Seven years ago, I suffered from migraines. Horrible, debilitating migraines. They would strike at any time–in the grocery store, teaching lessons–and leave me feeling nauseated, drained and utterly useless as a parent and teacher. My doctor tried different prescriptions and some would work for a while and then stop. When the migraines increased to 3 or 4 or more a month, she sent me to a neurologist. He ran many tests and asked lots questions. Finally he asked me how much I exercised. Now I’ve always been proud to say that I come from a very active family. My parents strapped a pair of figure skates on me when I was 5 and I never looked back. My parents also loved hiking and biking and camping. Laying around at our house wasn’t an option. All through university, I skated and ran and biked and hiked and skied. So, I proudly told him that and that I also currently walked my son to preschool almost every day–a twenty minute walk there and another twenty back. He looked unimpressed and said, “Well, that would be great….if you were a senior citizen.” What?! He went on to tell me that I needed real exercise at least 3-5 times a week. Exercise like running, kickboxing or bootcamp. He told me he wanted me to try it for 3 months and if it didn’t help, then we would try Botox. I left feeling annoyed, but what other choice did I have but to try (although, I was secretly hoping for the botox). I tried running and,after a just a couple weeks, I could see improvement but I was bored and it was lonely and so easy to just skip it. My friend and I decided to try bootcamp classes at a local rec complex. It was an agonizing hour of torture and if I hadn’t committed to doing it with her there is no way I would have gone on my own. After a while another friend joined us and we’d have a quick coffee and visit after class. Now there are 5 or 6 of us and sometimes we do bootcamp, sometimes it’s spin and sometimes it’s just on our own doing a crossfit or workout of the week. We go pretty regularly and faithfully because we get to see each other. It’s social and there are things we can do together (partner exercises, spotting each other on weights) that we couldn’t do alone. Oh, and those migraines? Can’t remember the last time I had one!
So, how does this relate to piano lessons? The piano can be a solitary instrument. As you advance you take private lessons, you practice on your own….by yourself. I do enjoy running on my own–occasionally–but it can start feeling lonely and piano is the same way. This is why I do group lessons several times a year in my studio. It provides the students a chance to get to know each other outside of recitals, to build camaraderie, to know that they aren’t alone…..that there are others struggling with the same challenges and working towards the same goals. It also allows me to do activities or teach skills that I either don’t have time for in a private lesson or just can’t in a one on one situation….like improvising or “jamming” or ensemble playing or games. Since starting group teaching six years ago, I have noticed that my junior high students are no longer quitting in junior high! In fact, I just can’t seem to get rid of them! LOL! One of my students is heading off to university this year and still wants to take lessons with me! Why? Because they are involved and engaged, they feel like they are part of a family. They have friends and know that they are not alone, they feel safe and supported….and they are learning skills that will allow them to enjoy playing the piano for life either on their own or in a social situation. Being surrounded with friends with like-minded goals can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your success!
And just take a looks at sports programs. My son is in lacrosse. He loves it and wouldn’t want to miss a practice. Why? Because his team feels like a family to him.
Group fitness wasn’t what inspired me to start group teaching–a piano teacher named Melody Bober did–but being involved in a group activity myself has truly helped me experience the value of it. This week, I was able to listen to a podcast interview from another piano teacher who teaches studio group lessons for her private students exactly the same way that I do and with the same frequency….and in hearing that, I felt that instant camaraderie and support!
Welcome! My name is Michelle Miller and I am a pianist and teacher residing in Edmonton, Alberta, where I run a thriving piano teaching studio in my home offering both in person and online lessons.