Category Archives: For Parents

How to Help a Child with Piano Practice

Clearly my last post about parents and their responsibilities to their children’s music education, particularly piano lessons, hit a nerve. This blog is only a couple of weeks old, and that post has received hundreds of views from some 20 countries, including Russia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Thailand, Portugal, Australia, and Estonia. The issue, it seems, is universal.

In that article, I talked about the realities of learning to play the piano, including the requirements for practice, responsible parental support, and some of the rewards and benefits. Today, I’m going to get a bit more specific and helpful and give parents some ideas on how you can help a small child with practice. If you’re a teacher, please feel free to link to this article.

The key takeaway here is that by communicating with teachers and listening, even parents who know nothing about music can help their children learn piano and develop good practice habits.

Practice Makes … Permanent

We all know that practicing is key to learning to play the piano. But here’s what most of us don’t know: there are good ways to practice and bad ways to practice, and if you aren’t practicing correctly, you may as well not be practicing at all. If you practice incorrectly, you will learn incorrectly. But learning effective practice techniques is a difficult task, especially for young children who haven’t yet learned to identify mistakes, let alone find effective ways to fix them.

The main point parents and music students need to understand is that effective practice does not mean doing the same thing over and over again. In fact, mindless repetition can be detrimental if the student simply repeats (and hence learns) mistakes.

How to Help a Child Practice the Piano

The quality of practice is so important that some teachers abandon time-based minimums for daily practice, and instead advocate setting practice goals that are centered around achieving certain technical or musical results.

Ironically, while the basics of good practice seem difficult for children (and sometimes, for their parents, as well), good practice habits actually make learning piano much easier, much less frustrating, and much more fun. By helping children establish good practice habits as early in their musical education as possible, parents will be putting a music student on the road to learning an instrument the most effective way possible. Bad practice habits leading to frustration and, often, quitting lessons.

Parents of young beginners should be sure that they understand the teacher’s practice instructions, because most second and third graders will forget what they are supposed to do between the end of the lesson and the beginning of the next practice. Most teachers write practice instructions in an assignment book. Even so, young children will need help to remember which tasks need to be be practiced. it also helps if they practice as soon as possible after the lesson: This helps them remember what they (supposedly) learned.

Goal-Centered Practice Strategies

Goal-centered practice instructions give more guidance than a simple mandate to “practice for a half an hour every day.” However, for parents to help, they have to be attentive not only to the fact that the child is sitting at the piano, but to what, exactly, is being practiced and how. Often, children will simply bang away happily for a few minutes on a song they “made up” or a chord progression their best friend taught them. Parents need to practice “mindful listening” as much as their children need to do engage in “mindful practice.”

Some samples of goal-centered practice instructions might include:

  • “Practice this scale until you can play it with your eyes closed.”
  • “Play each line of the song until you can play it with no mistakes.”
  • “Practice the right hand until you can play it with no mistakes. Then practice the left hand. then put them together.”
  • “Practice the song until you can play it with the metronome ticking at 100 bears per minute.”
  • “Count out loud.”

A parent who listens in on lessons should be aware of what the teacher is stressing. I have probably said the words “Count out loud” one million times, and I’ve written it in assignment books close to that many times, too. Even a non-musical parent can help a child enormously by going over the practice instructions point by point and saying: “Your teacher wrote that you should be counting out loud, but I didn’t hear any counting. Can you show me?” Or: Didn’t you play that scale with your eyes closed in your lesson? Show me.” Or: “Did you practice that line of the song so you can play it with no mistakes? Show me.”

One sure give-away that poor practice is taking place is easy to spot. Most children will start at the beginning of a song and play through to the end, with intermittent stops and starts, occasionally correcting mistakes. They then go back to the beginning and repeat the process, generally with the exact same mistakes. Any reputable piano teacher teaches children to break a piece of music into small parts, and to correct mistakes before moving on. A child who is playing a mistake-ridden piece from beginning to end over and over again either has a poor teacher or is not following instructions.

Finally, parents should be sure that any written homework is completed before the next lesson.

