1. ARE PRIVATE LESSONS JUST FOR BEGINNERS AND STUDENTS THAT ARE FALLING BEHIND?
Private lessons are for any student who wants to improve. They are great for students who feel like they are behind and would like to catch up, they are great for students who are ahead and need more variety and challenge, and they are great for students in the middle who would like to do better than they already are. Whatever your goal, private teachers can target the skills needed to get there.
2. MY CHILD IS ALREADY IN BAND - WHY TAKE LESSONS?
Even if the student is enrolled in a very excellent music program at school, lessons would still be beneficial. The band director may be wonderful, but the ratio is likely one teacher to a minimum of 20 (probably more like 30 or 40) students. In private lessons, your child gets a half-hour of attention from a teacher that specializes in his/her instrument. Since the student is the only one in the "class," the teacher can work at the student's pace - slower for students who need a little more help to figure things out, faster for students who take off like a rocket. The private teacher can also tailor the work to students' strengths and weaknesses, helping them develop in areas that need work.
3. WHAT WILL I LEARN IN LESSONS?
In detail, that depends on the teacher. Broad categories that are typically covered in lessons include tone production and quality (how to make a good sound), articulation (clear starting and stopping of sound in different styles), technique (clean, quick, and correct movement of the fingers), and reading notation (notes and rhythms). Students will likely be taught practice strategies that they can use at home to make their practicing more efficient and successful. Many teachers require scales and arpeggios, which are the foundation upon which music is built. As students progress, they may begin exploring major literature for their instrument, learn about their instrument's history, and learn about the mechanics of their instrument and of themselves (hands, face, respiratory, etc). Teachers who encourage their students to perform will also cover stage presence and decorum. Feel free to ask your teacher what areas he/she emphasizes.
4. HOW OLD DOES A STUDENT HAVE TO BE TO START TAKING LESSONS?
It depends on the instrument - piano and violin students can begin at 3 or 4 years old. Guitar, harp, and percussion students can begin at 5 or 6. Most wind instruments can begin at 8 or 9. Voice students wait to start seriously training until they are in their teens.
5. HOW OLD IS TOO OLD TO TAKE LESSONS?
It sounds cliché, but really, it's never too late to pick up an instrument. In my own teaching history, my oldest beginner was 62 years old when he started. He had never played an instrument before, but thought that saxophone looked fun, and he did indeed enjoy playing it. Another adult student had played all through high school and into college, but then took a forty-year hiatus. She was in her early 60's when she returned to the instrument, and she was amazed at how well it came back to her over the course of several months. Still another student had played all the way through college, then put the instrument aside until her daughter started band. She wanted to play with her daughter at home, so took lessons to help reacquaint herself with the instrument.
Many adults think they are too old to learn, and that's simply not true. Children tend to be less inhibited by self-consciousness, less critical and impatient about their own progress, and they tend to structure their time better to accommodate practicing (with the help of their parents, of course!). If you genuinely want to learn, you can. Understand that it will take persistent effort over time, just like it does for everyone else.
6. HOW DO I FIND A GOOD TEACHER?
Ask your child's school music teacher, other parents, or a local performing ensemble. Check your area for music stores, colleges, and churches that have a music education department open to the public. These schools want to attract students, so will usually make an effort to hire good quality teachers.
Price and location will factor into your decision, but feel free to ask questions . What is the teacher's background? What can you expect from their studio? It may be worth driving a little further or paying a few more dollars per lesson for a preferred teacher. Ask for a trial lesson; most teachers are willing to offer just one lesson for you and the student to give them a "test run." Ask to sit in on your child's trial lesson so you can observe these things for yourself. Try a couple of teachers and see which one you find knowledgeable, organized, and who connects well with the student.
7. WHAT IF MY CHILD DOESN'T WANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL?
Lessons can still be beneficial. Even if the student doesn't want to make music his profession, he still wants to be good at it. I've yet to meet a child who plays an instrument and is content to play it poorly. Every child wants to do well.
If he majors in accounting in college, he can still make music a lifelong study. Look at local community bands, small orchestras, and their trustees and boards of directors: you'll find lawyers in the flute section, nurses in the clarinet section, teachers in the low brass, business owners in the strings. Playing an instrument can be something your child does without being the only thing your child does. And who knows - the love of music that your child develops may lead him to one day parent the next world-famous concert pianist or major symphony orchestra conductor, or a music teacher that influences hundreds of kids.
8. WHAT IF MY CHILD JUST DOESN'T WANT TO DO LESSONS?
If your child is resisting the idea of taking lessons, perhaps come to an agreement that she will try it for one month, and after those four lessons, if she isn't putting in any work or still dreads getting in the car to go to the studio, it's time to ask yourself why it's so important for her to be in lessons. Lessons can be of great benefit, but only if the teaching done in the lesson is applied and practiced throughout the week. Otherwise, you'll find yourself paying for practice sessions. If she enjoys playing her instrument in band but isn't interested in playing outside of band, it will be ok. Many kids are very active in their band and orchestra programs, but don't take private lessons. If it's something you think would really benefit her, you could always try again in a couple of years. By then, she just might have changed her mind.