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!