Communicating with Music Teachers About Practice Issues

A parent can also help by communicating with the teacher. If the teacher does not include practice suggestions or goals in the assignment book, a parent shouldn’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. Similarly, the parent should also discuss any practice issues with the teacher. For example:

  • “Johnny seem to just rush through each piece and then he wants to turn the page and do something else.”
  • “Suzie thinks she is playing the piece correctly, but I can hear that something’s not right with the rhythm. She never counts. I don’t know how to help her.”
  • “I know you told her to use the metronome, but she says she doesn’t understand how to use it.”

A good teacher will have some strategies to deal with such problems, and can address these issues in lessons.

As a parent, you are part of the triangle of your child’s music education: The other sides of the triangle are the teacher and the student. As your child gets older and independent, they may not need or want your help with their lessons. But in the first year or two, children who have active parental involvement typically learn more than those who are left to flounder on their own.

The Truth About Piano Lessons

A piano teacher looks at what it takes to succeed in music, how parents can help, and why they should care.

To piano teachers: This post is copyrighted. Please do not reprint the whole thing on your blog. Feel free to reprint the first paragraph and then link to it here. You also have permission to print it and hand it out, as long as my name and the blog address are visible. Thank you for respecting my copyright.

Dear Piano Parents:

If it seems like you’re always battling to schedule your kids’ activities, you’re not alone: The soccer coach wants to know if you’re doing traveling team, the Little League coach is scheduling practices, the dance teacher is putting her classes together. And you’re wondering about piano lessons for little Johnny or Suzie.

You want to know how much Johnny will be expected to practice. You want to know if Suzie can just “try it out” and see if it’s “fun.” You need to know what kind of instrument I expect you to have. You want to know if you can come whenever it’s convenient, and whether I’ll be flexible regarding hockey games, ski Fridays, school dances, ice-skating parties, holidays, and play dates. You want to know if I’m “reasonable” by which I think you mean: Can I change my schedule to suit yours, and am I a stickler for daily practice because Suzie has so much else on her plate and  “things are crazy around here.”

It doesn’t usually occur to you to ask what you can do as a parent to help your child with music lessons, but that’s something you’re going to have to know, too.

I’m in a difficult position as a piano teacher because I’m afraid of telling you the whole truth. I’m afraid because the unvarnished truth may not what you are probably going to want to hear. And when people don’t like what they hear, they tend to bail out. You may go to another teacher (which is fine: Everyone deserves a compatible teacher). But I’m afraid you may bail on music lessons all together.

Because the truth about learning to play the piano scares people. That’s the last thing I want to do.

Benefits of Music Education

We all know the benefits of music education: the improved test scores, the correlation with less drug and alcohol abuse, the benefits of learning to be part of an ensemble and stick with a challenge. Music is one of the most powerful expressive forms we have in our lives. How powerful? Playing music (not just listening to it) is used to treat neurological problems, to heal people who have had strokes, to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Musician’s brains — as measured by MRIs — actually work differently than the brains of non-musicians. We (musicians) develop pathways that you (non-musicians) don’t, which help us make other connections. The ability to play an instrument, particularly a complex instrument like piano, has been linked to less dementia in old age, better cognitive skills, and faster healing from traumatic brain injuries. (Source)

Not to mention the sheer joy of it. How many adults do you know who say “I wish my mother hadn’t let me quit.” You may be one of them.

So if I scare you (and your child) away, I’m doing you a disservice on many levels.

Learning Piano and Modern Parenting Trends: Not an Easy Fit

The problem is that learning to play piano isn’t easy, and what it requires flies in the face of current parenting trends. You know the trends I’m talking about: The ones that have you driving  500 miles a week to ball games, play dates and the like. I had a student once who showed up for piano wearing his karate uniform, after eating dinner in a moving car. After piano lessons, he was headed for night skiing. No wonder this little 6 year old vomited at the piano. I felt nauseated just listening to his schedule.

Look, the truth is that your kid can’t be a black belt in karate and a ski racer and a soccer player and a pianist and an “A” student and a dancer and in the school play. Kids want to try everything, parents panic if they think they are missing the next new thing. You can go broad or you can go deep; that’s your choice. But you need to know that learning to play piano takes place in the deep end of the ocean.

