Meri’s Musical Musings

Just a few more misconceptions about music and music lessons

Posted on: November 9, 2011

The so-called final part was getting too long, so here’s one last one to finish up:

Fast pieces are harder than slow pieces

Many students, especially male students, like playing fast pieces and often ignore or don’t play the slow ones. But students need to remember there are many occasions where slow pieces are much more suitable than fast ones. Slow pieces demand much more in phrasing, use of dynamics (louds and softs), have more challenging harmonies for memorization, and often have more challenging left hand configurations. For wind and string players, slow pieces require demonstration of excellent tone quality, precise articulation, and bow/breath control.

Student recitals are not important

Student recitals are important for students, parents, and teachers! For students, they are an opportunity to share what they’ve learned, to meet others who are just like them, to get inspired by pieces they may want to play, sometimes an opportunity to play on a fine instrument, and, in a few cases, give students important reality checks. For teachers, they are a showcase of the teacher’s performance as teachers, and are the result of carefully planning many details. For parents, they can be a record of progress, to see pieces their child might like to play within the next little while, the chance to see how other students compare to their children, whether for better or worse relative to age and length of study.

Non-school groups are not important in applications to study music after high school for band and orchestra instruments

Even if they weren’t considered in an application to study music after high school, they are important in providing additional challenge for students who excel in their school music programs and a social experience for talented musicians. However, they are often a significant part of the application, especially if a student has played in an All-State or All-Province Band or even in a National group. But to get to those higher level groups, often students have to be in the city and region wide groups.

Playing percussion in a band or orchestra is easy

In many schools, percussion instruments are only open to those who have studied the piano to at least an intermediate level. Not only that, percussion players in most pieces play very little, which requires keeping track of what is going on in the music to come in at the exact time.

Students should always get the instrument they or their parents want them to play.

Sometimes this is simply not possible, often because of the student’s abilities, occasionally because of the student’s physical features. For example, a good ear for accurate pitch is required for string and brass instruments, which there are some young students who do not find pitches reliably on their voice or on an instrument. Some students have a very poor sense of appropriate tone quality even after months of study. Some instruments are challenging for students because the student’s fine motor skills are significantly underdeveloped for their age, which is especially important for the piano, but also woodwind instruments. Percussion and instruments which there is usually only one player need an accurate sense of rhythm and when to come in at the appropriate time. On the other hand, students who say, might want to play flute but show strong harmonization and pitch finding skills might want to try the horn, which many ensembles have too few players on that instrument. A potential violin player with a good sense of harmony and long enough arms should be encouraged towards the viola, especially since they will usually be much more in demand if they play an instrument not commonly played.

Children should be given the choice whether to take music lessons or not

Many children, because they think music lessons are boring, who might not want to practice, or who have heard about their friends having bad experiences with music lessons, will NOT want to take music lessons. However, there are many studies that point out the ways music and academic achievement are linked for example.

A person who can play say, Level 8 pieces of a particular instrument (usually piano) is playing at that level.

It’s not the pieces so much that define the level, but the technical elements required for each level. Some people who can play the advanced pieces at the higher levels have little fluency in the technical elements required for that level, or don’t even play the pieces at the higher levels that well because of their lack of technical fluency. In fact, some pieces are significantly harder or easier than the average piece for that level. Occasionally though, you may know a musician who can play more difficult technical elements and pieces than they have received a certificate for.

Students should start private lessons on an instrument as early as possible.

Unless the child is BEGGING for lessons on a specific instrument (often because of hearing and seeing older siblings play instruments), starting private lessons younger than about 6 years old may not be that effective.

Older children should do better at music lessons than younger children

My own experience, and that of several music teachers I know, is that younger siblings tend to do better than older siblings at music. Perhaps this is because the younger siblings have had many more experiences to hearing older siblings practice and play music, which the older siblings have had less musical exposure. One way of countering some competition is to have each child study different, and when possible, complementary instruments, though all children should have a basic grounding in the piano.

An acoustic piano is too loud to have in an apartment or townhouse

While it is probably better to have a digital if a student is a beginner, especially if the beginner is one that struggles with musical skills, or if the tuning of the piano is off, if the person living in an apartment or townhouse that has an acoustic piano is an upper intermediate, advanced, or professional player, sometimes you may even get people wondering where that great piano playing is coming from, and possible referrals to a teacher if they decide to take lessons.

You have to take music exams consecutively

Many students, especially quick learners, teen beginners and adults who do exams usually skip the first 2-3 levels of exams on an instrument for the practical exams. Sometimes students end up working at a new level that is one step higher than their previous one, but master the concepts and the technical elements quickly that they would be extremely bored until the next exam sessions. My first practical exam was Level 4 piano, which I skipped 5, did Level 6, skipped 7 (though spent a lot of time on the material) and have done consecutive exams since. With clarinet, my first was Level 8 (since my previous experience I was highly skilled), only did the Advanced Rudiments exam of the four rudiments exams available, and am doing the rest of the theory exams. I also have a piano student who whipped through Level 6 piano in about 4 months too, because he is a very sure fingered student who learns extremely quickly.

There are only a very few times when you can start music lessons

While the traditional point to start music lessons is around the beginning of the new school year, many independent teachers will start new students at almost any time in the year. However, music schools usually have only three times to start lessons: September, January, and July, though some are getting more flexible and allow students to start at most times of the year.


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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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