Group vs. Private Music Lessons: Which is Best for Kids?
Should you go the private or group route for music lessons? It depends on you and your kids. There isn't necessarily a right answer for everyone and it can also depend on the instrument. Both of my kids started group piano lessons at Yamaha Music School at the age of four. The nice thing about group lessons is that kids have the opportunity to do lots of ensemble playing. A downside is that groups can move slower than private for kids who are fast learners and too fast for kids who are slow learners. There are pros and cons to both and you have to consider your own set of circumstances.
Consider Your Personal Circumstances
If your child is under age 9 or so, you will have to help them with practice. Are you a procrastinator? If so, group lessons can be great because your child will have to keep up with a class. It can be easier to practice every day knowing a certain amount of material will have to be accomplished for the following week. Are you very busy though? If you're very busy helping your child practice every day may be difficult. An older child can practice without help but keep their schedule in mind.
Your child may need to spend about 20 and sometimes 30 minutes practicing 5 or 6 days a week. You need to determine if that's realistic for you and your child to do. If not, private lessons are self paced. If your child is a slow learner or has difficulty focusing private lessons are also ideal since they will go at the pace of your child. If your child learns quickly, they should do well in a group setting but it may be too slow for some kids.
What is your own level of music knowledge? Early group classes are usually parent participation, so you can learn along with your child if you have no musical experience. It can be harder for an inexperienced parent to learn sitting in on private lessons every week. It's something you should discuss with any potential teachers because a young child will need your help.
Consider the Instrument
Some instruments may be harder to learn in a group setting. My daughter took two months of group guitar but felt like she wasn't learning very much. We now have a guitar teacher coming to our house every week to teach her and it's really exposed the limitations of group guitar instruction. The private teacher takes time to teach her how to hold the guitar correctly so it doesn't hurt her wrist. He shows her the best finger placement for each chord. He monitors each chord change to make sure she's moving her fingers correctly.
When she did group lessons the instructor had all the kids sit around him and showed them everything as a group. He didn't provide individual instruction to each child. She also gets to choose which songs she wants to learn. I could see that she made much more progress with just two months of private instruction versus her two months of group instruction.
Cost of Private Versus Group Lessons
Cost is another huge factor. Private lessons often cost more. In the first Yamaha school we attended private lessons cost $50 more per month than group. For that reason alone, it made sense for me to keep my first child in group classes. However our new Yamaha school has 60 minute rather than 45 minute group classes. So, they charge more for group classes than the previous school did. Their private 30 minute lessons cost just $20 more per month than group. So moving my younger child to private after two years of group classes was an easier financial decision.
Since costs vary by school you'll have to weigh if paying x amount more per month for private versus group is worth it. Contact each school in your area to find private versus group prices. Keep in mind that your child may progress much faster with individualized instruction so you also have to consider if paying less for group with slower progress is worth it. It will all depend on your budget.
The guitar teacher we hire is a college student studying music. His main instrument is guitar. If there's a university in your area they should have an online jobs board for their students. Most allow individuals to post jobs for tutoring. I pay $25 for a one hour lesson. Most private guitar teachers in my area charge $25 to $35 for a 30 minute lesson.
One downside of this is that college students typically won't offer any kind of yearly performance for your kids because they usually don't have enough students or time to put on a performance event. Luckily we have a School of Rock in our area, so my daughter gets the opportunity to do performances with them through their summer camp programs. Look around in your area to find out if your child has opportunities for performances if your teacher can't provide it. If performances are very important to you, doing private instruction through a school may be a better alternative since many offer yearly concerts.
A sample group lesson
Ultimately, there's no easy answer to the group versus private question. You'll have the weigh the pros and cons of each option to decide what's best for you and your child. What works well for one child may not work well for another. You can often move from group to private but depending on the program you may not be able to move from private to group. So, keep that in mind when deciding whether to put younger kids into group programs like those offered by Yamaha or Suzuki. Ask the schools in your area if you can sit in on one of their beginner group classes. Seeing a group class in action can help you make a decision.