A Music Lesson Comparison

Why take lessons from a private music teacher?

So, you want to take music lessons. There are so many choices, how do you know what’s best – a music school, in-home lessons, or a private teacher’s studio? Having taught at all 3, I firmly believe that studying with a private teacher at his or her own private studio is by far the best option. There are several factors to consider: the learning environment, resources, teacher qualifications, and cost/scheduling. The following breakdown is from my own personal experience teaching in all three situations. Let’s have a look!

Music School Lessons

Music school lessons are private lessons that take place in an music school. Some schools may offer group lessons, but that’s enough for a whole other blog post, so we’ll stick to private lessons here! You’ve probably seen some around town and have heard of some of the larger ones in the region. They are usually well advertised (in various brochures, yellow pages, door to door handouts, etc.) and have a storefront. While these are the easiest type of lessons to find, they are not always the best.

Learning Environment

  • The learning environment at a music school is generally very good. The student is coming out of their home comfort zone to attend lessons, which leads to better focus on the student’s part.
  • Private lessons are one-on-one and the parent and any siblings wait outside the lesson room. Distractions are minimal.

Resources

  • You may see racks of music books when you walk in, but don’t get too excited unless you are a beginner pianist! Unless you are at a very large music school, book resources are limited for any instrument other than piano (and many stock mostly method books and pop songs). It is often difficult or impossible for a teacher to order books for woodwind or brass students, putting a limit on what the student can learn. Many schools also do not allow the teacher to buy the book from another store and then be reimbursed by the student directly.
  • Sometimes it can feel like a music school is trying to sell you more books than lessons.
  • Limited virtual resources: youtube, mp3 playback, etc. Unless the teacher brings in his or her own devices and the school has wi-fi, virtual resources are not available.

Teacher Qualifications

  • Very large or chain music schools do hire qualified professionals.
  • Smaller music schools will often have less qualified teachers. I have seen high school students teaching at smaller schools on more than one occasion! There are also schools that have a generalized “woodwind teacher” that teaches all woodwind instruments, even though they only play one of them.
  • There is often a high teacher turnover rate. That means a new piano teacher for little Suzy every 6 months or so. Inconsistency is never good, and is especially bad for new beginners.
  • Teachers are underpaid. This is another reason for the high turnover rate, but also affects the amount of effort a teacher will put in outside of the weekly lesson time.

Cost & Scheduling

  • The cost of lessons at a music school is generally higher than elsewhere. The increased cost is due to more overhead: rent/mortgage/utilities on the space, books to keep in stock, lots of instruments (think many pianos!)
  • Payment plans and scheduling are often quite inflexible. Make up lessons are often hard to get. Schedules must be passed by the administration and the teacher making it a 2 step process.
  • Such strict scheduling makes it very difficult for both the teacher and the students if the teacher gets ill or cannot make it into work.
  • A music school will generally have more “deals” or “specials” that may make it more affordable.

In-Home Lessons

For this type of lesson, a private teacher will go to the students home to teach lessons. This is a very popular option with parents as it means that they don’t have to drive little Suzy anywhere (possibly with siblings in tow). Some parents look exclusively for teachers that are willing to do in-home lessons, and thus more teachers are offering them. While it may be convenient for the parent, it is most certainly not convenient for the teacher and as such the student’s education suffers.

Learning Environment

  • The biggest problem with in-home lessons is the learning environment. Students are in their comfort zone. Their home is a space that is generally used for relaxing, watching TV, playing, etc. There are many distractions like the family pet, siblings, parents listening in or watching, toys, the phone, friends outside, etc. There is a lot less focus and students tend to take lessons less seriously which makes learning and progress harder.
  • The exception to this would be those who homeschool their children and have a dedicated learning space.

Resources

  • Unfortunately the teacher cannot bring his or her entire library of music books to your lesson, so resources are limited. While the teacher may be able to bring the needed material to the next lesson, it is not available right away, slowing down the student’s progress. And if the teacher happens to forget to bring an item to the lesson (it happens to everyone!), again progress is slowed.
  • Virtual resources are possible, but require extra set up and take down time. That time comes out of your lesson.

Teacher Qualifications

  • Generally in-home teachers are well qualified – usually a music professional or at least a university music student. Ask about qualifications if they are not specified or you are unsure.

