private piano teacher for 25 years. Group piano teacher for 13 years.

 feeling inspired? 

Group Piano Class
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  1. Hey! Thank you for this helpful info! I’m starting to teach group classes. I’m wondering how you deal with bridging the gap of students who learn slower and those who fly? Do their progress at different speeds? How do you combine different levels? Thank you so much! – Beth

  2. Wish to start 45 minutes piano class; 9 middle schoolers, 3 uprights, 3 keyboards. Need help. I also teach private students so have lots experience with 1 on 1. Any help/guidance appreciated.

  3. Hey Tony, I wonder how the middle school gig has progressed for you since 2019? I’m looking for brainstorming some ideas for interesting projects for a similar setup—middle school piano classes in a public JH that could have 20ish students. Along with brainstorming some various performance opportunities, in addition to the standard piano recital, for them.

  4. Hi Marie. i am from the Pacific the maximum number of piano i have are 3 pianos, sorry three keyboards, but i wanted to teach a piano class as you mentioned. what’s your advice

  5. I am currently teaching a group piano class in a private school. unfortunately they only have 3 pianos available in the class room. How do I incorporate the class well with songs with different groups since I can only teach them once a week under 40 minutes only?

    • Hi Paul! Great to hear that you’re already teaching groups. How many students are in your classes? What ages? As students are just starting to play the piano, the focus is more on keyboard geography and rhythms so it would be easy to pair up two students each on a piano. As they advance and start reading notes, I feel it’s important that each child have their own instrument. Would the school consider purchasing some cheaper keyboards? Or would you consider purchasing a few yourself in hopes that you can make that money back with more students taking classes? (61 key keyboards can be found for around $99) There are also several digital keyboards that have a “split” function that turns one piano into two, both with “middle Cs.” I’ve seen a few teachers that give each student a plastic or paper keyboard to “play on” while students take turns playing on an actual keyboard. Hope those ideas help. FYI, my classes have always been 45 minutes, once a week, and students have plenty to practice at home during the week. Keep me posted on what you decide to do!

  6. thanks for the information

  7. Hi Marie!
    My name is Kristina Wilds and I love your content! I teach at the only Elementary School Piano Lab in Colorado. It’s located in the Centennial Academy of Fine Arts, Littleton, Colorado. I wrote the book, “The Adventures of EGBDF the Dragon and Friends”. Would you consider referencing my book for note reading, games and simple learning where notes “live”? I would be honored if you would let my book make learning notes easier for kids (and teens). Please let me know your thoughts! Thank you, Kristina

  8. I’m a brand new piano teacher and I have one group lesson with 3 six year olds. I’m not sure what to expect them to learn. I’m using Piano Adventures primer, lesson and theory book. Today I want to teach them the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” to sing. But as for getting them to really settle and learn something concrete on the piano, it’s a rodeo.

    • Congrats to you, Michelle! There is a bit of a learning curve with group teaching vs private lessons, and every class can be so different, so go easy on yourself. What is your lesson planning process like? Even now, 16 years later after first starting group classes, a concrete, memorized lesson plan is critical for me in all of my classes. It takes me 20-30 minutes to prepare for each class and know what I’m going to teach and the techniques I’m going to use to teach the songs for the day. It honestly doesn’t matter which curriculum I’m using, but more about the techniques, as I feel like you can teach group classes using any method books. Also, with young children, it’s important to change up the activity every 5-7 minutes — movement is always great for little ones, or a rhythm app or game.

  9. Hi Marie! I have a similar question to Jonathan before me. I’m at a middle school though. Right now, it looks like I might have a large class and have them for about 55 minutes everyday but for just a semester. I don’t think I would have any less than 20-30 students (it’s the only way our district can justify keeping a class open). Right now it’s scheduled to be a music appreciation class but I’d rather it be a class where they learn music not just about it.
    Kids would be completely new to music. I can handle a large class fine but I want to see what music would be appropriate for this level. Also wanted to see about what keyboards would be ideal as well.
    Thanks so much ahead of time!

    • Hey Tony, I wonder how the middle school gig has progressed for you since 2019? I’m looking for brainstorming some ideas for interesting projects for a similar setup—middle school piano classes in a public JH that could have 20ish students. Along with brainstorming some various performance opportunities, in addition to the standard piano recital, for them.