The Process (and Practice) of Learning to Play Piano

Playing piano also takes a kind of concentration children are rarely exposed to anymore. If you’re one of those parents who wants to protect your child from frustration, you have got to come to terms with the demands of what I call “the big black beast.” Learning to play the piano is all about overcoming frustration. It’s about thinking through problems, breaking them down, solving them one step at a time, figuring things out, finding creative new ways to approach a challenge, putting the pieces back together and trying again and again and again. Piano lessons are life lessons. There’s a reason music students score higher in math. But music isn’t easy.

You’re not going to want to hear the truth because it takes a lot more effort to get your kid to practice than it does to get her to brush her teeth, and YOU are going to have to put that effort in every day for the next four years before she even has a chance of playing “Fur Elise” or “The Entertainer.” Even the most enthusiastic student is not going to want to practice every day (and yes, every day is recommended). Or practice enough. Or practice correctly. If you’re the kind of parent who calls your kid “buddy” and “pal” and “girlfriend” and thinks that regular practice is some kind of punishment that is enforced by the “bad guy” parent, you could be in for a rough road as far as piano is concerned.

You may think that Suzie has talent and will follow in the footsteps of Uncle George, who just sat down at the piano one day and started playing jazz standards. But I can guarantee that’s not how it happened for Uncle George, and it’s not going to happen that way for Suzie, either. Family myth notwithstanding, Uncle George had solitary time with the instrument, whether formally instructed or not, whether playing by ear or by notes. He wrestled with the big black beast — same as your child is going to have to do.

You want to know if Suzie can just “try it out” and the answer is sure: It’s your money, and I can’t stop you from taking a few lessons and quitting. But I can promise that if you’re not committed going in, you’re not going to stick around. Suzie might enjoy her lessons, but at home, she’s going to have to put her thinking cap on and wrestle with note reading and trying to remember where Middle C is and how to count and which finger is number 1 and which finger is number 2.  Sure, some kids find this early part fun, and if they do, you’re in luck. But I’ll be honest: Many don’t.

What You Can Do To Help A Child Learn Music

And do you have idea how long a half an hour’s practice time is for a 7 year old? It’s like dog years — an eternity. You may have to help, and ideally, this means paying attention during a young child’s lesson, taking notes, listening to how I tell them to practice and then making sure that they do it. It may even mean learning to read a few notes yourself (Yes, you can, and yes I will teach you, but you may have to work at it. Not every adult gets it on the first try. You need to be willing to brush off YOUR thinking cap, too). You don’t have to learn to actually play the piano, but I do expect you do be able to read a book aimed at a second-grader and figure out enough music reading so you can help them between lessons.

And then there’s the whole buying a piano thing. Teachers do differ, so you’ll need to listen carefully to their reasoning. But the more pleasurable an instrument is to play, the more a child will want to play it. They DO hear and feel the difference, and it does affect their learning, technique, and musical sensitivity.

Good News About Music Lessons

It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Why not just cross it off the list and move on to soccer? Because a) You don’t want your adult child joining the chorus of people blaming their parents for letting them quit music and b) Because it’s good for them in so many ways: creativity, self-expression, working with others, mental health, good work habits, problem solving, cognitive development, neurological health, and the simple appreciation of art and beauty. (I’ll be writing more articles on the benefits of music education and links to studies showing these benefits in the upcoming weeks, so check back here.)

And let me give you some (more) good news.

Just about any kid can learn to play the piano. Some may take to it more easily than others; some may race ahead; some may lag behind. Some may read quickly, others may be aurally gifted, or able to move their fingers quickly and naturally. But it really does boil down to practice. Don’t give your kid the easy out of saying “Well of course Annie is playing better than you; she’s very talented.” In the long run, talent helps, but it’s not about talent: It’s about DOING IT And yes, there have been studies on this, too.

