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When to switch to private lessons?
#2853304 05/28/19 09:02 PM
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My five year old does group solfege lessons (a bit like Orff) at a music school because the teacher says that kids shouldn’t start private lessons before 7 years old. Even at 7 she says group classes are better. She says it’s too hard and boring for most kids to do private lessons so they almost all quit, whereas no one quits group solfege class as it’s more fun and interactive.

The school clearly makes more money from group classes: 6 kids each paying $30 for a 40 minute class earns more than 1 kid paying $35 for a 30 minute private lesson.

I showed my son a John Thompson book and he had no idea what to do, despite a year of group classes. His classes are more about singing do-re-mi-fa-so on the floor and touching their shoulders, knees etc. then going to a keyboard to press those keys. There’s no technical instruction and no sight reading. They learn notes and counting for drawing homework but not playing.

Is he wasting a lot of time that would be better spent on private lessons, or is it better to stick with it?

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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853348 05/28/19 11:54 PM
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Welcome, Mariner. Nice question. I tend to agree with the teacher who is recommending that your son carry on for another year or two with group musicianship classes. He is certainly not wasting his time, though you haven't told us if he enjoys his class activities, his fellow students, or his teacher. You also haven't told us how long he has been at this group learning already.

You don't seem to accept the premise of this music awareness class - namely, that it is not keyboard related, but about music. Movement, listening, rhythm, singing, etc. This is far from a waste of time, and will pay ready dividends for your son's musicality not just through his childhood, but over a lifetime.

Obviously you can yank him out of this anytime, and get him into traditional one-on-one lessons as you seem to prefer. My professional opinion is that if he doesn't dislike his present classes, they are serving him better than private piano for at least a full year, and maybe 2 years. Not longer.

Whenever he does make this switch, I would prefer that he switch to 45-minute private lessons, not 30-minute lessons. Or another option is to have him do both endeavors at once, given that there is no home practice expected in the classes. Preferably with two different music teachers.

Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853363 05/29/19 01:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Mariner
I showed my son a John Thompson book and he had no idea what to do, despite a year of group classes.

Well, it's John Thompson. I've taken transfer students who studied with that method for two years, and they still have no idea what to do with it.

Don't expect your son to get anything out of these kiddie programs. Just let him be exposed to "music activities' and don't expect piano to be learned. Enjoy the process.

When he's ready, you can find him an expert teacher who's good at fixing Transfer Wrecks from kiddie programs and turning them into actual musicians.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853373 05/29/19 02:02 AM
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My daughter was in Yamaha group class 4y to 6y. She was actually enjoying a lot the first year and a bit bored the second one. I also think she learned a lot in term of musicianship and even about piano as I could help her at home and we had a proper digital piano.
At the half of the second year (she was 5.5y old), she started private lesson with Jazz professor. No reading no solfege, just more ear training, impro and singing but on a 1to1 framework.
She loved that, it was supposed to be 30m course but since she was the last, the teacher would often stretch the course to 1h.
At 6y she dropped out Yamaha and for one year she continued with the jazz teacher and started format training with a classical private professor.
Even with this formal training, I still think that she learned more from Yamaha and the jazz teacher.
Now she was selected at the local conservatoire where she can continue up to master level if she wants. She has a top piano teacher and she follow classes of music theory/solfege.

At the end I think that there is time to get more formal but it depend on the kid. For our daughter, it was great to have a 1-1 course but not formal, but I think for that you might need a super teacher.

I think that a big part of the equation is how she is cooping with music and for this you do not say much.
When we started with the 1-1 lessons, we said we give it a moth or two, if it does not work we go back to collective classes. I think it is worth exploring, but with a flexible mind...

Last edited by fofig; 05/29/19 02:03 AM.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853445 05/29/19 08:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Mariner
I showed my son a John Thompson book and he had no idea what to do


You're probably not showing him this JT book:

https://www.amazon.com/John-Thompsons-Easiest-Piano-Course/dp/0877180121

Don't use any others - JT or otherwise. Everyone around me (aged 6-10) when I was a kid learnt on it, and everyone learnt piano successfully (as in getting to Grade 8 ABRSM). With teachers - one to one.

If you want him to learn piano, he needs a private teacher one to one, but he might be too young at five.

