When choosing music lessons for children, parents usually have a choice between a private or a group setting. The decision of whether or not your child should take group or private lessons is an important one, as it can impact their musicianship into later life!
Group and private music lessons always co-existed in the past. Younger students would learn music theory, history, and singing as a group. They would also take private music lessons for learning a specific instrument or voice. Up to the mid 20th century, kids would have to be at least 5 years old to start learning. Music lessons for toddlers and preschoolers were very uncommon.
Very often, the youngest students would spend their whole first year learning to read the notes and other basic music theory before being allowed to start private lessons in piano, violin, or other instruments. Private music lessons would usually begin at the age of 6 years old.
Nowadays, an array of classes and activities are available for children to participate in starting as early as birth. As a parent, I tremendously enjoyed attending group toddler classes and seeing my kids doing art projects, cooking, dancing, etc. as a group. The best place in NYC for this is Kids At Work, by the way.
So what about music lessons, specifically? When should kids do group and when should kids do private lessons? There are answers that are obvious and some that are up for a debate.
Social interaction with other kids, parents, and teachers is an extremely important part of the development in young children. Research shows that free play is a huge part of that. One-on-one music lessons with kids younger than 3 years old would not yield any advantage over a group setting because it eliminates the experience of social interaction. Additionally, most babies & toddlers aren’t yet able to sit still or focus as they should in a private music lesson setting.
Actually, the above was the only obvious answer. Simply: don’t do private lessons before 3 years old.
As mentioned earlier, private music lessons were traditionally given to older children. Now, both group and private options are very common for piano, violin, voice, and guitar lessons.
What has caused this shift?
The main reason is economical. The private music lesson model has a very low profit margin for both the music schools and individual teachers. Considering the ever growing prices on commercial rental space and the price of doing business in general, group lessons became a savior for many music teachers both in cities and rural areas.
It makes sense that group lessons would be a more lucrative option for music schools, but is there a financial benefit for students to take group music lessons over private? YES! Group music lessons often cost less for each student to attend than private lessons. The financial relief is mutual on both sides!
Another positive aspect of group music lessons is that students recieve more social interaction with their peers. Students, both children and adults, begin to feel competitive with their musical skills, which is one of the natural ways to stimulate progress. You don’t want to come to class having not practiced and finding yourself behind the others, so you practice more!
You may say “Group lessons are a perfect solution! I save the money and kids get to be around friends / I get to be around other adults who also love music!”
Before you jump into enrolling your child into group lessons, let’s talk about the benefits of private music lessons, from a “pro private lesson” stance.
I will give you a little personal example if I may:
Years ago, as a part of my Doctoral fellowship, I was teaching both group and private piano lessons at Manhattan School of Music in NYC. My students were professional young musicians who were already very accomplished in their own instruments, just not in piano. I worked my hardest in both settings.
There was one wonderful composer who I was teaching one-on-one and during one lesson at the very beginning of a semester, I looked at him and honestly said: “You know, in just 3 lessons I taught you more than I usually teach in a whole semester of group lessons!” This was absolutely true, and it is true for all private vs. group music lessons in general. When you have the undivided attention of the teacher in a private lesson, you learn faster.
Another benefit of private music lessons is that you actually don’t feel the pressure to be on par with other students. Most students who take music lessons just for the love of music do not want to have that feeling during the class.
In private music lessons, you can also learn only the pieces that YOU love and don’t have to compromise in your choice of what you actually want to learn. The freedom of the direction in which a child or adult could go in their musical journey is a big factor.
Lastly, let’s go back to the $ issue again: you can pay less for group classes and spend more time on learning things or pay more for private lessons and spend less time on learning things. It comes down to the social aspect of being around more peers in a group class vs. faster individual results in private learning.
There are music teachers who swear by group lessons. Many schools and studios are promoting them as a new standard. There are also teachers out there who roll their eyes at the entire concept. There are many valid arguments on each side and this is not a clear right or wrong of whether or not you choose private or group music lessons for your child.
Until recently, private lessons were the standard. Maybe 10-20% of teachers right now are switching from private to group format.
There is an argument for private lessons that I simply can’t omit here: there isn’t a single successful musician in the world who became so by taking only group lessons. They all worked one-on-one with their musical masters.
So where do we stand with this question? Let’s sum it up:
What do we mean by SMALL group? Up to 4 students, not more.
Do we offer all these options for music classes in NYC at Riverside Music Studios? YES!