Whether it is right away or later on in a child’s music “career”, studying privately yields amazing benefits for the young musician. Students who study privately will improve much faster than students who don’t and tend to have more opportunity to perform at higher levels, be it at regional and youth bands/orchestras or at local honor festivals. That said, many students enjoy a wonderful K-12 (and beyond) experience without private lessons, so parents should not fret if lessons are not on the front burner priority-wise.
The First Teacher
If you decide to go the private lesson route, know that the first teacher sets the tone for what may be the rest of the child’s playing life. The most important thing to remember is that music should be fun at the beginning stages. A major goal of the first year of lessons should be that the student wants to play for another year.
The first teacher does not need to be the greatest musician in the world, but they absolutely must be someone who relates well to kids and gets them excited about making music. They need to be someone with high expectations, who challenges students but keeps it light and fun at the same time. Someone who cements the fundamentals (bow hold, embouchure) in a creative and engaging way; making games out of basic skills and even giving stickers out sometimes!
Delaying the Lessons
Your child can have a fantastic time in band/orchestra/chorus without private lessons. If it makes you feel better, there are many professional musicians who did not take private lessons until high school and still became successful. If you think there is a chance that your child will be serious about music and plays a string instrument specifically, lessons early on are very important. Somehow, winds, brass and percussionists can live with just the lessons in school for a while and still grow into fine musicians with private study later.
The drawback of no private lessons early on is that there is a greater chance of the student developing bad playing habits. If the student gets private lessons later, the first year or two may be spent building good habits over the bad ones!
Finding a Teacher
Most school directors have a list of recommended instructors who live locally; that is the first resource parents should tap. Local music shops have teachers associated with the store, as well. Before calling a teacher, you should decide where you want to have the lessons (at your home or at the instructor’s home or at the store).
Remember that cost of lessons is tricky, and prices range from $15 – $100 an hour (and up!). It is safe to say that when it comes to lessons, most of the time you get what you pay for. But your budget is important, so it is possible to find teachers that fit your price range.
A great idea for very young wind, brass or percussionists is to ask a high school student to come tutor them once a week. If the respect and rapport is good between the two students, good growth can occur at a cheap price. After the 5th or 6th grade it will be time to move on to a more serious instructor, most likely. But a high school “buddy” is a great option.
There are many community music schools that offer lessons in addition to other courses, such as music theory, composition, movement, etc. The schools may even have ensembles to play in that are possibly higher level groups than those found in public or private school. Prepare to spend a little more money and a lot more time at the schools, which may meet during the week or on Saturdays. Many of the schools offer financial aid, so it is very worthwhile to look into that.
Young students make fast progress with lessons, there is no doubt. However, any child can have a wonderful and successful musical experience with or without private lessons. As long as parents are committed to slightly monitoring daily practice and stay on top of what is being assigned in school lessons, students will have a fruitful musical life.