Incidentally, when I was at kindergarten (a long, long time ago), we had music incorporated into daily classes. Just singing nursery songs (whose words we couldn't understand, because we knew no English) and clapping in time. No musical instruments, or pressing keys on any. They developed our ears without messing up our concept of note reading, which can - and should - wait till proper private lessons.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853496 05/29/19 10:00 AM
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John Thompson is not a great book - any kind, IMO. But I am also not surprised your son couldn't play out of it. Group lessons don't really work. I've tried them myself many times. Sure, some activities of ensemble playing is fun and helpful, but you still need the one-on-one time of lessons to learn how to play and read music.

Why not see if there's a private teacher who will do a trial lesson with him and ask them if they feel he's ready for lessons?


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853502 05/29/19 10:04 AM
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I find John Thompson Modern works very, very well for adults, especially those with some prior musical experience.

bennevis, I've always used Burnam's Step By Step with children, but I'll look into Thompson's Easiest.

I can't abide the newer methods - they make me want to gouge out my eyes, and I am not convinced of their pedagogical soundness.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Morodiene #2853541 05/29/19 11:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Morodiene
Group lessons don't really work. I've tried them myself many times. Sure, some activities of ensemble playing is fun and helpful, but you still need the one-on-one time of lessons to learn how to play and read music.

This has been my experience as well; however, my complaint is specific to the two biggest programs that we have in my immediate area. They never fail to churn out Transfer Wrecks who know nothing about music, and in many cases made it HARDER for me to teach piano properly. In fact, I have one transfer student who has been with me for almost two years now, and other kids who started lessons from scratch with me (months later) are now way ahead of her. It's like these kiddie programs make sure that these kids will become awful musician with negative abilities, so that private teachers will have to work harder to correct their bad habits.

I am open to the idea that there are exceptional kiddie programs out there in the world. I just haven't seen them yet.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Dr. Rogers #2853544 05/29/19 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr. Rogers
I can't abide the newer methods - they make me want to gouge out my eyes, and I am not convinced of their pedagogical soundness.

I would encourage you to try Alfred Premier or Piano Adventures (or even Hal Leonard) with your newest beginners. Try teaching them directional and intervallic reading before letter names on the staff. It will make a huge difference.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
AZNpiano #2853563 05/29/19 12:08 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

I would encourage you to try Alfred Premier or Piano Adventures (or even Hal Leonard) with your newest beginners. Try teaching them directional and intervallic reading before letter names on the staff. It will make a huge difference.


Here's my biggest concern about the new methods: I'm not hearing good results from young people who have been taught from those methods. What I'm hearing from youth these days is often nothing short of disgraceful - recitals, festival performances, and even competition entries that just make me shake my head. Even from youth who are winning competitions at the state level... performances that my teacher many years ago would not have allowed at small church recital! This is why I've dug in my heels and still teach from older materials using old methods.

I don't know what's going on, really. Is it the method books? Has teaching declined (though I know there are many, many great teachers, including most of the regulars on this form)? Are there just too many distractions for children these days? Are standards declining? Was my teacher back in the 1980s (not that long ago) just very exacting?

Your success teaching reading with the intervallic method (to the probably hyperbolic extent that you don't have to do much in lessons) reflects, I would think, more on your skill as a teacher rather than the particular techniques or method book.


Austin Rogers, PhD
Music Teacher in Cedar Park, TX
Baldwin SD-10 Concert Grand "Kuroneko"
Re: When to switch to private lessons?
AZNpiano #2853585 05/29/19 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by Morodiene
Group lessons don't really work.

This has been my experience as well;


The purpose of group lessons was not to teach music but to recruit students.

Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853590 05/29/19 01:25 PM
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I agree that the group lessons aren't necessarily going to translate into students playing the piano. I've had students who have taken these types of keyboard-based music classes, and they haven't really been any further ahead than the average new beginner, aside from being familiar with some rhythm concepts, forte/piano dynamics and maybe just being comfortable messing around on the piano.
If you think your kid is ready for one-on-one instruction, then try it out. He needs to be able to follow instructions, sit still for at least short periods of time, have some reading ability and developing fine motor skill. If those aren't present, then why not let him enjoy the social activity with other kids and playtime with music for another few years.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
AZNpiano #2853594 05/29/19 01:44 PM
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Are all group lessons the same? Are group lessons in Australia, using a Orff and Solfege base, the same as group lessons that kids get when they subsequently show up up in the studio of a teacher in the US in Canada? Just food for thought. Is enough known at this point about what the OP's child is learning?

Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853607 05/29/19 02:39 PM
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Group and private serve different purposes. If you are looking for private results via group or group benefits via private, of course there will be a problem. It's about expectations.

It's certainly possible, but not always true, that private lessons are too hard and boring while groups are fun and interactive. It's about teaching style and personal interaction.

If someone doesn't care for the group education benefits, then why bother. Some people also think that private lessons are a waste of time if the student isn't diligent and high-achieving whereas others might be happy to see and spend time with the teacher each week despite making what could be considered slow progress.

If your private teacher wants you to learn and do the sorts of things that are done in a group, and you are not in a group, then either you find someone who doesn't ask for those things, or you spend private lesson time on them, meaning less time available for learning and doing the things that are more specific to private lessons.

Re: When to switch to private lessons?
keystring #2853624 05/29/19 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Are all group lessons the same? Are group lessons in Australia, using a Orff and Solfege base, the same as group lessons that kids get when they subsequently show up up in the studio of a teacher in the US in Canada? Just food for thought. Is enough known at this point about what the OP's child is learning?

Like I said, I'm open to the possibility that there are competent kiddie programs in the world.

However, the OP did relay a few pieces of information that are quite alarming to me:

1) She was told that 7-year-old kids should do group lessons.

2) She was told most kids stay in group lessons.

3) She was told that most younger beginners in private lessons quit piano because it's too hard.

Based on these couple pieces of misinformation, I'd wager that the OP is stuck in one of those kiddie programs that are more interested in making money than teaching anything worthwhile.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
AZNpiano #2853658 05/29/19 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
Are all group lessons the same? Are group lessons in Australia, using a Orff and Solfege base, the same as group lessons that kids get when they subsequently show up up in the studio of a teacher in the US in Canada? Just food for thought. Is enough known at this point about what the OP's child is learning?


No, we don't really know enough about the program to be able to judge.
There are teachers in my area doing good work with the Music for Young Children program, but I don't know how common that is in other places. And even with a quality program, kids aren't necessarily going to be able to play something out of a random method book after one year of group classes.

Originally Posted by AZNpiano

However, the OP did relay a few pieces of information that are quite alarming to me:

1) She was told that 7-year-old kids should do group lessons.

2) She was told most kids stay in group lessons.

3) She was told that most younger beginners in private lessons quit piano because it's too hard.

Based on these couple pieces of misinformation, I'd wager that the OP is stuck in one of those kiddie programs that are more interested in making money than teaching anything worthwhile.


Maybe the teacher has better results with 7+ beginners, and the group classes provide something for the younger kids to do.

In the end, I think it's all about readiness and what the student or parent expects to get out of the activity.


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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853670 05/29/19 07:19 PM
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Yes, Mariner might well explore both Yamaha group piano programs and Music for Young Children (MYC) programs in his or her part of Australia.

Last edited by Peter K. Mose; 05/29/19 07:19 PM.
Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853671 05/29/19 07:28 PM
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I started my son with private lessons at 6 (he’s now 12) but that was only because fortunately Yamaha group lessons were at inconvenient times. Having been through 6 years of individual lessons I can’t imagine a kid getting much out of group lessons. The problem is that successful piano lessons requires a continuous feedback loop. Rhythm, dynamics, notes feedback is so individualized it just doesn’t work well in groups. Also everyone is going at a different speed. My son practices about one to two hours a day and you can’t compare his progress with a kid that practices 30 minutes a day etc.

Last edited by pianoMom2006; 05/29/19 07:31 PM.

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Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853687 05/29/19 08:40 PM
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Such varied responses so far!

My son loves his music class and that’s because it’s fun. He’s attended for a year and a half. It’s never boring because the actions and tasks change every few minutes.

Out of curiosity I’ve started teaching him my old John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course Part One for 5-10 minutes daily (I’m not a teacher). Here’s what I’ve noticed after three lessons:

-He can’t sight read at all because in his music classes they look at their fingers because they’re taught what to press beforehand by singing the notes.
-Thompson requires saying number timing 1-2-3-4 out loud; my son’s class sings out either the note name in solfege or a word for the note length (tan=1, ta-an=2, ta-an-dot=3) instead. Solfege and words are much easier so we’re sticking to words for now.
-he’s enjoying doing the Thompson lessons even though by page 3 they’re already harder than group solfege classes. His progress will probably be faster than a kid with no musical background at all.
-some solfege lessons are surprisingly advanced and learnt effortlessly. He sings and plays various chords without knowing their names or even trying. When he encounters them in Thompson’s Book 2 as “G major” etc. it’ll stick easily.

