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.

Musical Instruments For Children

Thiis is a question which I received via email a few months ago – It took me lots of careful consideration and research for my reply below, as I believe this is a very important topic affecting many parents. Your comments are welcome below, as I would love this to be a forum for discussion on this topic.

Should the Band Director be selecting the instrument for my 6th grader child and
what should I do if I don’t agree with the instrument selected by the band director?

Joining a school band is an exciting and inspirational experience for any child. Not only will they learn to play music, but they will have the opportunity to learn it in a fun, friendly and a nurturing environment. They will make special musical friendships with teachers and tutors and students and will have opportunity to play in major school and community events. The feeling of importance and value that a child can gain by playing in a band can make a huge difference to their schooling and self confidence.

Great band directors have always got the child’s best interests at heart. Their whole life is to care for and provide an inspirational learning situations which will bring out the best in every child. They have hands on experience with working with children playing music day in day out and know what works best in the most tried and tested situations.

It looks really easy to stand up there and work with 50 or more kids at a time at rehearsal at a concert, but let me rest assure that it is definitely not as easy as it looks. Their ability to make it all look easy is paramount to being outstanding at their job. In reality however, there is enormous pressure placed on them and becoming a band director is a highly specialized job. From making sure that the children are able to play their parts correctly to ensuring that the correct instruments have been chosen for each child there are pressures placed on these people who work tirelessly to make sure that it all comes together.

It can be a real juggling act for a band director to find the correct instruments to suit each child. Most programs will assign instruments to their students based on the factors surrounding their circumstances. Factors such as the size of the child,the work ethic of each child (as some instruments are harder to learn than others), the amounts of instruments they have available through the program and the happiness of the child to play the instrument are taken into account.

Some band programs may have a little interview with each child, others will use a musical aptitude test and some will find out a little bit about each student from their other teachers. Most band directors won’t know very much about each child and their families until they have begun to work with them. The process of picking an instrument can be tedious and is really only the beginning of a child’s musical journey.

As a parent, you have to live with the decision that is made and need to be happy with the choice. You will be the one who has to support and encourage it so that your child can receive the maximum value and significance out of the activity. You are the one who will need to enjoy listening to it in the background every day- and that will wear on you if it’s an instrument that just doesn’t fit your family lifestyle.

My advice would be to ask the musical director some questions if you are not sure about the choice with an outcome in mind. Be real and truthful about the reasons why you’re not sure about the decision and tell this to the band director. They may well have a very clear reason why a particular instrument was chosen for your child and may be able to share an insight with you that you may not have seen before.

Also as I said before, a great band director will always have the child’s best interests at heart and wouldn’t intend to make it difficult. If your outcome is to change onto a different instrument, I would have some solutions in place for the band director so that they had no reason to say no. Talk about the options of buying or hiring the instrument of your choice from another provider.

I know that my opinion is only one, and many band directors, teachers and parents may have a different perspective on this, so please feel free to add your comments to this discussion below.

Children Learning Music

Tips For parents in helping their children learning music.

Does this story sound familiar?
“My child has been taking lessons for over a year now and the lessons are getting too
hard… Even I am having trouble keeping up!”

If it does, just relax! You’re definitely not alone.

The truth is many parents feel like this when sending their children to music lessons,
especially when their children appear to be falling behind or practice starts to become a
chore at home.

It all seems far too hard and then on top of it all you have to pay a
substantial amount of money just for the honor of doing it all….It just makes you want
to quit and give up….. right!

The great news is that even though most parents with children learning music feel this
way, it can be easily overcome….And you overcome it too!

Here are some tips that you can implement with your children so you can help them achieve
their musical goals and have fun at the same time.

Tip#1:You don’t need to sit at the piano the Whole Time

That’s right….you are reading correctly!
Many people believe that in order to be successful at playing an instrument, then you must
sit with the instrument for a full half an hour (or longer) every day. Practicing consists
of playing the same music over and over again (even if you can already do it), and music
should be coming out from the room for the whole time!

This is simply MYTH!

Sometimes, you can achieve and accomplish far more by participating in more subtle, fun
activities which encourage playing skills and break up the boredom of playing and
practicing the same mistakes over and over again.

However, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t sit at the piano in order
to learn it and if your child already quite happily sits and practices at the piano and is
quite stimulated by that for a full session, then you may not need to change anything for
the moment.

The whole point is… You don’t have to do it that way!
The great thing is that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, so why should music
practice sessions!….And children don’t have to sit with their instrument the whole time
in order to be achieving their musical goals.

If you are finding that your child can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time
(which is very normal), then why not move from the piano and try a few other activities.

Related musical activities could include:

  • Playing a Music Related Game
  • Have a turn playing a different instrument for a few minutes
  • listen to a recording or watch a segment relevant to the topic your child is learning about
  • practice tricky rhythms by playing along with a recording of another piece of music with a percussion instrument or by clapping
  • do a worksheet
  • practicing on a paper version of the instrument where your child can’t heartheir mistakes, but can get confident of fingerings.
  • play a game which is related to the topic of practice

The trick to moving away from the piano for a few minutes is to make the activity relevant to what your child is learning, but to make it fun at the same time.