I’m not asking for miracles here: Most kids who practice in a focused way for 1/2 an hour most days of the week will learn to play well enough to enjoy participating in music in a meaningful way. It may, however, take 4 to 8 years, depending on goals, talent, and practice habits, before a student turns into a musician. When it happens, it’s like watching the tulips bloom in spring.

The bottom line: by giving your child music lessons, you are giving them a lifelong gift.

Music IS joyful, it isn’t always fun. Learn to know the difference — then teach your children well.

Summer Music Lessons? Yea or Nay?

School is letting out, summer camps are doing their final clean-ups before opening day, beaches are open, grills are fired up… and exhausted parents are collapsing from a year of driving kids to soccer, piano, karate, birthday parties, and the endless list of other activities.

No one, just this minute, wants to think about summer music lessons. Except that pesky music teacher.

Summer vacations are a controversial topic among educators, whether they teach math or music.  Education Week’s Leadertalk blog calls summer vacation “a major obstacle in U.S. education,” pointing out that it “harms low income students as well as other students in other economic groups if they are not engaged during this time period.”

Kids from upper-income families, of course, lose less because their summers are filled with enrichment activities, whether it’s non-academic volunteer work, new skills learned in summer camps, and experiences at art camp, music camp, sports camp, or travel programs. Kids from economically-disadvantaged families remain disadvantaged, rarely having access to the shiny opportunities available to their better-heeled peers. As a result, reading levels drop, math scores plummet, and hard-learned skills, such as how to read notes and count rhythms, erode. September is a month of repetition and frustration. The Green Day song, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” might resonate with kids — but believe me, it resonates with teachers. too.

The erosion is especially true with music lessons, perhaps because the skill of learning an instrument is so multi-dimensional, involving reading, hearing, feeling, moving, repeating given motions, and responding emotionally, intellectually, and physically.  

Summer Breaks Equal Erosion of Skills, Frustration 

From my own studio, I can give the example of a child who was moving along quite well in her first year, then stopped for the summer. The next  year, we had to backtrack and it took her until February to get back to where she had been the previous June. Fortunately, this little girl has a happy disposition, and doesn’t seem to be easily frustrated; a less even-tempered child might have given up at the prospect of, essentially, being “left back” and having to repeat more than half a year’s worth of work.

Of course, kids do all kinds of things during the summer: I admit that I myself never took summer music lessons, being otherwise busy with figure skating camp and sleep-away summer camp. But I did practice. The problem is that most kids can’t sustain a regular practice schedule on their own. They can’t self-correct, they need both guidance and motivation, and they need someone to pull them back on track when they forget how to read notes or rhythms. For most kids, practicing without adult supervision throughout a summer a) isn’t going to happen and b) even if it does, the end result will be having to deal with a tangle of well-practiced mistakes in the fall. The resulting frustration can easily lead to a change of attitude, and maybe even quitting lessons.

My own studio policy is flexible in the summer, but I do strongly encourage at least bi-weekly lessons if kids are in town. Most are, for at least part of the summer, and bi-weekly lessons, with maybe some popular songs and “fun” stuff thrown in,  help kids maintain their skills so that in the fall they can at least pick up where they left off. I find that a summer change of pace is a good idea for many students: One year, we made CDs, which was a rewarding project. Some teachers offer group or ensembles or “summer music camps” to keep things light and fun.

A final point: learning music has many academic benefits, but it is more than a path to better math scores. It is a creative expression and an art form, and it’s supposed to be fun. Indeed, summer should be a time to explore MORE about music, to play with it, kick back and relax, to enjoy it, experiment a little, and to take the time to reinforce and enjoy the skills a student has learned during the year. Unlike schoolwork, what we envision when we teach children music is that it is something they will enjoy and use to express themselves; something that will enrich and augment their lives. Music is about enjoyment and recreation: Why, then, give it up in the summer?

Piano Lessons: To Quit or not to Quit?

Year after year, studies come out telling us about the benefits of music education. Music studies are linked to high scores on math tests, to high GPAs and SATs, even to the likelihood of getting into medical school. (One study concluded that percentage wise, music majors who applied to medical school were more likely to get in than biology majors!)

