Let’s assume that you are reading this blog and your child is taking music in school. Perhaps they even participate in the school band or orchestra. With that in mind, you may wonder about the value of private music lessons and even think that they may be redundant, superfluous or even unproductive. However, we have years of experience demonstrating that the opposite is true. Private music lessons can help to supplement and support what your child is getting in school; accelerating their progress, augmenting their level of satisfaction and providing the school music teacher with the assistance they need when seeing to the needs of a group of students with vastly different aptitudes for making music.
School music teachers work very hard at this daunting task and as those who have attended their child’s school concerts know, they do a remarkable job, producing admirable results. Group lessons in school provide many fabulous advantages including providing students with such valuable opportunities as experiencing the social aspects of learning and playing together, being motivated and inspired by classmates and helping them to gain the confidence to play with others, to name just a few.
So you might ask, “What exactly are the benefits of private lessons?” “Why consider more than group lessons when my child has not shown an interest in pursuing music professionally?” The answer lies in the undisputed fact that learning to play a musical instrument is a more difficult task than you or your child may think and like all other subjects taught in school it comes easier to some students than others. The school music teacher faces the same limitations and frustrations as teachers of other subjects. It is impossible to see to the needs of everyone in the group in the limited time allotted, especially given that the teacher has specialized in only one of the many instruments (or classification of instruments) being taught; for example the string teacher whose specialty is violin but teaches viola, cello and bass in the school orchestra faces the challenge of maintaining adequate familiarity with all of the nuances in technique between each instrument to provide students of each with the support they need. This is not to say that the school music teacher is in any way inferior, they simply cannot be specialists in every instrument. I can not state strongly enough how much admiration and respect we have for the work they do. Indeed, one of the advantages of private lessons is that they can actually support the school music teacher’s efforts, providing more satisfaction for them and their students.
Before going any further please understand that this conversation is not in effort to compare school music teachers with private music teachers as in many cases they are the very same people, many school teachers also teach privately and vice versa. The comparison is situational; it is about group lessons in school vs. private one to one music lessons. Music class at school is a group situation and in a typical school environment is often sandwiched between math, science and lunch, which does not always allow students to get into the proper focused mindset. Additionally, any group situation involves the fact that students of various abilities and interest are thrown together creating a difficult situation for the teacher whose time and attention has to be split simultaneously in many different directions. As in all situations, if a student needs or wants extra help or a more in depth study we would hire a private “tutor”.
So, of course, we want to support school music teachers but most of us need a more compelling, personal reason to provide our children with private music lessons.
As we all know, each child learns in a different way and at a different pace. Each will progress at their own rate when it comes to embracing the many different aspects involved in mastering their particular instrument. Some will quickly become dexterous at some of the physical tasks of playing an instrument such as breath support, finger strength and hand placement but struggle with the intricate techniques of producing a beautiful sound. Obviously, the private teacher, working one to one with the student is far more likely to notice problematic nuances immediately, and correct them which prevents the student from developing bad, hard to break habits. The private teacher should also have the advantage of having been specifically trained in the instrument they are teaching, increasing their chances to catch and correct subtle problems with such things as embouchure formation which is different for different instruments and within different classes of instruments; different for woodwind than brass instruments for instance. Students struggling with improper embouchure, bow hold or hand position can easily become frustrated and discouraged. But a qualified saxophone teacher, cello teacher or piano teacher respectively can diagnose these issues quickly, helping to insure that the student has the highest level of success.
Success is a key issue and has many different definitions all of which are dependent on the goals of the student. Regardless of the end goal, the immediate goal is enjoyment and there can be no enjoyment, no fun without success, without a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Private lessons are geared specifically to provide the individual student with the help they need to succeed. The students will learn the correct fundamentals and receive the guidance they need to learn to achieve satisfaction through practice. As discussed in earlier posts to this blog, practice is the most essential tool for any music student, but it doesn’t come naturally and has nothing to do with just playing a piece from beginning to end a couple of times per day, which is exactly what even the most conscientious student will do when sent home simply with the assignment to, “practice” . What exactly does comprise good, effective practice habits? The private teacher will spend time teaching each individual student how to practice, developing over time, an arsenal of techniques targeted to overcome various difficulties that will arise. Proper practice techniques make the difference between success and frustration and can even make the idea of practicing more enjoyable, helping students to progress more quickly and to build a solid foundation leading to success and to confidence.
Learning to read music is essential for anyone learning to play an instrument and those studying privately are historically better readers and sight readers than those engaged in group lessons only. The private lessons afford more time and attention to the task and eliminate the possibility of those with good ears, just following along with their section. In most cases note reading will be one of the first subjects covered in private lessons. When studying one on one, it will be very easy for the private teacher to evaluate how well the student is progressing, helping the student to develop an appropriate level of expertise.
We all have different tastes and know that it is easier to be engaged with things we enjoy than things we don’t. Sometimes a student will become discouraged because they don’t care for the music they are being taught. When teaching private lessons, teachers can help students to stay motivated as the tastes of the student can be catered to; genre, style and repertoire being taught can be geared toward the specific likes of the student. Introducing students to different music literature can open aspiring musicians up to possibilities they may never have imagined. Mastery gained in one area will easily spill over into others. As a result even the repertoire that the student previously didn’t relate to, such as the band or orchestra music they are learning at school becomes easier and therefor less objectionable. All of this builds confidence in the student’s overall solo performance and their participation in ensemble playing.
With all of that said, you can see that private lessons really do supplement group lessons and benefit not only the student but the school music teacher as well. Private teachers will incorporate band and orchestra music into the routine of the student’s lesson so that any problematic pieces can be tackled as part of the lesson. Experience shows that the more accomplished, confident and motivated student actively engaged in private lessons not only enjoy a more heightened level of personal achievement and satisfaction but they also make their school music teacher’s job that much more satisfying which enables them to spend less group time problem shooting individual issues and more time allowing the students to realize the unparalleled joys of making music together. Historically, it is the students who take private lessons that successfully audition into such supplemental organizations as Olympic Conference Band, All South Jersey Band, Orchestra and Choir, and even All State Band, Orchestra and Choir to name a few.