    • Hi Tony!

      I can’t even imagine how much piano you could teach if you had students every day for semester – so exciting! Same suggestion for books that I gave to Jonathan: middle schoolers could easily handle the Way Cool Keyboarding books by Debra Perez They introduce hands together playing right away, along with teaching the kids how to read chord charts and lead sheets.

      Piano Safari has an older beginner course that’s getting great reviews although I haven’t personally used it yet:
      Be sure and check out the 20% off code good through Sept 3.

      I’d also purchase a Piano Maestro studio subscription for the entire school to let the kids play from. If they each have their own iPad at school, you can hook those up to individual keyboards and along with headphones, the students can work through the Journey “note reading” lessons. If they don’t have individual iPads, I project Piano Maestro up on a big screen TV and we all play out loud together.

      As far as keyboards go, there’s such a wide range out there. Did your school give you a budget? I just purchased some Yamaha PSR F51 61-key keyboards for our piano lab for $99 and they have terrific speakers but no way to hook up an iPad. You can find terrific deals on eBay too!

      Please keep me posted on how it’s going for you and all the best!


  10. Hi Marie! I was just doing some research today and came across your postings. I’m a high school music teacher in Montana and I’m planning on doing a piano class for grades 9-12. Most of the students will be pure beginners or have minimal music reading skills. What book would you suggest to start with? I’ll be very lucky to see them everyday for around 45 minutes. What’s the biggest class you’ve had that was manageable? I’m hoping to cap it at ten (that’s the minimum they will allow). Thank you for all your suggestions and help!

    • Hi Jonathan! I’m excited to hear what you can accomplish in a class that meets daily for 45 minutes! My students only get 45 minutes per week so you should be able to really move fast with your high-schoolers! My class size has been determined by how many instruments I could fit in the room. I taught classes of 6 when I was teaching from my home. When I moved to a commercial location, I was able to fit 8 pianos in our piano lab so that’s my maximum size. If you’re a school teacher, then you have the classroom management skills to handle many more students than the rest of us! For teens, I really love the Way Cool Keyboarding books by Debra Perez They introduce hands together playing right away, along with teaching the kids how to read chord charts and lead sheets. The backing tracks are super fun and very well done. These books are on the pricier side but in all my years of teaching, I just haven’t found anything else that gets teens playing so quickly and reading chords. If you sign up for their newsletter, they frequently send out free music and backing tracks so can try it out for free. Please keep us posted on what you decide to do!

  11. I like the idea of doing summer workshops . Where can I learn more about that , soon. !

    • Hi Robin! Are you already teaching group piano and want to offer some creative summer classes for your students or are you a private teacher looking to offer group piano workshops to bring new students into your studio? If it’s the latter, I highly recommend Mayron Cole Group Piano Method’s “Blast Off with Piano.” It’s a 5 day workshop that introduces the basics of rhythm and keyboard geography so students are ready to start a staff note reading class when they complete the workshop. Right now, all of Mayron Cole’s student books, teacher guides and videos are free if you go to her website I’ve been using her Blast Off course for 16 years now and haven’t found anything that I like better. Please keep me posted on how it goes for you!

  12. Thanks, James! Are you currently teaching group classes yourself or just exploring options for now?

  13. Great Post! It’s a Excellent Information on how to teach a group piano classes. Please keep sharing, I look forward to read more…

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  16. Hi Marie,

    Where do you recommend purchasing keyboards for group piano, and does each student need an iPad or is it possible to have success w/paper music, white board and large screen tv connected to my computer?

    Thank you,

    • Hi Michael!

      I’d love to hear more about where you’re going with group teaching? Are you starting to work out logistics to get going or already teaching in groups? When I first started, I used the instruments I already had at home (acoustic piano, organ, keyboard) and added a few more cheap keyboards. As I started to grow and bring in more income, I upgraded the keyboards. Our current studio now has all digital pianos, mainly Casios that I purchased from Sam’s Club or Costco during their holiday sales or new on eBay. I figure that if the student has a decent instrument to practice on at home, 45 minutes once a week on my instrument isn’t going to hurt too much 🙂

      I only use one teacher iPad hooked up to a large screen TV and all students work off of that. I encourage home iPad use, especially on Piano Maestro, but don’t require it. And yes, we still mainly use books and sheet music in our classes.

