Private Lessons: Why Bother?

100_2801The end of the school year is finally upon us, and most of all, this time brings change. My middle school students are moving to high school. Some are already learning their new marching music. My high schoolers are nearing graduation. And then there are the beginners, the ones who don’t even have a trumpet yet. I’ll start hearing from those families in a week or two, if the parents are the sort that believe in getting an early start.

But the biggest change, from my perspective, is the fact that I won’t be around to teach them come August. Instead, I’ll be moving to Indiana to assume responsibility for the trumpet studio at Ball State University (see official announcement here). This is a fabulous opportunity and one that I am thrilled to be able to undertake. But it has left my current students in limbo, and the need to advise them has raised the question that will act as the focal point of this series: what makes a good teacher? And how do you find the right one?

Before I address that issue, however, I would like to answer a more fundamental question: why should anyone–especially a first-year beginner–take private lessons at all? I often hear a few common reservations:

  • What if our family can’t afford private lessons?
  • Our schedule is already packed with extracurricular activities and homework. It’s hard enough to find time to practice; why should we schedule lessons on top of that?
  • Our band program hires specialists on the various instruments to come in and help out during class time–isn’t this enough?
  • Why invest in lessons for a first-year student who might not stick with the instrument, or for a high school student who doesn’t want to pursue music in college?

I’m going to address the cost of lessons in a future post, so let’s table that concern for the moment. As a counterweight to the other issues mentioned above, consider the following:

  • Many band directors do not play the trumpet. Though they have a general idea of bad habits that a trumpet student should avoid, a good director will be the first to tell you that the number of students in his band limits his ability to individually monitor any of them. Even a visiting trumpet coach will have a hard time working at length with any one student, because of the need to give equal time to the others.
  • Private lessons can be an important motivator. Students who take lessons usually play much better than their classmates who don’t. This competitive advantage breeds success, and success usually leads to enthusiasm. For an idea of why an enthusiasm for music is worth cultivating, I highly recommend reading this article by renowned educator Tim Lautzenheiser.
  • Young students rarely possess the aural or critical thinking skills to (1) listen to themselves as they play; (2) accurately identify the ways in which their performances could be improved; and (3) develop strategies that effectively address any shortcomings. A good private teacher will not only identify these shortcomings and offer effective suggestions, but will teach the student to navigate this process independently.
  • A private teacher functions as a role model. In the musical sense, this person inspires the student by demonstrating what is possible on the instrument. Students who emulate a sound model progress much faster than those who hear only themselves. On a deeper level, a private teacher spends one-on-one time with a student on a regular basis, demonstrates confidence in the student, and teaches her to believe in herself, even in the face of constructive criticism.
  • A student taking private lessons will gain increased control over the trumpet and will experience greater success during unsupervised practice sessions. This achievement breeds a sense of ownership that will make it much easier to return to the trumpet later in life, if the student chooses not to play in college. Amateur music-making is often a high point in the lives of those who choose to pursue it.

Hopefully by now you’ve read enough to agree that lessons are at least worth considering. Check back soon for the next installment in this series, which will explain how to begin searching for a teacher.

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