The Thirty Minute Music Lesson
Have you ever wondered why a 30-minute private music lesson is the standard for beginning instrumental pedagogy? I have. I have tried different approaches yet I always seem to return to the 30-minute model. I began learning the guitar with a 30-minute, private lesson once per week. I am still teaching half hour lessons all of these years later.
In fact, I feel like my whole life is divided into 30-minute blocks of time. Certainly, a half hour seems like a small amount of time to spend on something as monumental as learning to play an instrument, but this is what most teachers and students are working with.
Why Thirty Minutes?
I believe that the 30-minute lesson has evolved primarily due to cost, convenience, and efficacy.
I have experimented briefly with group lessons. Teachers can earn more and parents can pay less with group lessons but I have found that group music lessons work best when combined with the traditional 30-minute music lesson. Group classes work well for theory, music history, and recital practice. An instrument, however, requires one on one teaching methods, since each individual’s needs differ so drastically from one young musician to the next. Group lessons turn into group practice sessions, where one individual is isolated with the instructor while the rest of the group practices on their own.
Making the Most of Thirty Minutes
This brings us back around to the 30-minute music lesson. How can we as teachers make the most of this small amount of time with our students?
First and foremost we have to educate our students and their parents about the importance of daily practice. I always ask my students how much math they would learn if they only attended school for 30 minutes per week. Although most students will tell me, they would love to have only half an hour of school each week, they all admit that they wouldn’t learn much. This is my chance to make the point that without regular practice they will not learn much about their instrument either.
It is also important to pace the lesson to fit the individual student’s needs. Most experienced teachers are very good at this. With most of my students, the lesson begins with technical exercises. After that, I hear the pieces assigned the previous week. Sometimes the student needs more work on this material. If the student is ready, I introduce new music. We finish up with scales. I usually teach theory along with the music with which the student is working and send home extra theory work if needed.
Lastly, it is best to write everything down in a notebook that the student takes home. I make sure students are clear about what work needs to be done at home. I give the students a daily schedule so that they can keep track of their practicing. If need be, I can record things for them to review at home (all of my parents and/or students have smart phones).
I don’t believe that the 30-minute music lesson will be going away anytime soon. (Although my advanced students take hour lessons). With good planning and regular practice, 30-minute lessons can work well for both students and teachers.