How to Decide Between Private and Group Music Lessons

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kids in group music lessons

photo by Jenny Jimenez / photojj.com

by Lara Levitan

You might assume, since we at Piano Power offer private music lessons exclusively, that we’re all about the the glorious benefits of one-on-one instruction.

Well, you’re right.

But regardless, even we must admit that sometimes, group music lessons are more appropriate for certain students or circumstances.

Two major variables to consider if you’re deciding between private and group lessons:

  • Age of student
  • Goals of student
  • How old is your student?

    One- to four-year-olds showing an interest in music should probably stick to group lessons. Typically at this age, the characteristics that prepare a student for the intensity of private instruction aren’t developed yet.

    Those characteristics are:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Reading ability
  • The ability to sit still and pay attention for more than just a few minutes
  • Watch Is My Kid Old Enough for Piano Lessons?

    That being said, there are always exceptions. Some of our very young students thrive under the instruction of a great teacher. But in most cases, fun group lessons that incorporate singing, clapping, and rhythm games — and where young students can indulge their instinct to learn by observing others — are probably the best venue for these kiddos.

    A note for young singers (roughly 5 to 13 years old): We advise young singers to wait for private voice lessons until after they’ve begun puberty. Undeveloped vocal cords can be damaged by singing lessons, so if you have a young singer, nudge them toward a tangible instrument and/or group lessons for ear-training and fundamentals.

    If your young student is passionate about singing, there are definitely ways to incorporate fun sing-along elements into an instrumental lesson. The main point is not to place undue stress on an instrument (their voice) that’s still in development.

    A note for teenagers: Group lessons can be a route to community and socialization. Tim Topham writes in his excellent blog on piano teaching:

    “Kids these days, accustomed as they are to being able to ‘share’ just about anything with their friends, either online or in person, won’t find this in the traditional piano studio…

    Similarly, as we become ever-more screen-obsessed and siloed by headphones in our own little worlds, the idea of community has, ironically, become all the more important.”

    Private lessons, too, can offer community if regular recitals are offered, but some teenagers may need the extra peer support of group lessons.

    Now, the other major consideration.

    What are you/your student’s goals?

    If you can relate to any of the below circumstances, then group lessons are probably for you.

    1. You’re not sure about how much you’ll like the instrument, and you want to do a “test drive” before investing in private lessons. The short-term nature of group lessons make them seem like less of a commitment.

    2. You’re looking for more of a social or communal aspect in your musical training. Group lessons can appeal to more than one personality type. Extroverts may thrive in group lessons, while some introverts may find comfort in being part of a group rather than the center of attention.

    3. You’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be in a band. Ensemble classes offer the opportunity to experience the synergy of creating music with others.

    4. You want to learn the basics of music without being singled out. In a group setting, a teacher’s attention is divided among many students, and the goal is usually to focus on the basics.

    That’s also not to say that private lessons will load your plate with unwanted demands. A responsive private music teacher will help you achieve whatever goal you want — even if it’s just to unwind. (And if they don’t, find a new teacher!)

    If you can relate to any of the following circumstances, then private lessons are for you.

    1. You want focused attention. Think of a private music teacher as a kind of coach: they’ll understand your goals, assess your skills, offer customized lesson plans, and motivate you.

    Additionally, private lessons allow students to work at their own pace. In group lessons, the teacher’s attention is spread thin in order to accommodate different learning speeds and styles. In the one-on-one setting, your own learning style is the only one that matters.

    2. You’re already a part of a band or ensemble (a school marching band, a choir, or your own band), and you want to improve and refine your skills.

    3. You have a very specific goal in mind, such as:

  • Developing your own songwriting.
  • Preparing for an audition.
  • Correcting bad habits.

  • 4. You value the convenience of private music lessons, with a schedule and location that works for you.

    Chances are, you have a feeling about which type of lessons your student needs. Go with your gut. If you start out group and realize you need private, or vice versa, you can switch. If you’re still not sure, talk to a professional at a studio that offers both, such as Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, or Meter Music School in Seattle.

    And of course, we’re always open to speaking with Chicagoland families about private music lessons. (Contact Abraham at abraham@pianopower.org or 773.547.2426.)

    No matter which path you choose, remember that lessons should always be enjoyable. Check back with our blog for advice as your musical journey continues!

    Once you’ve signed your kid up for lessons, get ahead of the curve by reading the 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make About Music Lessons.

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