How do you decide which kind of environment best suits your child and your plans for her future? Should you go for private tuition from the very beginning, or try her out in a classroom situation? At what point do you decide to change approach?
The opinions in this article are based on my observations as a Yamaha parent sitting with my child in keyboard class over a period of two years.
From the parents I have spoken with, it seems opinions are divided 50:50 in the Group vs. Private Learning debate. Some parents favor the group learning approach such as that taken by Yamaha Music School. Your child joins a class of 6-9 other peers, and everyone learns the same topics at the same time. Other parents love the individual attention their child gets in a private lesson, especially if the teacher is known to them personally or by word of mouth.
What music learning opportunities are there for young children in Australia?
A quick flick through the parenting magazine Melbourne’s Child and Google produced the following service providers, most of which have branches in several suburbs:
Hey Dee Ho
Yamaha Music School
Forte School of Music
The Yamaha Music School is an internationally recognized chain of music schools that originated in Japan with the non-profit Yamaha Music Foundation and now has more than 7,000 schools in 45 countries. In Australia, more than 50,000 children have participated in Yamaha music programs since the first school was founded in Melbourne in 1970.
What are some advantages of learning in a group?
Benefits of Group Learning with Yamaha
Motivation from learning alongside peers.
Fun, creative and enjoyable music activities that stimulate the child’s interest and sustain her desire to learn.
Annual concerts that allow children to perform publicly and listen to fellow students perform.
The joy of playing in an ensemble.
Systematic approach that starts with learning foundational skills in listening and playing expressively, followed by the ability to read music, all the while gradually building up a wide repertoire of pieces.
Exposure to different orchestral sounds through playing on electronic keyboards.
Qualified teachers who are able to play at at least AMEB Grade 8 level, and possess an ability to relate well to children and parents.
I sat in with my child every week over a two-year period starting from Prep, and saw for myself how she went from tone-deaf to being able to sing on pitch. She can also identify chords and random notes in solfege, play from memory, transpose a piece into a different key and work out the notes for herself by listening to the CD that comes with her course material.
I can think of only two aspects that might discourage some parents from choosing Yamaha.
The first is the lack of emphasis on note recognition, which seems to figure only after the elementary two-year Junior Music Course. What it means is that if I give my child a new piece of music, she would need help interpreting the notes.
The other is that because children learn at different speeds, the more advanced kids may feel frustrated if they are continually held back because the teacher has to ‘teach to the middle’.
One solution is to talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s progress. If she agrees with your assessment that your child is way above the level of her peers, your child can be transferred to a more advanced program which suits her ability better.
Another solution is for your child to take up private tuition in addition to group classes. In private tutoring, there is greater flexibility for the teacher to prescribe more challenging pieces or music concepts for your child to work on.
Benefits of Private Tuition
Individual, one-on-one attention, with no distraction from other learners.
Private lessons are usually shorter, from 30-45 minutes, which makes it easier for young children to concentrate.
The teacher can tailor the curriculum to suit the child’s needs. An advanced child will relish the challenge of learning new concepts and pieces. A child who needs more time can go at the speed most comfortable to her without the pressure of trying to keep up with peers.
There is no need for you to sit with your child for her lessons, which is a requirement with Yamaha for young learners. You can take that time off to have a cuppa, read a paper, or run an errand.
Greater emphasis on music theory and preparedness for AMEB examinations. Parents who appreciate a definite academic outcome with a music qualification at the end of all those years of tuition will like this.
Some tutors are happy to come to your home, which makes it extra convenient for parents, especially if you have two or more children who are having lessons.
So which approach is better: private or group lessons?
It depends on the age of the child and her personality. But it also depends on your parental philosophy. If your aim is for your child to gain an AMEB qualification eventually and perhaps obtain a music scholarship, and your child is musically inclined, I would encourage you to consider private tuition because your child can progress quickly up the grades. Experts say that children learn fastest before they turn 7, and this is definitely a factor to keep in mind.
If your aim is to expose your child to music and to encourage a love of music, the Yamaha approach works well. After the initial two-year foundational course, you can discuss your child’s progress with her teacher and decide whether it is time for private tuition and the AMEB route.
Either way, giving your child an opportunity to learn music at a young age is a decision you will never regret. One of the most common remarks I hear from parents of music students is that they never had the chance to learn the piano when they were younger, and they still regret this missed opportunity.