How do I handle older kids & younger kids being in the same group & make sure the older kids don’t feel they’re in a remedial program?

Older students only belong with other older, advanced students if they’re capable.

If you have an older student who would like to be with their peers but isn’t showing the capability, it’s not on you to fix your program policies.

Put the responsibility back on the parent or student to ensure he/she earns their advanced spot.


Susan: My studio’s very connected. Almost all our good friends and [inaudible 00:00:03] offer email.

Daniel: Interesting.

Susan: How do I get those who are selected, they’ve been with me a long time, to not feel like that they are being selected for this remedial program?

Daniel: So Susan, wait. Where is she? Ah, there you are. Right in the middle. I didn’t see you cause you’re in the middle. Is this actually remedial? Are you-

Susan: Well, I’m looking at my studio, and I’ve got very young beginners, so they’re gonna have to start one to one with me cause they’re not gonna be ready for a group format.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: By the time they’re ready, I’m thinking they’re gonna be doing that for awhile, and then … some of my students who should be advanced, they’re older. They would feel like they’re more advanced. They would be in with the younger kids who are doing this program.

Daniel: Right.

Susan: I think they might feel like it’s a remedial program.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: Because most of their friends are doing more advanced work. They’re not capable of doing that yet.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah.

Susan: But they think-

Daniel: Okay. So again, this is a situation that is unique to the starting of it. Didn’t you tell me before that you’ve already been doing some groups? Am I crazy?

Susan: I don’t do them at all like yours. I do a group several times a year.

Daniel: Got it. That’s what it was. Okay. I remembered from the last live session that we were in together that you had said that. So, cool. I just wanted that context to make sure I wasn’t messing anything up here. But this is, once again, a demonstration of how there are special sensitivities, there are special … there are things we need to take into account when we’re first doing this. For that, a couple thoughts. You might consider grouping people together by age. I know that gets a little bit more tricky. But if that is a big concern of yours, it might be worth the trouble.

Susan: I have kids that are already grouped by age. Well, let me just preface. The group thing I do, I have like three little kids who have been together for two years already, and they each pay for a half an hour, a 45-minute lesson, but they’re sharing a 15-minute group time where we do a little- it’s very unsatisfying to me. They love it. And they don’t wanna be separate. So I have these people, their [inaudible 00:02:27]. And then my studio’s been very connected. They know who their partner is, they almost have partner lessons all the way through.

Daniel: Got it.

Susan: So it’s tricky.

Daniel: Yeah. Okay. There’s a lot of separate issues here that I’m …

Susan: I feel so in favor of everything that you’re saying, but I’m trying to fit it into my model of teaching, and I’m just thinking, “I need some help to be able to actually make that work.” Cause I so believe in it, and I know it’s the way to go in some ways. But yet, I have a lot of other really great positive things that I’m not really ready to let go of. Like I have two pianos in my main studio, and there’s a moment where they get to be transitioned up into the grand piano. They don’t get to play that until they reach a certain level of independence. So there are all these little steps that people, if they know me, they’ve been with me, they know how it works. So I’m adding in a new step. That will be great, cause I do a lot of innovative new things. But I’m not sure how this is gonna fly.

Daniel: Sure. So what is the biggest outcome that you want from this transition? What is it that you want the most out of all this?

Susan: Very good. The thing I really want the most is to have really solid musicians.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: Kids who really are capable and can play really well.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: And I think your program is going to really help that.

Daniel: Okay. If that is the highest goal there, then the concern for these older students who might feel as if it’s remedial or things of that nature, if that program is going to help them get to that goal, then that’s the best thing for them.

Susan: True.

Daniel: And I’m not in any way suggesting that you just forget that this is an issue. What I’m getting at is what is the biggest fear you have about these students and them feeling like it’s reme- What is the fear? That they’ll quit? That …

Susan: Yeah. And you know what? That might be the one thing that they would do. The worst outcome would be that they would quit. And I would feel bad, because as a teacher, I’ve been nurturing them for so long, I would wanna see them go to the end. We have a big senior recital. Everybody does some kind of a senior recital. It’s really big step. They all know about it. They all go to them. You know, they’ll want their moment.

Daniel: So let’s take this out of the abstract for just a minute, and actually talk about one of these students. So one of these students that you’re thinking of, what level are they in?

Susan: Okay, it’s a girl who’s playing a Beethoven sonata.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: It’s beyond her ability to read well.

Daniel: Okay.

Susan: And we spend way too much time with the lesson, and she also doesn’t practice.

Daniel: Okay. So to that, I have a couple thoughts. One, I wouldn’t have an advanced student come to group unless they couldn’t make it to a private lesson slot that I had available. So if this girl’s playing a Beethoven sonata, which is probably level seven, level eight, level nine if it’s an exam system. I’m probably not singling that girl out to be in the group. On the other hand, if the reason you’re singling her out to be in a group is because of her practice, then that is the point on which I would message to the parents. Basically say, “From here on out, all the students that meet with me one to one are gonna be advanced students who are practicing at least three hours a week. If they’re not, I’m having students come to these because it gives them more time for practice, and they have a lot of time to get music right with me.”

Susan: Very good.

Daniel: You’ve gotta put this back on the parent. You gotta give them-

Susan: [crosstalk 00:06:38]

Daniel: The way out of these problems is always with … I’m not suggesting anyone here wouldn’t be honest, but it’s about identifying the problem at the level that it’s at, and it’s always about putting the responsibility back on the parent or the student. That’s how I would handle that situation. And honestly, in the last year, I’ve had to deal with that. Because I’d mentioned that girl who was in the two productions. There are other students I’ve had who have been with me for a very long time, and they get later into high school, and I just see some students continue to practice and their trajectory is up, and other students, they get involved in a lot of other stuff, their trajectory starts going down. They peak out at level five and then they start going down.
And I have a heart to heart with the parents, and I say, “I offered them this spot last year because their practice was awesome.” And I’m thinking of a student right now. His name’s Neil. His practice has been abysmal. He’s wasting my time in a private lesson, and I’m just not putting up with him this year. They’ll probably quit. But it won’t be because I fired them. It will be because the parents realize that they weren’t ready to push their child to meet the demands that I have to not waste my time. Because there are other people who want a slot. There are level six and level seven students that have, right now, are not being offered a slot because someone already had one. And I’m not going to let that kid prevent … I’m not going to let Neil prevent Alistair from having that slot this fall. Not a chance. So that’s how I’d handle that.

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