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Group vs. Private Lessons - Which is Better?

When considering music lessons for your child the first question is often whether private or group lessons are better. Here I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of private lessons and group lessons.

Private Lessons

Advantages:

1. Personalized attention - The student gets one-on-one attention from the teacher, which means the teacher can tailor the lesson, the pace of learning, and progression according to the capability of the student.

2. Pace is customized - Music concepts are progressive and build upon previously learned topics. In a private setting, the teacher can go as fast or slow as needed to ensure the student comprehends all of the necessary music concepts before learning the next topics. Students with above-average musical aptitude can move at a much faster pace, which will reduce risk of boredom. Students needing extra help can spend more time with the teacher on certain areas to ensure they understand the concept fully before moving on.

3. Faster progress - On average, students who take private lessons will progress faster in their music studies than those who take group lessons.

4. Personal connection between student and teacher - Since the teacher and student spend a lot of time together, a deeper personal connection can be developed between the two.

5. Easier to schedule lessons - It may be easier and more flexible to schedule lessons since there are fewer people involved in a private lesson as opposed to group lessons.


Disadvantages:

1. More expensive - Private lessons can be considerably more expensive than group lessons.

2. Solitary activity - Playing the piano is already a solitary activity, and a child in private lessons won"t benefit from other music students.


Group Lessons

Advantages:

1. Less expensive - The more people in the class, the less each student will pay. This can be a determining factor for some families.

2. Peer competition can be healthy - If a student knows that they will be performing in front of their peers, they may be more likely to practice their assigned pieces to avoid making mistakes in front of others. Also, they will have more incentive to do their homework.

3. Social time - Given the peer interaction of group classes, group lessons offer social time for the students. With multiple students, teachers have more flexibility to play games and hence, students may think lessons are more fun.

4. Skill transfer between students - When students see other students their age and level play the piano, they can learn from observation, instead of a teacher verbally telling them.

5. Ensemble skills - Playing in a group means that students are forced to listen more to their peers. This can develop their ensemble and ear training skills.

6. Longer class time - Group classes are longer than private lessons (group lessons are typically an hour vs. 30 minute lessons for young children beginners).

Disadvantages:

1. Less personalized attention - Instead of the teacher focusing on one student, the teacher must divide his or her time among many students at once.

2. Different skill levels - In a group setting there may be different types of learning styles and skills, which can be more difficult for the teacher.

3. Less effective for shy students - Children who are shy or who don't enjoy interacting in groups may be uncomfortable in group lessons.

4. Group lessons usually use keyboards, not pianos - With multiple students, teachers typically use digital pianos or keyboards, which are different than an acoustic piano and can be less effective when the student reaches a more advanced level.

5. Difficult to teach more advanced piano techniques - Once the level of piano study starts to involve playing with both hands and more advanced piano techniques, it may be more difficult for the teacher to work on the specific advanced details in the piece, such as phrasing, texture, balance between hands, touch, etc.

Consider the following when assessing if your child is better suited for group or private piano lessons:

Group lessons:

Does your child like being in groups and work well with others?
Do they like team sports?
Do they have an extremely tight extracurricular schedule that makes it hard to find daily practice time?
Are they under age 5?
Are you under a tight budget?

If so, group lessons are probably your first choice.

Private lessons:

Do they dislike team sports or are they shy around other peers?
Are they exceptional students academically and tend to progress faster than other kids?
Or do they tend to progress slower than other kids and sometimes require special personalized attention?
Do they have a burning desire to learn the piano?
Are they 5 or older?
Can you afford private lessons?

If so, private lessons are probably your first choice.

In the final analysis, the decision for a child to begin private or group lessons depends on a number of factors, including the child's personality, developmental progress as compared to other children their age, and parent's ability to afford the lessons. In my opinion, private lessons are always the preferred method since it ensures the student has a more comprehensive musical learning experience and allows the student to progress at their own pace (and often a faster pace as compared to other students). If parents can afford the cost of private lessons, private lessons are highly recommended for piano study.