Meri’s Musical Musings

Why should music students take private lessons on a band or orchestra instrument?

Posted on: September 1, 2011

First, the more students that take private lessons in an ensemble, the better the ensemble typically sounds. In the state of Texas, many school ensembles have at least 75% of the members taking private lessons, and in Carmel, Indiana, there is one ensemble where 95% of the members take private lessons from competent teachers, and they have received hundreds of awards for their musicianship.

Second, private lessons will reduce or eliminate frustration for students, and give them confidence in their playing. For slower students, it means students can receive much more attention to solving the difficulties they are having than most school music teachers have, and often means the difference between sticking with an instrument and giving up. For faster students, it means that they do not have to wait for other students to catch up, and can forge ahead by learning new studies and repertoire.

Third, in schools where very few students take private lessons, those that do typically have the principal chair in their section. (except on instruments there are usually at least a few taking private lessons, usually violin, and sometimes flute)

Fourth, in some ensembles, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for students who do not take private lessons to be accepted, because either the ensemble requires that participants study with a teacher, or because it is EXTREMELY competitive, especially in wind sections for youth symphony orchestras.

Fifth, competent private teachers can nip minor playing problems that are developing in student’s early instrumental instruction before they become much more challenging to overcome.

Sixth, students taking private lessons, particularly school age ones, benefit in positive ways from a relationship with an adult who is not related to them or as a school teacher.

Seventh, if the student takes private lessons on an instrument, they will usually be allocated their first choice of instrument, and not have to switch.  In some cases, students who play certain instruments to at least an early intermediate level who are using their first instrument as a precedent to the instrument they really want to play (starting on clarinet and wanting to switch to saxophone), are almost guaranteed to get the instrument they want to switch to.

Eighth, music reading problems, whether of pitch or rhythm, are more likely to be caught by a good private teacher on a band or string instrument. Many students learning in school music programs write in note names, and others have problems playing or sight-reading rhythms independently when they have not heard the rhythm played by other students and the teacher. I have known several of the former, and I was a follower in terms of playing rhythms accurately until one day in Grade 11 I figured out the musical counting. But many students will not figure it out for themselves and will quit playing because of music reading problems.

Ninth, for students who are auditioning for special music programs at the high school level, and especially beyond the high school level, a quality private teacher will guide them towards pieces that not only fulfill the requirements of the audition, but also shows the student off at their best. For example, a clarinet student I had about 2 1/2 years ago (who is now in the second half of her 2nd year of a music education program in university) wanted to do the Poulenc Clarinet Sonata for her sonata requirement at the schools that had it. However, it’s very difficult, she was struggling with it, and there were only about 3 months before her first audition when she started lessons with me. After trying several pieces that satisfied the minimum level (Royal Conservatory Level 8) but could perform successfully (many students attempt to play pieces that are way beyond their ability and don’t show their strengths)  and type of work (two movements from a sonata or concerto), we settled on the Saint-Saens clarinet sonata (Level 9) which she performed successfully several times, at 4 auditions, one of my student concerts, a church service, and a conservatory exam.) We also found a piece that she absolutely loved for her 20th century piece requirement, a piece she had never heard of but went with her one day to the reference library after exhausting my personal collection and her practicing it at home. (It was Divertimento by Talivaldis Kenins for clarinet and piano, which is a Level 10 piece) Not only that, I filled her in on the sight-singing requirement for one of her auditions, improved her melody playback to a very good level, improved her piano skills somewhat, coached her on the interview portion, coached her on the essay portion, and coached her on the rudiments and harmony portions of the written exams required.  In addition, a private teacher that a student is successful with would satisfy one of the 2-4 references required at most special music programs. I personally cannot imagine any student attempting to learn all this on their own, plus it would be very difficult to do so.

Finally, students who take private lessons will have more opportunities to see other students about their age or a little older who play well, which may inspire them, or even have a new set of friends, especially if the teacher hosts concerts for students.


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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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