In my previous blog, Common mistakes that parents and adults make when choosing a piano teacher, I recommended that the ideal age to attend a private lesson is 6-7 years. At this age, the hand muscles are more developed and stronger, with the hand able to span up to 5 finger position.
Lessons offered in groupings provide general musical knowledge, with a focus on the signs and symbols; e. g. chords, triads, key signature, time signature, notations, keyboard orientation an, scales (which I call ‘Theory and General Musical Rudiments’). A young learner is thereby exposed to a broad range of musical knowledge essential for playing on the piano. That said, it does not mean that private, are unable to impart general musical knowledge to the student; however, it requires time beyond regular weekly piano lesson.
If parents are willing and budget allows, parents should consider additional 30 minute of private lessons dedicated to ‘Theory and General Musical Rudiments.’ From my teaching experience, I have concluded that a 30 minute lesson in Theory and General Music Rudiments leads students to acquire deep musical knowledge and understanding that greatly help them in their practice. As a consequence, my students progressed to the highest levels of performance and were more likely to pursue music as a professional career or involved in a public musical pursuit!
For a deeper and insightful study of a musical instrument such as piano, violin, cello, guitar, a private and personalized lesson provides personal attention that the group lesson may fail to address attentively. The areas of practice that require specialized personal attention include:
- Relaxation Techniques (to prevent injurious movement)
- Tone Production and Articulation ( involving touch)
- Fingerings (ensures smooth transition of passages)
- The use of Pedal (the wrong use of it commits immortal enemy to clarity of sound)
- Practice Process and Management (for effective use of time and to avoid frivolous repetitions)
A bad habit acquired today may take a lifetime to correct! An effective teacher will devote time on ‘rehabilitation,’ if required, for corrective learning. Time and money will have to spend on ‘remedial’ learning and practicing instead of progressing to a higher level and achievement.
Every student learns at a different pace and each has his or her strengths and weaknesses. In a group music lesson, a teacher cannot dedicate the optimal time to cater to a student’s specific needs as they are often assigned or choose to teach a certain topic within a limited length of time over the academic year. If the student in a group lesson is unable to understand something or has areas of weakness, there is little opportunity to effectively address the weakness which may hamper the learning.
The best approach to music instruction is therefore a combination of both: the beginner should attend group lessons at a music school to broaden musical knowledge through group activities such as rhythmic drills, listening games, ensemble classes or improvisation. For intermediate leaners at a more advance level, group lessons provide the opportunity to understand the music at a greater depth, focusing on such aspects as harmony, counterpoint, analysis and history, which will enrich the stylistic convention of the keyboard interpretation and achieve the musical aesthetic.
Not all private piano teachers are effective. Beware that some have had their teaching passion wane after years of teaching and do not seek to renew their performance or teaching skills, limiting their effectiveness even if they are themselves a concert artist of the century. An effective instructor needs to have exemplary communication skills and endless patience. Choices regarding the nature of the lesson; i. e., an optimum balance between group and private lessons, depend on the time and budget that can be invested.