      Would love to learn more about your set-up when you get a chance. All the best!

  17. Hi
    I am interested in knowing how your voucher system works for rewards.
    I use a sticker/stamp system and when they get 25 they get a prize out of a box.
    But I like the idea of a voucher.
    Can they choose any gift up to a certain value?

    • Hi Patricia!
      I use a ticket system so probably a lot like your sticker/stamp system. They’re just those cheap carnival tickets that you can get at any party shop or at Students try and earn 25 tickets in class that day to choose a prize from one of my two prize boxes — food and non-food. They’re cheap prizes like suckers, jolly ranchers, bouncy balls, plastic bracelets, etc. (also purchased mainly at Oriental Trading.) I have a nicer prize box that the students can choose from as they earn 10 and 20 pieces toward their 30 piece challenge. At 30 pieces they’re awarded a trophy at our spring recitals. Hope that helps!

  18. Hi Marie,

    Great information on group piano! I am opening a new music studio this and plan to offer group piano lessons!

    • Congrats to you, Grace! Are you a private teacher converting to group classes or opening a studio for the very first time? I’d love to see your website or Facebook page to see what you offer as I’ve been teaching group piano for over 15 years but am a new music school owner of only 3 years.

  19. Hi there. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you. I have maybe 10 private piano students currently and worked previously in international schools in the middle east where I taught 25 students in a keyboard lab. I have always wanted to do something similar in Ireland where I am from. How many students would you put into a group lesson for 45 minutes? TIA

    • Hi Lynda! If you’re used to teaching 25 students at a time, then a small group piano class will be no problem! We have anywhere from 3-7 in our group classes, but that’s mainly decided by how many pianos we can fit in the room. With any group of 4 or more, I also hire one of my teens to come in and assist, which is a big help.

  20. I am wondering if you teach only group or if you also have students come to private lessons? I am struggling to get all of Piano Safari into a weekly group lesson–perhaps my expectations are too high.

    • Hi Linda! Out of 135 students, only 6 are private students. Those are my late-intermediate piano teens who need more one-on-one instruction BUT they still meet for a monthly group class with the other private students so they can keep up their ensemble skills. That’s their favorite lesson of the month!

      May I ask what your struggling with? Is it scheduling? Having students at the same level in the Safari program? What are your expectations for your group classes?

      I would definitely start beginners in a group class because that’s so much easier and gets parents adjusted to the group format from the beginning. It’s not impossible, but it’s going to be much harder to convert a private student to group rather than just starting all your beginners out that way.

      • Hi Marie, My biggest challenge is keeping the group level at the same pace. With PS having all their reminder videos on line, the keeners are working way ahead. At the opposite end, I have other group members that haven’t bothered to use the reminder videos. Some practice 2 times and week and some 7. They all enjoy the time they are there. Group dynamics are all going well.

        • Yes, working with a “group level” is always a challenge and to be honest, you’ll never have everyone at the same level although you’ll want them fairly close. Try to focus on the “concept learned” rather than how well the piece sounds. It doesn’t need to be played perfectly by each student but they should understand the concept before moving to the next piece.

          How well are you getting the word out to your parents about the reminder videos? Maybe offer an incentive to those that watch the videos?

          Do you have enough students that you could divide the class into two — one with the “keeners” and one with the “others?”

          If not, how about another supplementary book or sheet music that gives the “keeners” something to challenge themselves with and gives the “others” more practice to solidify their developing skills?

  21. Hello can you explain the youngest and oldest students you put together in one class? I have seen many different age combos but not sure best groupings….also how many weeks does one class run? And how do you incorporate new students who want to join a class in the middle of a semester? Do they have to wait for the next semester? Thanks for your help !

    • Great question, Christine! When I was just starting group classes, I had wider age groupings with my beginners because I didn’t have that many students. Now that I have more students, which means more options for beginner classes, I like to group this way:
      5-6 year olds
      7-9 year olds
      10-12 year olds
      13+ (don’t get a lot of beginners in this age group but about every other year we’ll get enough teen beginners to start a class.)

