18 Nov 2013

What’s in a great music lesson & Why 30 minutes sometimes doesn’t cut it

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Admittedly, before getting brave enough to venture out on my own, I used to teach at a little local music studio.  As is the case with many big-box type studios, the owner has to pay the teachers and still make money of their own, and that’s where the push for the 30 minute lesson model comes in.  I completely get why some teachers get attached to it.  Usually the 30 minute lesson is priced at the highest margin, because that’s the market standard.  An abundance of 30-minute patrons also protects your roster. (If you lose a student, you don’t leave an entire hour open)

Don’t get me wrong- there are situations where a 30 minute session is appropriate.  For instance, very young students with short attention spans or students who aren’t sold on the instrument and just want to get a feel for it usually should start with a 30 minute lesson.  But I’ve learned from experience that if they’re good students who are going to stick around, and if I’m doing my job right and have their best interest in mind, they’ll soon be in NEED of a longer session.   Here’s why:

Quality music lessons should do the following:
* Establish a sound practicing routine that is both enjoyable and effective
* Teach and MODEL proper technique and incorporate it into everything students learn to play
* Build finger, hand and wrist strength
* Form the foundation for strong sight reading skills
* Immerse students in methods they can use to problem solve when they move beyond the basics
* Introduce music theory concepts in a way that allows students to apply them directly to their repertoire
* Expose students to what good playing sounds, looks, and feels like
* Train students to listen to their own playing and self-evaluate in order to improve
* Develop a student’s ear to aurally recognize music theory principles they have learned
* Build an appreciation and awareness of different musical genres and composers
* Expose students to composition and foster creativity within students who enjoy it

I could probably add about 20 other things to this list, but you get the point.   At the core of my complaint is this:  If, as a teacher, your student is progressing the way they should, and you’re still trying to fit everything in in 30 minutes per week, you’re either teaching concepts haphazardly, or you’re leaving important things out.  

Either way, down the line as a result, the student is either going to face problems that they don’t know how to solve on their own, or they’re going to get bored since the speed of their natural learning process is being hindered.

No teacher wants to look at a student and think “Wow, they could be so much better at this if I had more time with them.”  It just really stinks!  I understand that it stinks for parents too.  Piano lessons are not a cheap activity, and few parents get excited when they find out it’s time to start spending more money on their kids… I get it.

However, think about it long term.  You could spend $100 a month for 2 years and end up with a student who eventually quits because they got bored or started to feel like piano is too hard, or you can have a student who is given the right tools and has an amazing skill set to show for your investment.

With that being said, if you still have questions that have gone unanswered, peruse the blog to check out a few ideal lesson activities, and get exposure to some common misconceptions about class and practicing time.  I do my best to ensure that parents understand why I do things the way I do, and why those things are important to the success of your student.

Other existing articles to check out:
The Warm Up: Why it’s important and why it doesn’t have to be boring
Sight Reading: Gotta Love It!

I hope you’ll check back to learn about as many of these topics as possible.  Even parents who are musically inclined and already “get it,” I promise you’ll learn something new!!

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About the Author


Amber Staffa is a performing arts graduate of Rowan University. She holds a BA in Subject Matter Teaching for K-12, and a BM in Instrumental Music Education with a Piano Concentration, and is currently licensed in the state of NJ.

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