Cost & Scheduling

  • Depending on the teacher, there is usually more room for flexibility when it comes to scheduling. Make up lessons are easier to manage as you only have to deal with 1 person, the teacher, rather than an administrative body as well as the teacher.
  • In-home lessons are usually the most expensive type of music lesson. The teacher must travel from home to home. Travel costs are incurred and the number of lessons taught in a day go down – these costs are then passed on to you. You are paying for convenience as well as your lesson.

Private Teacher’s Studio

In this situation, a student goes to a private teacher’s studio for their music lesson. This is usually in the teacher’s home in a space set aside for music lessons. A private studio really is the best way to go when it comes to music education. Problems can arise in finding a teacher as private teachers don’t advertise nearly as much as a music school for example, if they advertise at all.

Learning Environment

  • As with a music school, a private studio offers a great learning environment. The student is coming out of their home comfort zone to attend lessons, which leads to better focus on the student’s part.
  • One-on-one lessons with very few distractions. Parents and siblings wait outside.

Resources

  • This is where private studios shine! The teacher has their entire music library at their fingertips! Method books, studies, pieces, activities, worksheets, the list goes on and on. Resources are always available and the teacher has the option to lend out books at his or her discretion.
  • Because of access to many resources, the teacher has the flexibility to mix things up mid-lesson to keep things fresh and interesting. This is especially helpful when little Suzy comes to her lesson having not practised all week!
  • Virtual resources are a breeze. Equipment and devices are set up and ready to go. Internet resources can be printed and handed to the student in seconds.

Teacher Qualifications

  • Private studio teachers are some of the most highly qualified teachers. They are generally music professionals who have discovered that music schools don’t pay well and in-home lessons are inconvenient and don’t yield great results!
  • A private teacher is more likely to keep up with their professional development, attending workshops and conventions regularly. They are also more likely to be a practising musician – one that plays in ensembles or at various event.
  • Ask about teacher qualifications if they are not specified, or you are unsure.

Cost & Scheduling

  • As with in-home lessons, there is more room for flexibility in scheduling. Again, you are dealing with 1 person and while there may still be policies in place, private teachers generally take the attitude that if you are courteous they will be flexible.
  • The cost for lessons at a private studio will vary, and depend on the individual teacher, but will generally be less expensive than a music school or in-home lessons. Private studios in a teacher’s home have little overhead. Your money goes towards lesson quality rather than overhead expenses.
  • Exceptions to this would be famous or semi-famous professionals, which can be quite pricey!
  • Watch out for very inexpensive lessons. It may sound great for your budget, but will not be great for the student. Usually the teacher will have less qualifications or will be teaching lessons as a side job or hobby. Granny offering $10/lesson may have played the piano for 50 years, but chances are she does it just for fun and doesn’t go out of her way to attend teaching workshops or send students for exams.

Playing music is like building a house, you need a good foundation or you will encounter many problems in the future. Beginners especially need a good, qualified teacher to build this foundation. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your beginner student doesn’t really need a teacher with all those qualifications or that cheap lessons “will do for now.” A student with a shaky foundation in music will become confused, discouraged and will often quit sooner than someone who has a good foundation. A qualified private teacher is well worth the money for beginners and more advanced students alike.

I hope by now you are wondering where you can find a private teacher to study with! This is the hard part as many do not advertise. Word of mouth is your best bet. Ask around if anyone else studies with a private teacher – I found my first flute teacher by asking around in my band class if anyone knew a good local flute teacher. Kijiji and Craigslist can be helpful but, as with all internet resources, use caution when contacting anyone from these sites.

If you are looking for a flute or piano teacher, or a band instrument tutor in the Newmarket, Ontario area, please don’t hesitate to contact me! My name is Nicole Welsh and I have my own private music studio called Treble Maker Music. You can find all of my contact information at www.treblemakermusic.ca and if you tell me that you’ve read this blog post you’ll get 10% off your first set of lessons!

Happy Music Making!

Practice Makes Perfect… but only if you do it properly!

If there is one thing I get asked about more than anything else, it’s practice! I’ve put together some information on the what, where, when, why and how (because hopefully you already know “who” is supposed to do it!) of practice. All music students know that they should practice but actually getting down to it after the lesson is over can be a bit overwhelming, especially for younger children and beginners. Practice doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – a chore. Here are some tips to help both students and parents get the most out of their music lessons through practice:

What to Practice

You know that saying “knowing is half the battle”?  Well, it really is true when it comes to practice!  If you have a plan and know what you’re going to do before you play a single note the whole practice session will be a breeze!

