Private Music Lessons Or Learning An Instrument At School?
By vaughan • 18th January 2013 • Posted in: Violin and Piano Teaching
Many parents automatically apply for their children to take musical instrument lessons in school (rather than private lessons) as they feel that this is the most convenient way of fitting them into a busy school life. I’ve had the opportunity to experience both over a period of almost 20 years and have come to the conclusion that the best value for money and the best use of time is generally afforded by private tuition.
I currently teach in a school music department which is actually very noisy. There are piano lessons directly above me which can be very distracting and intrusive. The school bell goes off every hour and precedes a flurry of intense activity where noisy pupils come and go on their way to their next lesson. Often classroom music lessons divide into different activities so that musical ensembles play (and play around) in the corridor directly outside my room. This contrasts with my teaching room at home which is almost totally free from any extraneous noises, making it a peaceful and uninterrupted space to teach in.
Although all the school violin lessons I teach do rotate, inevitably pupils do have to miss the same subject more than once a term (in the case of double classroom lessons, even more frequently than that). Children often feel uneasy about putting their hands up and asking permission to go to a music lesson, even more so when they receive a negative reaction from their teacher (which can be understandable if they are trying to cover relevant coursework).
The rotation of lessons means that less organised pupils (and ones who are new to this system) struggle to remember their lesson times every week. Although it is possible to fetch pupils, this often involves a trip to the school office (after a wait of 5 minutes to see whether the pupil is just a little late) and then another one to their particular classroom. All of this is time consuming and can result in a short lesson at the end of it all.
Lessons are sometimes missed due to impromptu tests, extra curricular activities and (occaisionally) school trips. There are some pupils I teach who turn up on time evry single week of the academic year and get the full value out of their lessons, but as a proportion this would be around 2 out of every 10 pupils. If lessons are taken as part of a group of 2 -3 pupils, this can be less costly but also the potential for disruption is far higher and actual teaching time can quickly disappear.
All of this contrasts sharply with my private violin lessons. There is an inbuilt flexibilty of lesson time and day (with most pupils opting for the same slot each week, but with the option of changing if something else interrupts their routine). Pupils can opt to come weekly or fortnightly. They can have a 30 minute lesson, with the ability to change to 45 or 60 minutes if they are approaching an exam or feel they need a longer lesson time. They don’t need to have so long a gap during the summer holidays (often school music teachers will have finished their quota of teaching weeks by the beginning of July and won’t be due back to chool until mid-September). In fact having a lesson once every three or four weeks in this summer holiday period can make an enormous difference to their progress in the coming Autumn term.
Communication is another issue. The peripatetic music teacher can be a distant figure. Often they teach in several schools so are unable to be present at parents’ evenings. They do get to meet parents at school concerts but for many,the end of year report can be the only contact between teacher and parent. This can lead to misunderstandings and it can be unclear what is a lack of effort on behalf of the pupil and what is the result of uninspiring teaching. This is highlighted in Grade Exam results. Occasionally a disappointing mark in the exam can be assumed to be the result of inadequate preparation on behalf of the teacher. With private individual lessons, often the parents will sit in on the lessons and be able to witness the progress and tuition first hand. I’ve generally found this to be a positive thing as my relationship with both the parents and pupils make it into a family affair. Suspicion and doubt don’t build up as they can see the effort, ideas and planning that go into good lessons.
The final issue is one of cost. County Music services generally do a great job in organising county (and music centre) orchestras, choirs and ensembles. There is an enormous amount of administrative work that is done, travel claims, CRB checking (crucial for both school and private teachers), first aid days, child protection training and a whole host of other important work. There is the cost of music centre buildings and equipment as well as cheap musical instrument loan schemes. Sadly though, this does push the price of music service instrumental lessons up. Often they cost in the region of £35 – £38 an hour (depending on which county), with the music teacher receiving around £25 of that. Compare that with private teachers, who (depending on which part of the country you are in) charge between £25 – £30 an hour, then this is clearly a cheaper option.
With all teachers, it is often difficult to know whether they are any good until you have witnesed them teaching (or seen the results of their teaching). Private teachers will often allow parents to sit in on a consultation lesson, without the pressure to have to continue with that teacher. This is good in that it gives both parents and pupils the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether that teacher is the right one.
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