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In May we completed the first term of the SDSU String Academy with 6 violinists, 5 cellists and 3 student assistants. Every student has re-enrolled for the Fall semester, which I would call a great start!
The first term flew by quickly: by mid-June the students had already performed in three recitals and had a fun trip to the Language Academy, where a number of our students attend school. As part of this performance the students played for a group of parents, and afterwards we visited each student's classroom for a mini-performance for their peers. It was heart-warming to see how excited and proud the kids were to play for their friends!
Since I've now had the experience of seeing students that begin violin with the group lesson and private lesson combination, and I've also taught students that begin with only a private lesson, I thought I would share a few observations on the relative advantages of having a group class.
Students in group lessons quickly establish a bond with their fellow players. This leads to some great social development, especially for some of the younger and shyer children. Young children get to interact with older students in some collaborative ways that many of them don't experience at school. One child's kindergarten teacher noticed a big change in this particular student's confidence and engagement after several months in the Academy. The teacher hadn't known that this particular child had taken up violin until we visited the school, but was convinced this was the source of her growth!
Students in group class have more fun! We make the private lesson as fun as possible, but the nature of the group class leads itself to games and group activities that aren't possible in the private lesson setting.
Students in group get a well-rounded musical education. Not only are these students learning to play their pieces with others, but the extra hour a week allows time to introduce basic music theory, ear training, rhythm training and even music history! This leads to better violinists, but also to better overall musicians and music lovers.
Students in group class are more comfortable performing in public. My pre-college private students perform in solo recitals once or twice a semester, so it's common for them to be uncomfortable in a performance, even if they are very prepared! String Academy kids, however, perform solo for their peers in group every week from a very early stage - so performing in recitals is no big deal!
Students in group are motivated by their peers to improve. There is nothing that drives a student to get better like hearing one of their peers play a piece that's more advanced than their own! I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "I want to play that piece!" during group!
There are clearly many advantages to the group/private combination versus the private only route, and I have noticed a significant improvement in the speed in which these String Academy students have advanced on the violin. I can't wait to see how much more they improve this year!