Experimenting With the Class Lesson System of Teaching
Changing a Class of Private Lesson Pupils Over to Groups

By Constance Roe
(This article originally appeared in the JUNE 1934 edition of THE ETUDE.)

In a representative section of the mid-west and in a relatively small community, an experiment was begun last spring along the lines of class teaching. The teacher who started it found, after six months of carrying on classes in three small towns with a hundred pupils, that she would have to take on an assistant teacher. She made many other discoveries also, which more or less proved the basic soundness of class lessons for the majority of pupils. It is taken for granted that some music students must have private lessons, but the common run of ordinary music pupils, those "taking lessons" as part of their regular education or for the family's enjoyment (later) or to be enabled to play the current popular music can get greater good from taking lessons in classes than from taking private lessons.

Instead of taking a rest during last summer's school vacation, this teacher continued her music lessons throughout the summer, keeping fifteen pupils to experiment with in class groups. At the end of the summer she had definitely made up her mind that she might better keep all her students in classes, and she began the fall term with a good run of advertising and announcements of the new class lessons, for which she cut her regular lesson price in half. She later decided this was too much to cut and that she could have got as many pupils at a slightly higher rate, probably at about two-thirds of the private lesson price. She was centered in a farming community and took on the whole county, establishing studios in three towns by renting in each town for one day a week a sitting room with piano. Maintenance of this schedule was relatively high in cost, there being advertising, studio rent (a dollar weekly for each room) and upkeep and gasoline for a car on the road at least three days a week.

However, the system brought in more money and provided her with larger classes for recitals, class meetings, and so forth, and the teacher found that the classes were satisfactory, pleasant and highly desirable for ordinary pupils.

Fun in Group
She took pupils in groups of ten at first and later cut down the class membership in each group to six. She graded all pupils and gave them certificates at the end of the teaching term if the pupils had completed a standard graded course of instruction which she used. She found that the pupils progressed together with admirable uniformity and that in most cases they actually received more for their money than they had been getting in private lessons. For instance: most music students regard scales as unavoidable pains which the teacher inflicts upon them for no good reason, and their scale work in private lessons is to a great extent simply a dry ten minutes to be got over with as beset they can.

In classes the pupils have individual keyboards and take their scales all together, naming the fingering aloud and vying with each other for greater correctness. This teacher had built ten small keyboards and spent some time and money in experimenting. She secured the use of an electric circular saw at her local printer's and cut out wooden keys the actual size and shape of the piano keyboard. She contrived a spring action on them, and the pupils were more than delighted with their little keyboards, the younger ones even choosing the soundless keyboards in preference to the piano at first in class demonstrations. It is quite essential to provide some sort of individual keyboards for class lessons.

In this case the teacher's classes grew from twenty to more than a hundred. With six in a class she held forty-five minute periods which averaged about three dollars and hour for the teacher, a high rate in the country. The class system also involved a strict bookkeeping account, as some of the pupils pay by the month, some by the week, and some not until a notice is sent them. It is necessary to charge the pupils for missed lessons, in the class system, for an absent pupil necessitates either holding the rest in that class back until he catches up or else giving that pupil individual attention to the extent of a private lesson. It was found that after this was understood by the pupils' parents, there was no difficulty in collecting the money for missed lessons, and that, after a pupil had paid once for a missed lesson, he seldom, if ever, missed again.

Need for an Assistant
In the case of a small community, it has been found that class lessons are a boon to people who cannot afford more expensive musical instruction for their children; but, except the teacher be very strong and healthy indeed, the work is more than one person can handle for an appreciable period. After six months of taking the classes alone, the teacher in question took on an assistant; and a hundred pupils at class lesson rates is almost too much work for the returns if they are divided. Class lessons in a large place, where a director can have several assistants and hundreds of pupils, would be almost certain to work out to great advantage. In the smaller places they are highly desirable from every standpoint except financially for the teacher, unless she can take over a hundred students alone.

Class lessons are desirable because, for one reason, they give the students much better insight into history, harmony and theory than private lessons from a private teacher possible could. It is possible to take six students in a class, go over their scales, hear each one play the main part of the assigned lesson for the week, correct mistakes, and give five minute talks on technique, interpretation, history and harmony, and have the pupils absorb far more in this way than by taking private lessons.

The class lessons, however, are a great drain on the teacher's nervous system as they require greater ability to turn out work at a fast rate since one is concentrating on six different personalities, six pairs of a hands, and sixty fingers.

The class lessons, however, are sound in their working principle, and undoubtedly will become a common factor in our national musical education. It was proved in this community that at least twice the number of families can afford the class lesson price than could have given their children private lessons at the higher price.

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