The benefits of piano (and other music) lessons go beyond merely learning to play an instrument. Even students who never truly master their violin, trumpet, guitar, or piano benefit through the process of attending regular lessons, working toward a long-term and often difficult goal, and seeing themselves improve in relation to the effort they put in. In a very real sense, music education is as much about building character as it is about learning an instrument, developing cognitive ability, or gaining brownie points for college applications.

Indeed, some of the most valuable lessons a child learns while studying have nothing to do with music at all, but rather with learning how to break down a difficult project into its component parts and tackle them one at a time. Music students learn how to work consistently at a project that may take weeks or even months to complete, and how to conquer fear of performing in public.

 

Why Students Stop Taking Piano Lessons

As valuable as music lessons are, they always end (unless the student becomes a college music major or a professional musician). Even the best, most enthusiastic music students grow up and go to college!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some students end music lessons much earlier. They may have no interest in working as hard as it takes to learn an instrument, or may refuse to practice. Sometimes, attrition is in part a parental issue. Parents may be worn down by a child’s incessant complaints about practicing, the inconvenience of a weekly music lesson commitment, the difficulties of coordinating music lessons with sports schedules and sibling activities, and the expense of lessons and instrument maintenance.

The problem is especially acute with piano students, who take private lessons as opposed to group lessons, and are often held more accountable for their practice. Many students also find piano much more difficult than other instruments, because of the multiple lines, and less “fun,” because they aren’t sitting with their friends in a group setting.

There are many reasons students stop taking lessons:

  • A child may have too many other activities to put in the effort to learn an instrument.
  • The student may be equally or more passionate about something else, and may decide to concentrate on that activity.
  • The child may hit puberty, and may care about nothing other than what peers and friends seem to care about.
  • A child may be overwhelmed or struggling with school work, especially in a new grade. Parents should, however, be aware that studies have shown that the grade point averages of music students tend to be higher than grade point averages of non music students.
  • The child may simply be unwilling to work as hard as music lessons require.
  • The child may need, but not be getting, parental encouragement and daily structure.

While many parents would prefer their children to continue with music lessons, many simply buckle under the hassle of it all. And others genuinely feel that forcing a reluctant student to take lessons may do more harm than good.

Encouraging Students to Continue Piano Lessons

Finding out what the problem is is the first step in solving it. Does the child dislike the teacher? The kind of music? Or is the child having difficulties and frustrations? Sometimes a teacher can dial back expectations for a frustrated child for a while, by assigning review pieces, easy pieces, fun popular pieces, or “pattern” pieces that rely on repeated patterns and are easier to learn. With some children, rewards for practice time are effective.

But the teacher has to know there is a problem before she can solve it. Most teachers are perfectly aware that a child is not practicing. They may not, however, know why. Communication with the teacher is key.

 

Issues to Consider When Deciding to Continue or Quit Music Lessons

While children almost universally like music, not all show an active interest in learning or studying it. Some find certain aspects of learning music especially difficult. (being Bone deaf, having difficulty learning to read music, and perceiving rhythms poorly are three common problem areas) .
Most children, even those who beg to quit lessons, have favorite songs to play over and over again just because they like them. But a child who doesn’t ever seem to get any pleasure out of playing anything at all is one who might be better served with another activity. This is especially true if the parents have made a concerted effort over a period of a few years to get the child to practice. A child who can play but never seems to get joy out of it is a child who should be doing something else.
Before deciding that it’s time to quit music lessons, consider the following issues:

  • Has the child attained a level of playing where she can learn songs she likes on her own? If so, the child has achieved some element of musical independence and can enjoyably play the music she wants to. It may indeed be time to simply let her stop lessons and play what she wants.
  • Is there a teacher issue that need to be addressed? Perhaps the child would thrive playing jazz or pop, but the teacher only teaches classical music.
  • Is the child involved in other musical activities?
  • Is the child talented? The ability to play a musical instrument at a high level can lead to lifelong creative satisfaction, and even a possible career path as a music teacher.
  • Is the issue of taking music lessons really about music lessons or is it something else? Some possibilities include a child of divorced parents playing one parent against the other, or a rebellious child making a power play statement.
  • Is the child getting adequate parental support and supervision? If not, we have a parent problem i addition to a student problem.