Tip#2: Place a high value on Music Learning

Just take a moment to think about it from your own perspective for a minute…
Would you really enjoy any activity if you?
Have already had a really busy day;
You’ve got more work to do before you head back out tomorrow and you’re already tired;
You are confined to a small space by yourself and you can hear other activity around you
that distracts you and sounds like more fun.
This doesn’t make practicing sound very glamorous, does it! And the reality of kids and
practice is – it’s not! Especially if it’s done in isolation with high expectations
placed. Added to the equation is that they feel that everyone else around is having more
fun while they are stuck there having to think in solitude. Often children don’t even
understand what it is they really need to be practicing and how to do it in the first

Now, think for a minute about the activities that you most like to do yourself.

Does it seem like you are having to work hard at it?;Is it fun?;Are other people involved
or do other people appreciate your skill in this area ?, Who is it that appreciates your
skill in this area?;Do you fully understand what you need to do and how you need to do it?

The chances are that with the things you like doing most, yes it still requires persistent work, but it seems effortless; time seems to fly; people tell you how good you are at it, especially people who are close; you feel a sense of freedom and don’t feel confined or restricted; you really understand the activity, you want to find out more about it and you feel like you want to do the activity all the time – you can’t wait to do it every day!

Just think, if you can create these feelings with your own favorite activities, you can most certainly create it for your children in practicing their chosen instruments.Children just need to be shown how and as with developing any new skill or discipline – itis a learned process.

However, the catch is- this learned process not taught in school and the only way your child will learn it is from you!

The truth is your children will do any thing to please you. If writing mathematical formula and equations makes you pleased and makes you notice them, your child will do anything to make sure they can to please you in this area and over time, they will excel.

The same goes for children learning music. If playing music makes you happy, your child will achieve in this area and will do anything to gain your positive feedback, praise andwill in turn excel at playing music.

Here are just two simple ways to help you place a higher importance on music at home.

  • 1. Learn the instrument yourself

Many parents feel they can place more value on their children learning music by actually doing it themselves. After all if you both play, Shared understanding and knowledge of music and the instrument is the something you can both relate to and can therefore have fun with.

As parents, we are the role models and children merely copy and mirror our behaviors and actions. If you want your children to enjoy and playing music, learning it as an adult can be a great growth activity for the whole family. The spin off effect is practice becomes catchy when the wholefamily is involved in playing. Everyone tends to want to do it at the same time and it allof a sudden it becomes a “together” activity instead of an activity requiring solitude.

2.Set a Routine for an appropriate timeslot to practice.

I once read about a story of a very successful, fit and healthy 75 year old man who was having a birthday party. He arranged for a big occasion, many people came and he made the speeches etc..

The man had a real “taste” for ice cream, so after he made his speech, his family arranged for a huge ice cream cake to come out and was put in front of him, he blew the candles and passed everyone a piece. All except himself.

When everyone asked why he wasn’t having a piece, he replied ” I have ice cream once a month on a full moon. If I have ice cream today, I will be breaking my habit”

When I first read this story I didn’t really understand the reasoning or thought processes behind it, but as I thought about it a bit more, I began to understand what a clever,profound statement it was. This man understood the power of forming habits and he knew that if he broke his habit just once, the consequences were that his health and fitness would decrease over time. He knew that because he loved ice cream so much, if he broke thehabit even just once, then it would be enough to brake the habit over and over again and as a result his health and fitness would decrease, just because he would eat too much icecream.

I know that doesn’t seem to have much relevance to music practice with your children and to many it would seem extreme not to have a scoop of ice cream in a special situation, but the point is that the power of being able to set a consistent habit is paramount to success in playing an instrument. It just needs to be for the right reasons and it needs to be something both you and your child really, really want to achieve.

If practice time is set at a time where your child is hungry or there is lots of otheractivity happening around them or even if your child is missing out on something else like watching a favorite TV show, then practice is not going to be enjoyable.

If you and your child can arrange to form a habit of practicing to take place at aconvenient time which suits everyone at a quiet time without distraction on a daily basisand which the whole family can become positively involved in, then it is going to work!

Tip#3:Learn to become an active participator, not just a passive supervisor

You have a choice in your child’s music learning.

You can watch it all happen around you and treat the activity as a way of keeping your child busy while you’re making dinner, passively supervising and making sure that they stay in the practice room playing those songs for half an hour. Music is treated like some kind of foreign language, where no-one understands it and seems like a form of punishmentto your children, having to be endured rather than enjoyed.


You can become involved in the process. You can suggest some ideas for playing and you could ask questions and even play some games, do some activities with your children or even hold your own family concerts! The key is to Concentrate on the skills they are able to achieve positively and to gently encourage more playing to happen. It can be seen as a growing experience for the whole family and the satisfaction and rewards for your child ofplaying music will then come. People will start to tell you and your child how talentedthey are at music and before you know it, they’ll be practicing on their own rather thanbeing told to.

My aim is to hopefully influence you to be able to do the latter! Even parents who currently have no musical knowledge or experience can help and it doesn’t cost a cent more. It’s all about attitude- you can do it and it is worth it!