YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO CHOOSE ENTIRELY
All students who aspire to reach an advanced level one day need some individual lessons and some group experiences. If you’re taking primarily individual lessons, you should still expect your teacher to offer occasional group activities which may include recitals, as well as performance/theory/duet/master classes. And if you’re taking group lessons, you shouldn’t expect to stay in the group forever. At some point, a transition to mostly individual lessons should be part of the plan. But everyone needs some of both. If you remain permanently in an individual-only situation, you’ll miss out on experiencing music with a community of learners and you’ll miss out on the poise, confidence, and comfort in performance that comes from working in a group setting. And if you remain in group lessons over the long term, you’ll miss out on the technical development and individual attention that you need to reach higher levels of proficiency.
SO WHICH IS THE BEST WAY TO START YOUR MUSICAL JOURNEY?
Would your child be better off starting with private lessons, or would they do better in a group of like-minded students? Not surprisingly, the answer to this question varies a great deal depending on both the temperament and learning style of the student, and the teaching styles and experience of the instructor, as well as the parent’s goals for the student’s education.
THE ESSENTIAL GOAL FOR A STUDENT’S FIRST LESSONS IS CAPTURING THEIR INTEREST
Most children enjoy the social aspect and the peer interaction of group classes, and therefore have more reasons to enjoy their lessons than in the private instruction format. When retention rates are compared after two and three years, those who started in group lessons have a much greater likelihood of still being enrolled.
A good group offers the typical student a tremendous incentive to practice at home: students are more motivated to be prepared with their lesson material if they know there will be other students in the class who will also be prepared! This positive-feedback cycle is one main purpose for group instruction. (Be on the look-out for the opposite cycle, though: when other students are consistently poorly prepared, it can negatively affect other students’ preparation and attitude.)
A BROADER FOUNDATION
Group lessons also are longer and allow for time to be devoted to theory, ear training and music games in a way that the shorter private lesson time slot does not usually allow. This theoretical work will help to instill a broader foundation of skills than the typical private-lesson student.
Group lessons are always less expensive than individual lessons on a per-hour basis, but not always on a per-student basis. The cost of group versus individual lessons is probably not big enough to be a deciding factor.
WHY CHOOSE PRIVATE LESSONS?
The advantage of private lessons is obvious: no distractions and absolute attention. The more advanced a student becomes, the more important this sort of individualized attention becomes. It often seems at first glance that like individual attention and lack of distractions are just what a young student needs as well—but it depends so much on individual circumstances. The best way to frame this question: is the child intellectually and emotionally ready to work at the greater level of intensity that is needed in order to take maximum advantage of the individual lesson?
IS MY CHILD BETTER SUITED TO PRIVATE LESSONS?
Students who are intellectually curious and who also possess above-average musical aptitude and attention spans are likely to be better suited to private lessons. But the most important factor for youngest students’ success at private lessons is the parent’s interest and availability to coach the child at home. To take maximum advantage of the individual attention students receive in the individual lesson, students need more practice time and more supervision/assistance in their at-home practice compared with a group student. Shyness cuts both ways. Sometimes, a student who is particularly shy will uncomfortable in the group; other times, a shy student will be uncomfortable with the intensity of attention they receive in the individual lesson.
HOW ABOUT DOING BOTH GROUP AND PRIVATE LESSONS?
Best of all is one group lesson and one private lesson each week—but good luck finding such a program! At the Studio, we offer two tested and successful group class arrangements: monthly supplementary groups for older students with significant prior experience; and, beginner group classes for younger children with a planned transition to individual lessons. Read more on our Programs of Study
CONSIDER YOUR CHILD’S TEMPERAMENT, AND ALSO YOUR OWN
You probably already have a good idea of whether your child is a natural team-player; or, if your child is more the sort that likes to play or read on her own. Also consider your own goals for your child: Are you sampling many different activities to see what your child likes, or are you picking one activity on which to focus your attention? Do you want your child to have the opportunity to be a competitive-level performer someday? There are lots of different programs and lots of different teachers out there: let your instincts as a parent guide you in choosing a lesson program that suits you!
Most young beginners are likely to experience more success, and to stick with lessons longer, in a great group program. Exceptional progress and achievement will one day require individual attention. A good program should afford you both individual attention and group experience.
THE REAL BOTTOM LINE: QUALITY FIRST!
The primary factors that determine the success of your child in lessons are first, the development of a productive, enjoyable, and consistent practice routine at home; and, second, the skill and temperament of your teacher. The length of your lesson, and the availability of group lessons, are substantial but tertiary considerations. Group lessons will improve the odds for most students, and private lessons will be preferable for some—but most kids will do fine in either format. First find a good teacher and program; then consider both group and private lesson options, as either may be suitable for your child.