Learning in groups of various musical skill levels

Playing with other people takes music-making to a whole new level. How can it work with differing levels of skill?  ​In any setting, especially in the classroom or group lessons, here are ways I found to be helpful in managing many levels of skill.

1. Have them teach each other
Give the advanced students a way to practice leadership by teaching the beginner students what they know. This also allows them to solidify their skills. It gives the beginner students an opportunity to learn from someone other than a teacher, and establish a role model in the more advanced student. At times, each will have something to offer the other.

2. Narrow the focus
When playing all together, the beginner students would be given permission to play the notes they know and to otherwise just follow along with those they do not yet know. Alternatively, you can delineate certain notes they should play (i.e. just the first note of each measure, or hold the bass note, etc.). This way, wrong notes won’t be as prevalent, making for the ensemble to sound better as a whole.

​3. Talk about the music
Notes and mechanics of playing an instrument can be learned with time, but musicality is something each individual has intrinsically. Focusing on that will help students to learn instrument technique in the most engaging way.  Ask for participation by generating ideas on dynamics, a story that would flow with the piece, or emotions that they feel when hearing it. Talk about the context in which the piece was written. Common ground can usually always be reached when talking about the artistic messages in the music. This is true both in teaching settings, and…no shocker…in real life! That’s the power of music.

Have more ideas? Share them with me!

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