What is the Right Choice for My Child- Group or Private Piano Lessons?

I have been asked this question many times, but I now feel very compelled to write about it after receiving this email.

I have played piano before I was 5, and have had years of classical. My grand daughter wants to learn, but she won’t let me teach her. My daughter in law insisted that a group piano teaching was avaliable this past fall and wanted to sign her 6 yr. old daughter up for it–I said I’d pay for the lessons.(and you pay for 4 months all in advance!) My G.daughter loves it, but I don’t see any progess when she plays–mostly one hand–no note reading etc. I’m VERY unhappy about it. What is your opinion of “group lessons?. There are 9 in the class. thank you. J> “

Firstly, I want to start by thanking you for your honesty and sharing your frustrations with your grandaughters music lesson. Let me say right from the beginning, that this is a similar frustration that all grandparents, parents, children and even teachers share in many learning experiences and you are certianly not alone. If I was seeing this in my own daughters music lessons, I would be feeling the same emotions and reconsidering if I had made the right choices too!

So how do you?

a) Help your granddaughter continue to enjoy piano lessons- From what you wrote in the email,this sounds like it is important to her and your daughter in law,


b) Ensure she achieves- You are the paying customer and want to see some return for the money you need to continually pay out (and I know that it adds up quickly!). You have also had the experience of playing piano from a very young age, so you feel that she will give up if she becomes bored or starts to underachieve. It is important to have common ground with your grandchild and it seems like piano playing is certainly strong common connection you would like to have with her.

From the outset I want to let you know that this post won’t make a decision for you. However, I know it will encourage you to make the right course of action to support yourself and your family in getting the most out of her music sessions in an environment that best suits you all at your grandaughters age. I have thoroughly considered the research avaliable to me and have thought about my own experiences on this topic. I want to let you know that I really care that this blog will help your grandaughter thrive in music.

I would love to hear how you get on in due course and I would love for other grandparents, parents, students or teachers to add to this disussion and share their own experiences.If you would like to take part and share your stories, just fill in the comment box below.

So lets get to it…

In my experience as a teacher and business owner in my own music school and as an Aunty to or 5 nieces and nephews (at the time) who all learned through our music school system, I learned that every child is different. Everyone has different needs to fulfill and have different learning styles and abilities.

You see, I thought I knew it all. With my experience in studying music for my school years, then completing a university degree, then teaching classroom music while spending every extra minute I had with ensemble, band and choir rehersals, then teaching group and individual lessons, then to going back and teach classroom in different countries…I thought I knew all there was to children learning music.

When I started to work in our own music school, I soon discovered I was incredibly wrong!

I forgot one important point in my teaching and the courses I taught. I forgot that every parent, grandparent, child and teacher has very different needs. The amazing thing about human needs is that no two people are the same and they all play music for different reasons.

In the beginning of our new music school, there were times that things started to feel like they were going well. We ran groups of junior level piano courses such as the one your grandaughter participates in and it worked for some, but for others it just didn’t work and they dropped out quickly.
At first, we believed that’s just the way it was – that not everybody was cut out for learning music and so there was a natural drop out rate after the first few lessons. After a while our belief started to change and we started to say to ourselves that wasn’t good enough. We started to believe that anyone can enjoy music at any age as long as it completely fufills their needs and their care giver or parent needs. If it was not compliant between parent or the care giver and the child then it almost always didn’t work out. If the parent or caregiver agreed with the type of course undertaken and supported it- it always worked out.

So at our school, what we found ourselves doing was re- learning what was important to each individual family and tailoring our courses to their needs and wants. So we started to ask each individual family “What is it that you want to get out of your music lessons?”
This one question changed everything..we asked this to every family that ever came through our doors and it competely revolutionised our business from one that some people just loved to one that everyone just loved and raved about, because it met our students and families needs.

Thats great, but How does this help me? I hear you ask…

My advice would be to find out what’s important to your grandaughter and to her mother. Ask them “What is it that they might want to get out of their music lessons”. You may find that they have a different reason for it than you do.

By the way.. the most common response to the question was “We just want to see (our child) enjoy and have fun with music” – in this case every time the group lesson structure always worked remarkably well. Both parent and child always enjoyed their lessons immensly and always finished the remainder of the course. Paying in advance was a wonderful way to ensure that the family knew when the beginning and the end of the course occured. If they chose to end lessons after the duration of the course there were no hard feelings from the teacher – and in almost every case after implenting this pay in advance program more families actually continued after the duration of the course on to the next levels.

Very rarely was it an answer such as they wanted their child to learn Fur Elise within a year of starting- and if it was, we suggested a private lesson so that this could happen- it kept everybody happy- happy parents and children are all that matters in a childs learning and development and the achievement then comes naturally.

So that’s it. I know it’s not rocket science, but its that one question that will help you know where
to go next with your grandaughters music lessons are whether group or private lessons are best for her.

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4 thoughts on “What is the Right Choice for My Child- Group or Private Piano Lessons?”

  1. We are interested in our daughter learning music, not just piano. Although we realize that piano provides a good basis for learning other music and both my husband and I have taken piano lessons in the past. I am not an accomplished paionist like my husband but would like to improve my skills also. I am thinking about doing classes with my daughter and one of my dreams is to be able to play a piece together in the future. I read your website and think you would foster this desire. I think I would have my daughter start learning first by herself then maybe start taking classes together. Would she be able to see other students practicing? My daughter seems to be motivated more by other students (competitive) but I think group classes may not be best when you are just beginning. I would like for her in the future to join a ban for instance as I know she would do better, as she rises to a challenge. Having a competitive nature can be a good thing when channeled in the right way. Also, is there any other instruments that you teach besides piano? Later on we would like her to join a band, not right now.

  2. Sorry, I wrote the prior email for the wrong website. I read your article and found it interesting. I agree that each child has their own needs, and their own learning styles. My son who will be 2 next month is way more interested in music than my 5 year old daughter. I would start him earlier because of this. He is extremely musical. How early would you recommend that one start?

  3. Your post reminded me that families (parents and children both) are all different. I have begun teaching piano lessons with a couple of teenagers with hopes of expanding to all ages once my schedule gives up more time to teach. In talking to one family with two small girls, the mom would say “we’re not pushing her; we just want her to enjoy it.” I thought, “oh dear! that child will never be an exceptional pianist.” But in reading your article, I have to tell myself that perhaps just enjoying what she does know is enough for her and her parents. It was not enough for me as a student. I wanted to be the best. But I am learning that every child has different aspirations, and not all are geared to play all of Liszt or Chopin. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Now and then I am asked “How many of your students have excelled in music and have gone on to higher levels?”
    My answer lies not in numbers or concert pianists or wind instrument soloists or world-famous drummers, or rock guitarists. As far as I know I have not left a legacy of any of these, although I do teach all of these instruments. Surely the core reason for a child learning any new skill is just that. They are learning a new skill. Just google “how do music lessons help my child?” You will soon see that having your child take music lessons of any sort in group, or private, percussion or picollo, will advance their intellect, coordination, ability to focus, cooperation and listening skills, not to mention the real and important joy they are experiencing in the music making itself.
    Later in life they will use all of these skills, whether they continue the seldom trodden road of dominant seventh scales. Life is a group, and groups are a great way to learn anything. Let’s not single out “music” from the rest of life’s normal activities.

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