Ten years ago at Boy Scout Summer Camp, I came across an ad in a music magazine advertising Mayron Coles Group Piano Teacher training seminar. That ad couldnt have been found at a better time because I was seriously considering quitting as a piano teacher. For five years Id taught fifty to fifty-one weeks a year, Mondays through Saturdays. I taught private lessons, giving 30 minute to 60 minute lessons to each student. Even with the hours I put in each week, I could only teach 45 to 50 lessons every six days. But what really frustrated me most was the realization that my students were not playing the piano very well! Rhythms were rushed, or not counted at all (because they were playing by themselves!); bass clef notes werent correct; and students too often asked Where do I put my hands? I questioned whether I should continue as a piano teacher. Five years earlier Id left my public administration career for piano teaching as I felt called to a mission: to turn out good church musiciansmusicians able to sight-read, keep a steady beat, improvise, and follow a conductor. But sadly, after five years of private lesson teaching, not one church musician had come out of my studio. I took the summer of 1990 off and served as Camp Director while deciding what to do.
After contacting Mayron and reviewing the music packet she sent me, I became excitedbut still leery. Mayron called me at camp four times, urging me to attend her first National Certification Seminar in July 1990. When I went to Mayrons teacher training seminar ten years ago, she and I understood one thing: either I had to find a better piano method and a better way to teach piano students, or I would quit teaching. When I came home from that seminar, I put every student into a piano class. Mayron told me not to do that she warned me that I would lose studentsbut I did it anyway. Id had all I could stand of the private teaching saga. Sure enough, I lost twenty students. But truthfully, they were students who would have quit anyway. They were so over-scheduled with activities that they couldnt give time to piano except when they came to lessons. They couldnt read music or count rhythms, and the group piano classes really spotlighted their weaknesses. But the good ones stayed!
I remember when I handed out Mayrons music for the first time. It was different looking because it was (and is!) loose-leaf and went into a binder. I liked the idea that I could control what music the students worked on each week, so they couldnt race ahead and create problems wed have to correct in future lessons. The notes were bigger, too. Some of the kids thought the larger notes were baby-ish (even though they were unable to sight-read it!), but most liked the music because it was easier to read. And for the first time since Id been teaching, the theory that went with each lesson was relevantit analyzed what the students were learning that day. The students could now see that theory was useful and made playing the piano easier.
I found my older students were struggling to play with the other piano class members. They were too used to playing by themselves, changing tempos and rhythms to fit their desires. But my younger students easily made the change to piano class playing. Within a year, the people of my small town knew that something different was happening at my piano studio. Phone calls started coming in from parents who wanted piano class lessons for their kids. My piano class students became the best advertisement for my studio. I took my keyboards everywhere there was a crowd (like the grocery store!) and we performed. I had studio T-shirts printed that my students wore about town.
Usually, my students were the only ones playing in school programsand if other students did occasionally perform, you could really tell the difference. My students kept a steady beat and played with assurance. Within a short time, I had fifteen students playing for different churches in this area. (I still get at least one phone call a week from a church music director asking if any of my students will play for church!) Band directors love my students because they dont have to teach them to count, read music, or follow a director! My students fill-up the trombone sections of high school bands because they can easily read bass clef.
Im very proud of my daughter, Charlotte. Charlotte started assisting me with group piano teaching when she was in the sixth grade. For years, shed sneak into the Studio to watch and help. In 1994 Charlotte started Level 6 of Mayrons music, and I decided that she could help in my first grade class. She would teach the lessons new concepts and lead the children in group theory game time. I would teach the rest of the lesson. In 1996, she asked about certification. After consulting with Mayron, I took Charlotte to the 1996 certification seminar for categories A and B. She proved her capabilities and became the youngest certified teacher in the nation in Mayrons piano method. Charlottes now a senior in high school and teaches over twenty students in my studio. Shes capable of teaching all age groups, and has done so in emergencies when I had to be away. Next fall, Charlotte goes to college where shell major in music. That will make three of my students majoring in music. And I have more talented students coming through the program who will probably major in music when they get to college.
Its great to look back as I start my eleventh year of teaching The Mayron Cole Piano Method. It changed my lifeand the life of this rural town. My advice to teachers is simple: if you want to be a group piano teacher, jump in and do itbut do it the right way! Its easy to get discouraged and slip back into the old way of teaching. Thats why I regularly attend re-certification seminars of Mayrons. Lastly, buy keyboards that you can easily transport to other places to show off your students ensemble playing. When people see your kids playing in ensemble, theyll realize YOU ARE DIFFERENT! And we are! Group piano teaching is a life-saver for the teacher and the student, but only if you do it right!