Experimenting With the Class Lesson System of Teaching
By Constance Roe
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
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
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.