Many prospective students approach me with this simple question: should I take group music classes or private music lessons? It depends upon your goals. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Private music lessons are usually far better for your progress. Group classes are typically better for social experiences and some select musical skills. You will find both types of classes at your local music school.
Private music lessons help you meet your personal goals
When you study with a professional private music teacher, you’ll receive your teacher’s full attention and focus for the entire lesson. You will benefit from lessons that have been planned and tailored to your specific needs, goals, and learning style. You will progress swiftly and easily because classes are made just for you. You’ll make steady progress toward your personal goals. You’ll feel proud and accomplished. And you will develop your skills quickly. Awesome!
Group music classes can’t offer that kind of individualized instruction. Why? The teacher usually follows a predetermined lesson plan and must balance the needs of many students who may have different abilities, learning styles, goals, or ages.
Private music lessons provide better student growth
Different students learn and function socially in very different ways. These differences can be especially wide between children 4-15 years old, or between a 20 something and a retiree. It’s rare to have a class of students that have the same needs and learning style, so group class teachers must compromise. They balance each student’s needs to needs of the class as a whole.
Imagine that one student is struggling with something the rest of the class finds easy. The teacher can help him while the other students wait, or the teacher can go on because most of the class is ready, leaving the struggling student behind. Neither is a good solution, but that’s a common problem in a group class.
None of these are issues in private lessons, making them the best choice for you if you are looking to make quick and easy progress toward your goals. Students who take group classes to learn an instrument often form bad habits because they don’t have personal, individual attention. Mistakes go unnoticed and uncorrected.
Private lesson are private
Many new students are not confident in their skills and don’t want to play music in front of others just yet. Group classes can be intimidating for these students. Private lessons offer the chance to work on music comfortably until you are ready to play in public or in front of others. This removes the the pressure some may feel at the beginning.
Group music lessons provide better social experiences
There is something to be said about being part of a group. You can gain a sense of belonging when you do a group activity with others. That can be fun and rewarding. You may also be motivated by your peers in the class.
Private lessons are not able to offer that sort of social experience, because they are one-on-one. So if you just want a fun experience, to meet some new people or try something new, then group classes might be your best bet. Just be aware that these classes are not great at helping you develop your skills on your instrument. I’ve seen many students from other programs develop some really bad habits in these group classes, only to have to relearn a lot of things later on. If you want to learn to play, take private lessons. If you are in it for the social experience, then give a group class a try. Fun!
Group music lessons teach some skills that private lessons can’t
What if you have already developed the ability to play an instrument to some degree? In that case, you may be interested in learning how to advance your skills by playing in a band or learning to improvise. Private lessons can help you prepare to be in a band or improvise, but you’ll have to actually play with others to really develop those skills.
If you can already play an instrument, then I would highly recommend taking group classes to learn performance skills like playing in a group or improvising. Just be sure that you have already developed your technique with private lessons enough so that you can concentrate on playing with others, instead of worrying about how to play your instrument. You will be much more comfortable this way.
What about the cost?
I also get many questions about the difference in cost between private lessons and group music classes. Do private lessons cost more per hour? Yes. Does that mean you get more for your money? Absolutely not. It’s apples to oranges, because it depends on your goals and what you want to get out of your lessons or classes.
Say you want to learn guitar or piano or voice. In most cases a private lesson with a qualified teacher is going to cost about twice as much per hour as a group class. In other words, a 30 minute private lesson costs about the same as a 60 minute group class. So, for the same price, would you rather have a 30 minute lesson with your teacher’s full attention and a lesson plan customized for you? Or would you want a group class for 60 minutes follows a scripted lesson, provides little individual attention, and doesn’t well incorporate your personal goals. Of course you’d want the private lesson because it will help you reach your goals faster.
On the other hand, if you want a social experience or to learn an ensemble skill, then private lessons won’t give you that. Even if you hire the most expensive private teacher on the market, he can’t conjure up other people for you to learn with or to improvise with. You actually need other people to work and practice with. In this case you’ll want to take the group class that helps you meet your goals.
Private Lessons vs. Group Classes
Take Private Lessons…
- when learning to play an instrument for the first time
- to reach your goals the fastest
- to develop your technique and musicianship
- to avoid common mistakes and errors
Take Group Classes…
- when learning skills requiring a group, such as ensembles or improv
- to socialize, meet new people, perform with others
- to develop certain musical skills after you have the ability to play
The best of both worlds
What if you want social experiences and fast progress? Then you should do both, but be careful to do them at the right time and in the right order. Take private lessons first to help you learn how to play your instrument. Once you’ve developed the ability to play some things, you should then be able to apply them in a group class.
Most music schools offer both of these types of courses. By working with a reputable music school, you should be able to have the social experiences you want, plus to focused attention you need to advance in your lessons, plus the opportunity to develop certain skills in a group setting.
Just beware about taking group classes that promise you to learn an instrument. Can you learn an instrument in a group class? Certainly. But it’s more difficult, less focused, and there is the risk of developing bad habits
By knowing what your own goals are, you should be better equipped to find the classes or lessons that are right for you. Good luck!