I’ll teach him John Thompson every day. It’s completely opposite to his classes so maybe they’ll compliment each other somehow? My wife won’t even try a trial private lesson so this is the best I can do for now.

Re: When to switch to private lessons?
Mariner #2853709 05/29/19 09:55 PM
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Hi Mariner, I'm not clear, which teacher is saying that kids shouldn't start private lessons before 7? From what I hear, I believe it is true that many private piano teachers will not take kids before age 6.

Seeing that she says group lessons are "better" for 7 year olds because they get bored, you can already tell what their primary vision is for piano. It's fun. Does that match your vision of what piano lessons is for? Think about that. I mean, if it does, it's totally okay, but if it's not, you'll want to find someone who matches your vision. How serious is your child about music? PianoMom says her child practices 1-2 hours a day. Sorry to expose myself, but I have never in my life practiced 2 hours a day ... unless I was playing Disney music, or something. Even 1 hour was difficult for me, which I soldiered through because I got stamps from my teacher and also peer pressure of not wanting to be the bottom person on her practice chart...... and I stayed with piano until the end of high school. My brother didn't even last through high school and my parents eventually let him quit.
That's not to say he doesn't like music. He actually has a much better ear than I do and picked up ukulele in college. But the structured-ness of piano and you do it my way loud here and soft there and if you don't practice I won't be happy, I think that really took the joy out of it. Within my teacher's piano studio, I knew of one kid who infamously among us practiced hours a day and whom we (I mean we, the other students who took lessons from the same teacher) considered a little prodigy. He went on to go to conservatory unsurprisingly.

My opinions...

I myself started at age 4 with group lessons in Yamaha. Indeed I enjoyed the group lessons and they were well-suited to my personality, as I was shy, not very confident, and preferred to watch things before jumping in. I don't think what you've described is a waste of time. Private lessons would have been a bit intimidating I think for me. I have taught a 4 year old myself, unsuccessfully, I believe because I did not fully realize what it takes to teach a kid that young -- a lot of encouragement and fun and affirmation. By week 3 he told me he HATED piano and refused to touch it, even though he was totally able up to that point to do everything I asked him to, and it came out of the blue! I was blindsided. I think he would have enjoyed group lessons. Plus, it is also an opportunity to learn skills like practicing regularly, without the added load of learning to read or the pressure of performing in front of someone. And it is fun! Plus, seeing a bunch of other kids doing what you're doing I think boosts motivation. Music is cool! We're all doing it together~ smile
I don't think I learned to read music in those group classes. I remember we were given music with notes on them but we did not actually have to know how to read them. I think I started learning to read somewhere at the end of group lessons and before I started private lessons and I don't remember it taking very long to understand the concept. What you describe with singing and pressing notes sounds like a great way to train the ear which is especially trainable at a young age. He also is learning keyboard geography, and getting a sense of what chords feel like, even if he isn't able to tell you what he's doing.

I agree with Peter, I wouldn't keep him in there longer than 2 years. I have had kids come to me who have been in a group situation for years and it seemed to me that by their age, group lessons were no longer so useful. As individual progress begins to diverge, I don't see how one teacher can effectively teach a class like that. Of course it is better than nothing, but if you are paying so much, you may as well have a private teacher at that point.

As far as bad habits, the only "bad habit" my teacher vocally corrected quite firmly was my use of "do-re-mi" in naming the notes. Which I promptly corrected. If I had any others, she did not make them known to me :P

Dr. Rogers~ I doubt what you speak of is a "method" issue. I think it is a generation issue and the age we live in. I accompanied a choir for the past year for the school district I grew up in. I was shocked how poorly the children are able to concentrate and be quiet when they are to be quiet. Kids behaving in ways that would have been unthinkable when I was in school... and the disrespect! How can you learn anything when you disrespect authority? I have also heard from a piano teacher who taught for many years that she noticed kids are coming in with less strength in their fingers and she never saw this issue before ~ she hypothesized it had to do with the decrease in physical play and an increase in screentime, which would mean less time developing motor skills necessary for piano. Also we hear teachers complain so much about how over-scheduled kids are these days.


~piano teacher in training~
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