      For students that are NOT beginners, I don’t worry as much about the student’s age as I do about their level. I’ve had 11 year olds in with 15 year olds and it’s worked fine, as long as they can keep up. This year I have a class of early intermediate girls that are ages 11-18 and they truly love each other. The younger girls look up to the older ones, and the older ones are so nurturing of the younger ones. Most of the time kids learn to get along with all different ages in their classes. I love that it teaches tolerance and acceptance, which our world needs more of!

  22. Lots of great ideas and resources; just downloaded the composition workbook. Thanks, so much, Marie! I, too, have been running “semi-private” lessons for a number of years and am interested in the ticket-system you use to encourage positive behaviour. Can you say more about this?

    • You’re going to love the composition book, Caroline! I have a container of small tickets and the kids earn tickets by answering questions pertaining to the pieces we’re learning, counting out loud, memorizing a piece, participating, following directions quickly, performing for each other, etc. Really, any behavior you want to encourage, I hand out tickets. It works great for preschool-age 10. After that, our students don’t really care as much about the tickets and are already trained to participate in these ways. Hope that helps.

  23. Awesome article! I also incorporate a lot of your resources too! ???? I’m excited about starting group lessons in the fall! This was most helpful!!

    • Thanks, Stephanie! Tell me more about your group lessons — are you transitioning private students into classes or starting with brand new beginners?

  24. Thank you for this insightful article. I am in the process of transitioning my private studio into group lessons and I am soaking so much knowledge from teachers like you who have already made the switch! One question I have is how do you use all of those different methods with each student? Do you have students buy a copy of each book, do you own lots of studio copies, or do you have some other way of getting all of that great music in their hands? I am excited to get away from “turning the page” through one method book and use the best that many methods have to offer, but I’m not sure how to practically do that without having students spend hundreds of dollars on music each year (or make lots of photo copies, which I refuse to do!)

    • Hi Emily! I apologize for not seeing your comment earlier — so sorry! To answer your question, I charge a $75 book fee once per year and then purchase the student’s books, and other supplies, using that money. It’s much easier than sending bills to parents each time a book is purchased. (Parents like that too!) I do use a lot of digital prints so use my Office Max MTNA discount for copies and put them in 3-ring binders. I always have a teacher set of books in case a child forgets theirs, but our students are highly encouraged to bring their own books. The book fee also covers their Piano Maestro home subscription. Hope that helps! If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at All the best!

      • Thanks for the reply. I really appreciate you sharing your expertise!

  25. Great article Ms. Lee!

    I have one question in regards to how you use piano maestro. Do each of the students have iPads so they can use the joy tunes app, or do you use a projector/screen for all the students to see the app?

    • Good question, Jordan! I plug in my iPad to the big flat screen TV that all the students can see and we play Piano Maestro all together. It’s usually fairly accurate, although sometimes I think it’s a little generous in its scoring. Do you teach group piano classes or thinking of starting?

  26. Excellent article Marie! I am on board with everything you shared and plan to have all of my teachers read this. Thank you for representing group piano so beautifully.

    • That means a lot coming from someone that has inspired my teaching so much! Thank you, Debra!

      • Thanks for this article! I’m considering transitioning to all group lessons for incoming beginners. How do your group class rates compare to your private rates?

        • My husband thinks you should charge more for group classes than private lessons because of all the time involved prepping for a group class, and because there are so many more benefits to learning in a group environment! Although I agree 100%, most people still feel like a private lesson is worth more than a group class, and so I am just slightly less than my private rate. A good rule to follow is to explore what other quality teachers are charging in the area and base your fees around that. You want to be known as a quality teacher and usually a higher-priced teacher reflects that in people’s minds. Also, you want to attract the type of families that value music education rather than the families that are just looking for a good deal, because they’ll usually be around long-term.

          For reference, my 45 minute group class rate is 75% of my 30 min private lesson price. We’re on a tuition payment plan and charge the same amount each month, no matter the number of classes per month.

          Hope that helps!

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