As a piano instructor, I am very often asked by new students, or parents who are planning to get their kids involved with learning the piano for the first time, would group piano or private piano classes be best for them? I’d like to point out some of the pluses and minuses for both so that you can compare group piano and private piano classes.
I started taking piano classes when I was almost five. I don’t even remember my first piano class. My parents used to take me and my sister to private classes once a week. I never knew that I would continue playing the piano for over twenty-five years. I didn’t know until later in my life that not only was it my dedication but also that of my parents and teachers. Their patience, motivation, and inspiration that continued to keep the process of learning the piano alive for me.
Unfortunately, in the group class environment this is something harder to be achieved. In group classes there will be at least four students, one teacher, and, in the best possible setting, one keyboard per student. However, in my experience it is rarely the case to have one keyboard per student. Many times there will be only one instrument in the room. This setting automatically puts the teacher in a completely different situation than when she or he teaches students one-on-one.
Learning to play an instrument is a skill and requires many, many cautious repetitions of certain movements that must be supervised by the teacher. This might be hand position, fingerings, or learning specific patterns. In the group situation, the teacher can’t observe and correct all the actions of all the students if there are many instruments. Or if there is only one, then each student will have only very little supervised time.
This can create long-term issues for the students, mainly because of the power of muscle memory and habits.
For instance, if students learn to play a scale with the incorrect fingering and a teacher doesn’t catch it right away, that habit can become ingrained quickly, and it’s much harder for the student to correct that habit than it is to instill the right habit from the very beginning. This is also true in wider-reaching issues, like habits about posture, hand tension, and more. If a student develops habits that aren’t caught early, they’ll face the added challenge of having to unlearn that habit and establish a correct habit in its place.
Private lessons allow teachers to focus entirely on one student at a time, so this situation is much less likely to happen.
In group lessons, it is also much harder to develop those strong interpersonal relationships between student and teacher (and parents for young students) that is needed to keep the students progressing well. If a teacher works with a student on a one-on-one basis, they’ll get to know that student’s personality and individual learning style much more quickly, and can adjust their teaching techniques to the student’s benefit.
Because group lessons must cater to the needs of all of the students, students can miss out on a very important aspect: appropriate goal setting.
When students are completely new to playing an instrument, their goals will be similar for the first lesson or two. They’ll need to learn proper posture and technique, and they’ll work on the first elements of playing, like understanding which key corresponds to which note in a piece of printed music.
But students’ individual goals can quickly vary from there. Some students will naturally progress faster than others, and a good music teacher will be able to adjust the goals and structure of each lesson to challenge a student without overwhelming them. As students become more advanced, they’ll develop interests in different kinds of music. One student may want to develop the skills they need to start a band with their friends, while another may have a goal of auditioning for a regional ensemble or to prepare to play music as a career. A teacher can’t accommodate all of those different goals in a group lesson setting.
This is where private lessons become so important. When a teacher is able to focus on one student, they can tailor that lesson and their teaching style to the student’s needs. By focusing their teaching on the individual steps a student needs to take to accomplish their goal, the lesson becomes more effective, and more engaging, for the student.
Students will also achieve their goals more quickly with this personalized lesson and teaching structure. The act of repeatedly meeting goals is encouraging and motivational in itself, and a student ultimately gets more out of their music education as a result.
All of the students in a group class have to be engaged in what is happening in the class, and take part in the learning process. But all of these students have a different way of learning, different weaknesses and strengths when it comes to coordination, memorization or ear training activity, among many other traits. It’s nearly impossible to provide for all of them what they actually need.
However, the good part is that even when this happens, the students get to socialize, (improve social skills if they are kids), share with one another, be competitive, and even be inspired from one another when in group setting. This is something which doesn’t happen in private, one-on-one session.
This is just one reason why I am happy with the situation at Sage Music where I teach. We provide private piano lessons for the students’ development, but then students also have the chance to participate in recitals, concerts, and events. These extra events create those important social interactions, plus they give students the change to learn rehearsal and performance etiquette, and to develop the skills they’ll need to play in ensembles with other musicians.
Concerts and recitals can also inspire students, since the students can see other musicians who may be further along in their musical journey. This can also happen in a group lesson when you have multiple students who have different skills or interests. Being around other musicians is inspiring and can reinforce that drive to improve.
When starting with private classes instead of group, there are also time and financial issues involved. Sometimes students or parents believe that it is much easier to “see if I like it” and try couple of sessions with the group, instead of signing up for private sessions. They think the cost of taking private lessons, investing in a keyboard, spending much time practicing without really being completely dedicated to the new experience only to give up a year later is not a worthwhile commitment. And they are right, spending that time and money is not a worthwhile commitment.
But new students should note that group classes may actually cost about the same as a private 30-minute lesson. It is also our experience, that when students are progressing and seeing results, they tend to continue to take lessons, and this happens all of the time with private lessons – so the investment is then totally worth it.
More often students do quit after taking group classes because they do not see the same results.
Having said all that, whether you start with group piano classes or private lessons is actually a personal choice, and with the right teacher and learning environment you or your kids will have a great start in the piano world. There are still ways that you can get the most out of your piano lessons, regardless of whether you’re taking group or private lessons.
First, make sure that you’re working with a great teacher. Look for a teacher who isn’t only a great pianist, but who’s also a great music teacher, too. People who are great musicians aren’t always great teachers. At Sage Music, all teachers are highly accomplished but also undergo training and ongoing education that helps them learn how to improve their teaching.
Next, invest in your lessons. Keep a lesson journal and record your lessons (get permission first), so you can easily review the material once you’re home and practicing on your own. Being able to go back and hear a passage played correctly can make your practicing more productive and can help to keep you on track until your next lesson.
Finally, remember that you’re investing in yourself and in your future. Learning to play music is a rewarding experience, and you’ll be developing a hobby (or maybe even a career) that you can continue to enjoy your whole life. It may be tempting to enroll in some group lessons because they’re more affordable, but don’t you deserve to get the whole experience of what quality music lessons are really like? When you consider the personal attention that you’ll get during private music lessons, it’s pretty easy to justify investing a little more into the cost of the lessons.
Ultimately, be smart about your choice and find the music lessons that are right for you. If one teacher doesn’t seem to be the right fit, don’t give up. The right teacher is out there and they’ll be able to make your lessons enjoyable and productive, too.