Above Photo: Our 6-year-old student, Enzo, preparing for his competition recital at Carnegie Hall, NYC
After 20 years of private music teaching, we've made a discovery. Could a forgotten, centuries-old "one-room schoolhouse" teaching method hold the key to unlocking your child's (or your!) musical ability? There's a secret to making amazing progress, sticking with it, and becoming great at playing music!
To understand how to be great at playing....let's take a look at what happens (and doesn't happen) during a traditional one-on-one private lesson....
Nothing against our childhood music lessons (I dearly loved my first piano teacher, and modeled my first 20 years of music teaching after her). But, the traditional private lesson is BACKWARD! If you've ever experienced private lessons, they were most likely 30 minutes once a week (mine were, too). During the week, on your own, is when you were expected to make the real progress - to remember what was taught/fixed during the lesson, make improvements, memorize stuff, drill on exercises and scales. Then, at the next lesson, the pressure was on to present all that...perfectly...then grab the next assignments. Your teacher sat next to you, ever at the ready to correct mistakes (sometimes before you even made them!). There's a problem with traditional private lessons, and it puts music learners at a huge disadvantage, without even realizing it. Let's examine some serious and obvious flaws with that model...and how to fix them!
Flaws with the traditional private 30-minute weekly lesson:
30-MINUTE LESSONS ARE TOO SHORT Thirty minutes is simply not enough time to cover everything necessary to make fast musical progress, or to allow the student to make a true physical connection to music (at any age!). It might be, if perhaps a student consistently showed up to each lesson ready to play the assigned songs at tempo perfectly, completed all exercises flawlessly, took initiative to work on sight reading new songs during the week, correctly completed pages in their theory workbook, memorized the upcoming recital song. More likely, the student practiced something incorrectly that will then need to be fixed (there goes the rest of the lesson time), ran into struggles and didn't practice everything, forgot about the sight reading, left the theory workbook at home, or didn't practice at all (the lesson is then spent repeating everything from the previous lesson).
TOO MUCH ONE-TO-ONE TIME While you might think having a teacher all to yourself the entire lesson gets you the most for your music dollar, it's not necessarily good for encouraging a student's independence. With the teacher completely accessible the whole time to answer any and all questions, it's too easy for a student to simply ask "What's this note?" rather than work to figure it out, or find the answer. Likewise, it's equally tempting for the teacher to quickly blurt out answers or demonstrate how a song should be played, without allowing the student a chance to attempt it and make their own connections first.
LESSON NERVES You remember your childhood lessons, right?...and feeling like you were on the hot seat, breathing a sigh of relief when it was over? There's a bit of pressure on students during a 30-minute private lesson, with the teacher right beside you the whole time, watching your every move and at-the-ready to provide corrections. What students practiced (or didn't) during the previous week is about to be closely examined and critiqued for mistakes. Personally, I recall being so nervous during my childhood piano lessons that most of what my teacher said was white noise. Nerves during a lesson can severely inhibit students from truly absorbing new information and forming a deeper connection and understanding of their music.
UNSUPERVISED PRACTICE Unfortunately, unless you happen to be the child of a piano teacher, all practice during the week (if there is any) goes unsupervised and unchecked by the teacher. Even the most dedicated practicers work in mistakes and poor habits that need to be "un-practiced" at the next lesson. Another common occurrence is that students may not realize how much time should be spent practicing, and will simply skim through playing their songs rather than mastering them.
LACK OF MASTERY In traditional 30-minute lessons, the bulk of the lesson time is spent either fixing mistakes or introducing new concepts and music. There is very little remaining time for the student to play repeatedly and to truly absorb something new. Repetition and mastery of songs is expected to be done during home practice, and the student is left to decide where that barre is.
LITTLE OR NO SIGHT READING With little or no time during a lesson to practice sight reading (sight reading is the skill of being able to play through a new piece of music almost perfectly without having practiced it beforehand), this skill is often neglected and very underdeveloped in most students. As sight reading becomes more challenging, it's not likely students will put it in their Top Five list of things to work on during the week.
LITTLE OR NO PERFORMING We're not talking about actual formal "performances" here, like recitals or competitions. We mean there is little or no playing in front of people (friends, family, other students). Students might eventually get used to playing comfortably and privately in front of their teacher, but any other playing/practicing is probably done in solitude. Performing and learning to be comfortable playing for others is a skill rarely practiced (no wonder recitals can be such nerve inducing events).
POTENTIAL FOR A WEAK FOUNDATION When you're building something -- a house, a building, anything -- where do you start? How do you build it so it stays in place, doesn't shift or fall so that you can finish the project without endlessly starting over? By putting down a solid FOUNDATION. Without it, music lessons are like constructing a building on quicksand...and a waste of your time. You will still learn some skills along the way, but you're in danger of the slightest "earthquake" setting you back, making you feel like you're not getting any better, or that you can't be as good as the "talented" students. If the weekly lesson format and length simply doesn't allow time for a student to comfortably absorb basic skills and concepts, it's likely those skills will never become "natural".
So, what's the solution?...and the secret to amazing progress, and becoming a great player? How do we build a great foundation?
The solution (and the secret to getting really, really good) is in a lesson design and restructure that addresses the issues of lesson length, nerves, unsupervised practice, lack of mastery, under-developed sight reading skills, under-developed performance skills and anxiety, independence....that allows students to subconsciously and innately absorb music, and master those foundation skills - DURING THE LESSON! Furthermore, we also want PARENTS to feel that sense of "Lesson Success"...to make sure students have conquered any musical and practice issues during their lesson so playing at home is actually FUN -- never a chore, and never a battle. And, that they feel confident showing off - performing - what they can play. Modeled after the one-room schoolhouses of days past, our lesson structure allows them to learn and work within the same classroom, practice independently and confidently at their perfect pace, and on their own personalized lesson plan. At The Music Studio, THE LESSON INCLUDES THE PRACTICE, and PLAYING and HAVING FUN is the homework.