Most parents understand the benefits of music lessons. But sometimes, it’s time to re-evaluate them, and perhaps even stop for a while. Sometimes, the mere fact that a parent is willing to allow lessons to stop is all it takes for the child to reconsider and want to start again.

When is a Child Ready for Piano Lessons?

Is picking out a tune on a keyboard evidence of musical talent? And when is a child old enough for piano lessons? The success of music programs for kids, such as Suzuki and Kindermusik, indicate that music lessons benefit children at virtually every age. Some music programs and curricula have even been developed for toddlers to start to learn to play the piano.

Talent is only part of the equation: the trick is to match the type of lesson and the teacher to the child’s readiness to learn certain skills and tasks.  Parents and teachers must always remember that they are dealing with a very small child who may still be uncertain of which hand is left and which hand is right. Learning to play the piano is difficult for anyone, let alone a pre-schooler. The pre-school music teacher’s primary jobs are to avoid frustration and to instill a love of learning piano. With four- and five-year-olds, this often translates to simply having fun. Sometimes group music lessons using percussion and other instruments appropriate for young children are more successful.

At What Age Should a Child Start Piano Instruction?

 

Typically, piano teachers recommend ages 7 or 8 as optimal for beginning piano lessons. However, almost every piano teacher works with beginning piano students who are younger as well as students who are older.

For younger children, consider the following:

  • Can the child focus for the length of a lesson, which may be up to a half an hour long?
  • Can the child follow directions?
  • Does the child know the letters of the alphabet? (This isn’t necessary, but it is useful.)
  • How well-developed is the child’s fine motor coordination? Can he hold a pencil? Wiggle each finger independently?
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, does the child really want lessons?

 

Choosing a Piano Teacher for a Small Child

 

In the first meeting with the teacher, the teacher will evaluate whether the child is ready for the program the teacher offers. Parents need to evaluate the teacher, as well.
The ideal piano teacher for a small child does not need to be a Juilliard graduate with an impressive concert career. Indeed, some highly trained pianists don’t like teaching beginner piano, and only do it because they feel they “have” to. Instead, look for someone who genuinely enjoys teaching piano to small children. The teacher’s attitude should be non-threatening and welcoming. It is also helpful if the teacher has had experience working with small children, has taken classes in early-childhood education, has worked in a pre-school music program, or has studied beginning piano pedagogy..

Recommendations from other parents are always a good place to start. In addition, a local community music school may have teachers who specialize in piano instruction for pre-school children.
The pedagogy involved in teaching piano to a pre-schooler is very different than the pedagogy of teaching a seven- or eight-year-old. Look for a teacher who adjusts curriculum by using age-appropriate materials, introducing games into the lessons, and varying activities so that the child doesn’t have to sit still on a piano bench for a half hour. Examples include rhythm and counting games, marching and moving games, or writing on a white board.

Be aware that many teachers of preschool children require that parents attend lessons and act as practice coaches during the week. To be effective, parents who don’t already know a little bit about music have to learn along with the child, at least for the first year or two. Musical parents obviously have a leg up on the process, but they, too, need to pay attention so that they understand the assignments and can mimic the teacher’s approach.

 

Buying an Acoustic Piano or a Digital Keyboard for a Young Piano Student

 

Most piano teachers recommend acoustic pianos for lessons, especially for a family that is serious about musical education. The acoustic piano versus digital piano debate will not be resolved anytime soon; for serious classical music, an acoustic piano will ultimately be required, although a digital piano can be useful for classical pianists. For a small child, digital keyboards are less intimidating (and for parents, they are less expensive). Requirements for a serviceable digital piano are:

  • Touch control. This means that when the player pushes a note with different amounts of pressure, the note sounds louder or softer. This is non-negotiable.
  • Weighted keys. This means that the keys have some resistance and mimic the feel of an acoustic piano. Using weighted keys develops finger strength.
  • 88 keys The full complement of 88 keys is preferable because the student develops a sense of keyboard geography by using peripheral vision that takes in the whole keyboard.
  • A reputable manufacturer such as Yamaha, Roland, Kawai, or Casio.

