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Music Lessons: In-Home vs. Music School

Thomas Byrne

October 9, 2015

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At first blush, in-home lessons may seem a convenient way to expose your child to music lessons.  What could be easier than having a music teacher come to you?  But most people don't realize there are pitfalls associated with in-home lessons that can lead students to quit, thus missing out on a lifetime of playing and creating music.

Most musicians will tell you that it is very rare to find a musician, or music student, who aspires to play alone. Indeed, the entire history of music making through time is rooted in a communal, social interplay with others.

Think about the origins of music – the intergenerational sharing of oral traditions, community celebrations of a good crop or a good hunt, milestones with family members and friends, or an expression of hope and fellowship amidst misfortune.  Music was, and today remains, an elemental part of our cultural expression, and is meant to be shared!

Now, think about the actual learning experience of most young musicians.  They participate in short weekly lessons, and then spend the next seven days practicing at home, by themselves, trying to learn in isolation.  A week later, they meet with the instructor again for another short lesson, and the entire cycle repeats itself.  This is the reality of in-home lessons for most students, and yet it completely misses the mark when it comes to the communal, social aspects of music making.

There are obviously a number of reasons why children quit music lessons. In our experience, we’ve found that musical isolation is often at the root of why music students struggle, fail, and ultimately quit – students who otherwise might have had music as a profoundly meaningful part of their life, for their whole life.  In these situations, we end up failing these students despite the best of intentions. 

In short, playing music isn’t supposed to be lonely.  And, annual recitals are hardly a remedy for a year spent playing and practicing alone.

  • Takeaway:  If you decide on in-home lessons, beware of the pitfalls of learning in isolation.  Find ways to interact musically with others, sharing what you’ve learned in an open, welcoming, communal setting.  If in-home lessons are your only option, then encourage neighborhood kids to connect and play music together.  Be sure to supplement in-home lessons with school or community band programs, even if this requires your child to play different instrument to participate. 

Based on the above, you might assume that taking lessons at a music school or studio will help to avoid the pitfalls of learning music in isolation.  This is not necessarily the case.

The cycle for most students enrolled at a music studio is exactly the same as the above – that is, students spend a short time with their teacher, and then are sent home to practice alone.  Granted, you may bump into other students in the lobby, or going to and from your lessons, but this interaction can hardly be considered musical interaction.

The good news is that some music schools offer ensemble programs and music camps where students are introduced to playing with one another.  They can be placed in bands, ensembles, or vocal groups.  We've seen first-hand how such experiences can accelerate learning and development.

But it also has to be a meaningful educational experience.  We know of schools that place as many as twenty or thirty students in a single ensemble, with each student having a so little time playing with others that the result is often frustration instead of activation and learning. 

The good news is that there are some music schools that offer a richer, more educationally valid ensemble experiences by capping band rosters at six or seven students, while avoiding lots of duplicate instruments (except, of course, in vocal ensembles).  But often times the cost of tuition for these programs is so high, many families find it difficult to pay for both ensembles and private lessons.

  • Takeaway:  Enrolling in a music school or studio does not necessarily help you avoid the pitfalls of learning music in isolation.  Look for a school or studio that encourages ensemble participation and group play. Ask about program retention rates to learn whether they are getting traction with their bands and ensembles.  Ask about curriculum, and about the qualifications of their ensemble coaches.  And be sure that their pricing model makes their programs accessible rather than exclusive, otherwise your child may still end up playing alone.

Follow these simple takeaways and your child will be significantly more likely to become activated by their music lesson experience, delivering significant positive implications in many other areas of their development.  Click below to download your free copy of "33 Ways Your Child Can Benefit From Music Lessons."