Q: My children are already in the school's band program. Why would they need private lessons?

A: It's great that your child is in the school band! I'm a band director myself, and I applaud every student who joins my program. 

What happens in the band class is that kids learn musicianship and teamwork dynamics that it takes to play in a band. They learn listening and discipline, and importantly, how to function together as a cohesive group.

Being a musician is more than the group experience of band rehearsals and concerts. Young musicians must practice privately in order to prepare for their band experience. The band rehearsal is not the most efficient place to learn the basics of playing their instrument. Students must put in the hours of practice that it takes to play the instrument before they can bring their skills to bear in the company of others. They must also learn how to perform their own band parts before they can fit them together in a rehearsal.

The band director's attention is mostly focused on the group as a whole, or on sections within the band. There is only so much attention and feedback that the director can give to individual students. That is why it is important that the student receives personal instruction from a qualified private teacher.

Playing an instrument is a difficult thing to master, and it's common to see poor playing habits in students who don't get private instruction. Individual feedback and instruction helps the student make the best use of individual practice time, so that not only are band parts learned well, but individual goals are met.

Q: My child has an older sibling who plays the same instrument. I'll just ask them to help my younger child.

A: It's great if there's someone who can provide occasional help, and working together should be encouraged. However, that older child may not have extensive experience in diagnosing performance problems and explaining to young students how to improve. It's one thing to play an instrument, and quite another thing to teach someone how to play. Investing in lessons from a professional teacher with assure that good habits are taught early on in the learning process.

Q: I'm a grown up. Is it too late for me to learn how to play?

A: It is absolutely not too late! I've had many adult students come to me and make significant progress playing music. Some are people who had played in their school music program and want to get back into playing. Others have never played a note in their life, but have always wanted to. No matter where you are in your music experience, your teacher will help you move forward!

Q: My child goes to "band practice". Do they have to practice at home, too?

A: Absolutely! A student's improvement mostly takes place while practicing at home!

"Band practice" is a misnomer. When musicians work on music together to prepare for a performance, they are "rehearsing", not practicing. Practicing is what is done by individual musicians in preparation for rehearsal, and for personal improvement of skills. 

In addition to practicing and rehearsal, there's a third activity: the student's private lesson is neither "rehearsal" nor "practice". 

Q: Well, if the private lesson isn't "practice", then what is it?

A: A private lesson is where a teacher listens to a student on an individual basis and provides instruction on what to practice, and how to go about practicing it. Again, private practice is the key to getting better at playing an instrument. An assignment will be given after listening to the student perform the previous assignment and evaluating the student's progress, along with a prescription of how individual skills can be made better. 

Q: How much practice is needed?

A: In terms of daily sessions, it depends somewhat on the student. For young kids, a benchmark of at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week can be set. More for older kids, or for any student working on performing more challenging music, more practice is better. The amount of practice will be proportional to the rate of progress.

There are a couple of very important factors I want to mention with regards to practice time. One is frequency of practice, and another is intent of improvement.

One 2 1/2-hour practice session in a week is not equal to five 1/2 hour sessions. Students will progress faster with shorter, more frequent practice. The instrument has simply got to make it out of the case and into the student's hands every day, or close to it. 

Regarding "intent", the student must actually try to get better. It's not enough to go through exercises by rote without any sort of evaluation of performance. The teacher should not be the only one listening - it's the student's responsibility to try!

Q: I make mistakes when I practice. I don't like it.

A: No one likes to feel like they're not doing well. I'd like to suggest a different view about mistakes, though: Making mistakes made while practicing is the best thing that can happen if you take the time to learn from them!! The most productive time in your practice session is that time when you hear the mistake and focus, fully and completely, on correcting the mistake (how this helps is discussed at length in "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle - great book!)

Practicing is a skill in and of itself. It requires patience, and sometimes self-forgiveness smiley . Patience and the will to move forward are rewarded, though. Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop practicing the passage that's frustrating you and play something else for a while. Then go back and try it again slowly, and with careful attention to sound and feel. Keep coming back to it, and you will be able to play it!

Q: I woke up feeling ill this morning and had to cancel my lesson with less than the required 24 hours notice. Why do I have to pay for a lesson when I can't attend? 

A: Please read this blog post.