Parents who closely evaluate a child’s interest in and readiness for piano lessons, who choose a sympathetic piano teacher, who assist in practicing, and who purchase an appropriate keyboard will give their children a head-start in exploring and developing a life-long interest in learning music.

Group Piano Lessons or Private Lessons? Which is Best for Children?

Piano students take a different path than most other instrumental students, and the reasons is simple: Piano is a solo instrument. True, guitar and organ can be solo instruments, too. But guitar is commonly played in a group, and few children study organ.

What this means is that other instrumentalists – violinists, flutists, trumpeters – often take group music lessons (at least at the beginning), where playing music takes place in a group context: Practice may be private, advanced instruction may be private, but the ultimate goal is to play with others.

But beginning piano students typically take private lessons right from the start, and these lessons rarely include participating in ensembles, playing in orchestras, or learning the essentials of group performance. Although the piano has a rich and varied library of ensemble and duet music, and although advanced pianists often accompany choruses, singers and instrumentalists, or play in bands or chamber ensembles, piano education is primarily a one-on-one activity leading to solo performance.

 

Group Music Instruction and Piano Education

Group lessons can be difficult for pianists: First, the instrument isn’t portable, which means that groups usually use keyboards, not pianos. The nature of the piano and its repertoire can make group lessons challenging, as well, because much of the traditional pedagogical material was written with the intent of being taught one-on-one with a private teacher. To be effectively used in a group class, material must often be modified, for instance, by breaking it into parts.

Finally, the complexity of the instrument comes into play. The piano is polyphonic (meaning that pianists play multiple parts at once). Pianists read two musical staves at once (bass and treble clefs), and must master both harmony and melody at the same time. These are skills that are difficult to teach in a group setting, and they are also the factors that make the piano satisfying to play as a solo instrument.

However, group piano lessons can make sense for many young beginners. When evaluating music lessons for a small child, here are some issues to consider.

 

Advantages of Group Piano Classes

  • Longer class times. Most group classes run at least an hour, with plenty of time for varied activities.
  • Price: Typically, n hour-long group lesson involving about four students will cost about the same as a private lesson that runs a half-hour.
  • Fun Factor: Children enjoy learning in games and with their peers, and a well-run group lesson includes plenty of musical fun.
  • Performance classes: Children learn to perform infront of their peers.
  • Group activities: These are ideal for teaching musical concepts such as rhythm and counting. Marching around the room to a beat, dancing, and clapping are all more fun for children in groups, and these activities teach fundamental skills that will set the stage for a student’s later learning.
  • Ensemble skills: A well run group will include music that can be played in parts. Students therefore learn the skills need to perform in a group. This is an element of music education that many private lessons fail to teach.
  • Lower stress: The low-key recreational approach of many groups may be appropriate for younger children who don’t yet have the dexterity to develop finer instrumental skills.

Advantages of Private Piano Lessons

  • Individual attention: Private lessons focus on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Piano is a multi-sensory, complex activity requiring learning by ear, eye, touch, and intellectual understanding. Each student combines these elements differently.
  • Appropriate pace: A group class that involves mismatched students will deprive both slower and faster learners for the attention they need. Private lessons go at the student’s learning pace, stopping whenever necessary to review concepts, repeat material, or explore a topic the student shows an interest in.
  • Skills development: For more advanced students, private attention is needed to work on micro issues such as fingering, as well as finer points of expression and interpretation. Issues such as technique and hand position are also better dealt with privately.
  • Progress: Progress is almost always faster in a private lesson than in a group lesson.
  • Stability: While the advantages of a group class often fall apart under the weight of an unruly or mismatched group, private lessons can follow a tailor made plan developed for each student, without being derailed by the needs of the group.

In music education, there isn’t any single right answer to the group versus private lessons conundrum Both group piano lessons and private piano lessons offer advantages. One option: Look for one of the many private piano teachers who incorporate some group instruction in the form of periodic group or performance classes.