183: Teaching the Teachers with Dorla Aparicio (August Teacher Series Episode 2)

August Teacher Series – Episode 2 with Dorla Aparicio.

The idea behind the teacher series is to showcase teachers who have already expanded online, what they’re doing, why they chose to make those decisions and all that fun stuff. This episode is with Dorla Aparicio, a group piano teacher who is sharing her methods with other piano teachers through an online program!


I would love your feedback on this episode. This series and anything else you would like to share, so connect with me on Instagram @jaimeslutzky and book a call with me http://callwithjaime.com

About Dorla

Dorla Aparicio is originally from Costa Rica and has lived in Texas for about 35 years. She has been teaching piano for about that same amount of time both privately and for a while at a local college in Fort Worth. Dorla greatly enjoys group piano lessons and has made that the focus of her studio.

Dorla’s online course is teaching other piano teachers how to effectively teach group piano lessons. They can either apply these principles to online or in person groups. Essentially, she took the methods that work for her in her studio and is teaching them to others — this is one of the best ways to expand online, in my mind.

Deciding to teach the teachers

Group Piano has always been close to Dorla’s heart and it’s still not as popular as she wishes it would be. It has benefits for the teachers like 

  • manage their time better
  • be able to serve more students

The truth is, most piano teachers have students who are not on the track to become performers!

When other piano teachers were regularly asking Dorla about teaching group piano, with questions like

  • What method do I use? 
  • How do I do it?
  • How do I handle this situation or that situation? 

Dorla decided it was the right time to step out and teach the teachers.

Running group piano programs sounds so easy, on the surface, but the reality is that it’s not always just going from one on one to group and there are a lot of things that have to go into the idea of offering this group programming that is different. 

There were so many opportunities to empower teachers to make group piano successful. Things like addressing teacher and student pain points, making classes fun and engaging and, managing scheduling and expectations.

The structure of Dorla’s Group Piano Lessons

Dorla’s classes are multi level, with students from age 8 to 11 in one group and 11 to 14 in another. And they’re all at different stages in their learning. There might be a brand new student playing along with one who has been playing for two or 3 years. The key is that they play the same song but at different levels. The classes make music together. Each student contributes to the overall music being created, no matter where they are at with theory and technique.

The beginner student sees where they can get to when they continue to work at it when they look at the more advanced student. The more advanced student sees how far they’ve come when they look at the beginner student. It’s built in motivation and inspiration and support.

Group Wins

According to Dorla, teachers have begun to realize that they don’t need to do as much as we thought we needed to in order to teach groups or to get a group started!

You can have a group of four or 6 kids and work with them for an hour. And that is a huge investment of time for these six kids. But it’s not six 1-hour classes, it’s one 1-hour lesson where you’re creating the impact and helping these students. Also, the students get to the point where they know that they’re going to show up because they’ve got friends in their group. 

We have the opportunity to help these kids enjoy playing the instrument and getting better and having the desire to get to “move up” inside the group. 

There are many intellectual skills that are enhanced by being in a safe community. The students are able to work as a team — it truly is an amazing thing, not just for music! When these students take the principles from the music room out onto the sports field, at school or later on in life, they can speak up for themselves and hold their ground.

The positive peer pressure is such a good thing. Dorla has students that are very competitive and even though they don’t show that in class, their parents told her this is the reason they practice {because they know when they come to class, if they have to play out loud, they want to make sure they know what they’re doing!} 

Having the foundation right

Not every music teacher should jump right into teaching other teachers their methods. It’s important to validate your method, that your curriculum or structure is organized enough so that other teachers can use it as the ground floor for their own programs

The teachers that are set to learn from you are going to put their own spin on what you provide to them.

Dorla got really good at what she was getting ready to teach others. She saw this multi-level piano group in her mind and crafted it inside her studio and put it down on paper. She used her students as guinea pigs and she made it work. In fact she has quite a few students that this is the only way that they’ve taken piano, they don’t know what it is to have a private lesson. 

That’s how she knew there was something very valuable here that she could share with teachers. And then because she’s a teacher at heart, building the curriculum is one of the things that she mostly did just for fun. And it was a debate between doing her PhD or offer her own course!

What was the worse that could happen, right?

Dorla’s course, The Piano Pyramid Academy, is setup as a framework. The framework provides a series of questions for teachers to answer to figure out how the method will work in their studio. There is music that the students in the Piano Pyramid Academy that Dorla wrote which her students can then use as they see fit.

The program includes her videos and the steps that she follows so that participants can then put that into practice at their studio and create their own unique program. 

It’s so important for teachers to stay true to ourselves. If you are a teacher and you know, that you do better working with students who have this feature or that asset or this family situation or anything else that you’re uniquely connected with you don’t have to remove that and open it up to everyone. You can keep those, those things that you know, work best for you. 

Group piano transcends just learning how to be play piano, it allows for learning to be an effective member of a group and so much more.


Both in her studio and in her teaching program, there is one vital topic that comes up — how to share the value of group piano with the parents!

How do I convince the parents? We need to convince ourselves first that this is going to work. And then talk about this program in contrast with private lessons. Painting the picture of who each type of program is for — be it for lifelong (or shortterm) fun and enjoyment of playing the piano and — for either college auditions or festivals or competitions. 

What if my child is too busy to practice? This is one of the beauties of group programming, as Dorla explains, when you make it fun, the students don’t feel like they have to practice. Students will because, like we already discussed, they place value on the relationship with the other students in the group. Some parents completely shy away from piano lessons because of the additional burden they feel associated with practice.

Being at your best! Parents know that they want the first lesson of your schedule because of potential fatigue — each student in a group program is on an even playing field with your energy, total win for the families!

Some less pretty things about teaching online

It is harder to teach a group program in online space because you can’t play together because even though tech is getting better there’s always going to be lag. And there’s always the potential for a weaker an internet connection than desired.

Not being in the same physical space is another consideration — so allowing students idle chit chat time is really helpful to break the starkness of the screen.

Understanding who your audience is, understanding who your students are and they’re driving force will help you to create a group environment where things can happen in a way that they need to happen. This will create the right balance of learning, performance, critique and joy. It’s about making music together — as long as the students can hear something, even if they cannot hear everything, they are making music together!

One of Dorla’s favorite things about teaching online: With online I didn’t have to clean my studio for a long time because I was the only one here!

Access to online videos is easier online as is playing recorded music and sharing a digital keyboard. And Dorla believes that she was able to explain things in multiple ways through online that weren’t needed in person.

Get off the fence!!!

It is the right time to go for it because we’re still living in this pandemic and people need things to do. But also as a teacher, this will make you grow and you know, doing things that are new are always, you know, a little scary. But once you do this, make it fun to start… like just having a party; just get together with your students once a month and have a party online. 

Then next month, do it twice and maybe do a performance class and a party. 

Then next time just do a game and get the students and yourself comfortable. 

If it’s a party, the technical stuff will not be as scary for you because you’re all, they’re just having fun. But once you get comfortable doing it, just keep going, keep going and in a year, if you’ve taken all these little steps, you’ll be ready to stay online and you can do it. You can definitely do it!

Reach Dorla at dorla@missdorla.com or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/missdorla/ on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/missdorla and join her group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/grouppianoteachers

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