I have been asked this question many times, but I now feel very compelled to write about it after receiving this email.
“I have played the piano before I was 5, and have had years of classical. My granddaughter wants to learn, but she won’t let me teach her. My daughter in law insisted that a group piano teaching was available this past fall and wanted to sign her 6 yr. old daughter up for it–I said I’d pay for the lessons. (and you pay for 4 months all in advance!) My G.daughter loves it, but I don’t see any progress when she plays–mostly one hand–no note reading, etc. I’m VERY unhappy about it. What is your opinion of “group lessons?. There are 9 in the class. thank you. J> “
Firstly, I want to start by thanking you for your honesty and sharing your frustrations with your grandaughters music lesson. Let me say right from the beginning, that this is a similar frustration that all grandparents, parents, children and even teachers share in many learning experiences and you are certainly not alone. If I was seeing this in my own daughters music lessons, I would be feeling the same emotions and reconsidering if I had made the right choices too!
So how do you?
a) Help your granddaughter continue to enjoy piano lessons- From what you wrote in the email, this sounds like it is important to her and your daughter in law,
b) Ensure she achieves- You are the paying customer and want to see some return for the money you need to continually payout (and I know that it adds up quickly!). You have also had the experience of playing the piano from a very young age, so you feel that she will give up if she becomes bored or starts to underachieve. It is important to have common ground with your grandchild and it seems like piano playing is certainly strong common connection you would like to have with her.
From the outset, I want to let you know that this post won’t make a decision for you. However, I know it will encourage you to make the right course of action to support yourself and your family in getting the most out of her music sessions in an environment that best suits you all at your grandaughters age. I have thoroughly considered the research available to me and have thought about my own experiences on this topic. I want to let you know that I really care that this blog will help your grandaughter thrive in music.
I would love to hear how you get on in due course and I would love for other grandparents, parents, students or teachers to add to this discussion and share their own experiences. If you would like to take part and share your stories, just fill in the comment box below.
So let’s get to it…
In my experience as a teacher and business owner in my own music school and as an Aunty to or 5 nieces and nephews (at the time) who all learned through our music school system, I learned that every child is different. Everyone has different needs to fulfill and have different learning styles and abilities.
You see, I thought I knew it all. With my experience in studying music for my school years, then completing a university degree, then teaching classroom music while spending every extra minute I had with ensemble, band and choir rehearsals, then teaching group and individual lessons, then to going back and teach a classroom in different countries…I thought I knew all there was to children learning music.
When I started to work in our own music school, I soon discovered I was incredibly wrong!
I forgot one important point in my teaching and the courses I taught. I forgot that every parent, grandparent, child and teacher has very different needs. The amazing thing about human needs is that no two people are the same and they all play music for different reasons.
In the beginning of our new music school, there were times that things started to feel like they were going well. We ran groups of junior level piano courses such as the one your grandaughter participates in and it worked for some, but for others, it just didn’t work and they dropped out quickly.
At first, we believed that’s just the way it was – that not everybody was cut out for learning music and so there was a natural drop out rate after the first few lessons. After a while, our belief started to change and we started to say to ourselves that wasn’t good enough. We started to believe that anyone can enjoy music at any age as long as it completely fulfills their needs and their caregiver or parent needs. If it was not compliant between a parent or the caregiver and the child then it almost always didn’t work out. If the parent or caregiver agreed with the type of course undertaken and supported it- it always worked out.
So at our school, what we found ourselves doing was re-learning what was important to each individual family and tailoring our courses to their needs and wants. So we started to ask each individual family “What is it that you want to get out of your music lessons?”
This one question changed everything..we asked this to every family that ever came through our doors and it completely revolutionized our business from one that some people just loved to one that everyone just loved and raved about, because it met our students and families needs.
That’s great, but How does this help me? I hear you ask…
My advice would be to find out what’s important to your grandaughter and to her mother. Ask them “What is it that they might want to get out of their music lessons”. You may find that they have a different reason for it than you do.
By the way.. the most common response to the question was “We just want to see (our child) enjoy and have fun with music” – in this case, every time the group lesson structure always worked remarkably well. Both parents and children always enjoyed their lessons immensely and always finished the remainder of the course. Paying in advance was a wonderful way to ensure that the family knew when the beginning and the end of the course occurred. If they chose to end lessons after the duration of the course there were no hard feelings from the teacher – and in almost every case after implementing this pay in advance program more families actually continued after the duration of the course on to the next levels.
Very rarely was it an answer such as they wanted their child to learn Fur Elise within a year of starting- and if it was, we suggested a private lesson so that this could happen- it kept everybody happy- happy parents and children are all that matters in a child’s learning and development and the achievement then comes naturally.
So that’s it. I know it’s not rocket science, but its that one question that will help you know where to go next with your grandaughters music lessons are whether group or private lessons are best for her.