  • Inside your Lesson Log is where this key information is hiding! Open it and review it before you even touch your instrument. This helps you get mentally prepared to practice and find the right books to practice from.
  • I generally list everything in the order that you should do things at home. It should go something like this: Warm Up, Scales/Technique, Pieces/Studies.
  • If you are having difficulty figuring it out on your own, talk to me and we can work together to make your very own practice plan!

Where and When to Practice

  • If you are a piano student, then the “where” is pretty simple. If you have a portable instrument then choose somewhere quiet where you can concentrate on what you are doing with minimal distractions.
  • Turn off your phone! Be unplugged while you practice. Let it be just you and your music.
  • Pick a consistent time to practice and stick with it. Schedule it in like you would dance or karate class. Weekends can be difficult, so I recommend choosing a time in the morning before you get to doing all those fun family weekend things!
  • A typical practice schedule looks something like this: Monday to Friday practice time is 3:30pm, Saturday and Sunday practice time is 10:00am. If your after school time is crazy with all sorts of activities, try mornings before school. Later in the evening is my least favourite time to practice as we are tired and unfocused at the end of the day, but if that’s all you’ve got available it’s better than not practising at all.

How long to Practice

  • How long you practice will depend on your level. I usually set a number of repetitions, instead of a length of time, for beginner students that will hopefully get the job done without boring them! Beginner students range anywhere from 5-10 minutes per day. For more advanced students the length of your practice will depend on how much material you have to cover, how dedicated you are, and how focused you are that particular day.
  • If you are going to practice for more than 1 hour, break it up into multiple practice sessions.  Otherwise injury may result.
  • It’s not the amount of time you practice that counts, it the amount of focus and effort you put in while you are practising that will make the difference. 10 minutes of good focused practice every day is 100 times better than an hour long unfocused, distracted practice session.
  • If at any point during your practice you feel any physical pain or discomfort STOP IMMEDIATELY! This means that you have pushed yourself too hard too fast or are playing with incorrect posture. It is not normal to feel pain while playing, so if you experience this please talk to me!!

For Parents: How do I get my child to practice!?!

Many parents tell me that their child loves coming to lessons and enjoys playing their instrument, but won’t practice at home.  The solution will depend on many factors including your child’s needs and disposition, and your own parenting style. The following is a list of suggestions, feel free to modify them to fit your family’s needs!

  • Parent involvement and encouragement is key. Follow all the above recommendations, but most importantly help your child know what to practice. Read and review the Lesson Log with your child. I try to write them in plain English – not too many musical terms – I promise you will be able to understand it!
  • Have your child teach YOU a lesson or two at home. They’ll get a kick out of it and they’ll sneak in some quality review too!
  • Feel free to sit in on the lesson and/or learn with your child.
  • Sit with your child while they practice and guide them through each step. For example: “Ok, now play your scales 3 times each.” Help them count their repetitions. Don’t interrupt or point out mistakes while they play – part of practice is learning to figure things out on your own. Gently help your child to focus if they get a little off track. Your role in music lessons is to be encouraging and positive (even if you think it sounded terrible!), my role is to correct mistakes.
  • Don’t force practice. This leads to poor quality practice time and a bad feelings toward practice and music itself.
  • Sometimes, kids need to be left to practice on their own. In this case, review the lesson log with them before they begin and make sure they know what to practice. Then, leave them be… but do listen in from the next room!

Practice Strategies

Young or old, beginner or advanced, sometimes we all need a push to practice more – myself included! Here are some ideas to make practice fresh and fun:

  • Make a practice calendar. Put a sticker on each of the days that you practice. At the end of the month, count your stickers. See if you can beat your record the next month!
  • Make a streak chart. Add a sticker for each day in a row you practice. If you don’t get to practice for a day then you have to start again at 1 the next time you practice. How high of a streak can you get?
  • Good old fashioned bribery! I hate to say it, but it works. A small treat every time they practice can work wonders when nothing else does. It doesn’t have to be food, it could be stickers added to a collection (a special music practice collection perhaps), extra TV or game time, stay up later for each minute of practice you do, whatever works.
  • Join the studio wide practice challenge. I will be setting this up in the next few weeks (hopefully to start in January) and will be sending info home!  I will be involved in the challenge too – can you practice more than your teacher?!

When you get it right, practice is a wonderful experience.  Not only to you get to play beautiful music but you get to learn about yourself along the way.  I have taken my practice sessions from drudgery to pure joy over the years and I hope that by following these tips you can too!

Good luck and happy practising!!