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,

and

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.