As a young child, one of the greatest gifts I would ever receive was the gift of music lessons. I owned my first instrument, a guitar, at the age of five. I was self-taught until the age of 11 when I started taking banjo lessons in Vertress, Kentucky under the wing of a great man and banjo player, Milton Emberton. I learned everything I knew about the guitar on my own and from fellow players and family. It wasn’t until I started banjo lessons that I realized I had been missing out on some valuable knowledge and I had so much more to learn. Music has always been important to me even from an early age. You see, I was an only child growing up and music was how I replaced that empty void of no brothers and sisters in my life. Music soon became my best friend growing up and a lifelong friend as I became an adult. I never dreamed I would become a professional musician or a music teacher one day.
Back then we didn’t have the learning tools available in today's world. I’m sure my mother and dad got really tired buying needles for the record player we owned because I would spend hours trying to hit that one spot on those old vinyl records to hear that one chord or hot lick again. Television was also a great learning tool back then. We could only get three channels on the old black and white but every time I could find a music show my eyes were glued to the screen to learn something new. Yes, many things have changed since then. We now have the technology to learn right under our fingertips on the internet--but is it better? I’m not sure. I still think the greatest musicians come from a background of personal one-on-one teaching from a private instructor. I believe nothing takes the place of learning hands on from someone who has perfected their instrument. Just seeing a song performed up close and personal is so much more gratifying than watching a recorded image on a screen. Let’s look at the reasons I feel personal music lessons excel over being self-taught with books and videos for becoming a skilled musician.
When it comes to extracurricular activities for yourself or a child music lessons are a great choice. From the beginner to the advanced student learning to play an instrument has many advantages if learned correctly with a personal instructor. One of the biggest benefits of music lessons is personalized attention. Just like some students learn better in smaller class sizes or during one-on-one tutoring sessions, the same can be said for learning music. In order for a student, no matter what age, it is so important to surround yourself with players who are better than you are. Taking private music lessons is the absolute best way to accomplish this. A private teacher can help you get better at your instrument through exercises that teach particular techniques and songs that use those techniques so you will understand how to apply them.
Over the years of teaching I have found that a good private music teacher can help students stay motivated about learning. This is so true with the younger students. They often don’t have any motivation from parents or family members and a private teacher can help fill that gap. This benefit is especially applicable to students who have been playing for more than a few years and find themselves in a rut. Now all musicians from one time to another hit a plateau and seem to not make any progress. As a young student this would happen to me after seeing better musicians play and perform. Their skill and talent that I admired caused these rut modes to develop and made me work harder on my music skills to overcome them. The best medicine I could find for this well known music illness was to learn something new and apply it to the music I had already mastered. This seemed to help me restore the confidence I needed to progress in my musical journey. Once a student is out of the beginner stage of playing and learning their instrument, they may not know what to do next. Fortunately, a private music instructor is knowledgeable of many different music styles or genres can help decide what to pursue next and help prevent this music rut from occurring. Sometimes all that is needed is order and routine to restore confidence and an interest in their chosen instrument. With this being said, at the end of the day it’s always easier to find motivation when you know someone like your music teacher is holding you accountable to learn.
Several years ago I taught music at our local college. This was for extra credit or for students who just wanted to learn to play a stringed instrument. With anywhere from 15 to 30 students in any one class I soon realized group classes didn’t produce the results that I as a teacher was looking for. In group lessons you will always have those who excel and those who fall behind. Those who excel need the teachers’ knowledge to move forward but the teacher has to focus on the students who are behind. Some have to be singled out for extra help and the advanced students become bored in learning. Even in my private lessons today when I have entire families taking lessons I divide them up into individual students. They may start out together learning the basics but soon someone will move ahead leaving the others behind. I have found it’s always best to divide and conquer. Divide into a one-on-one lesson and master basic skills on an individual level. Once the basic chords and a few songs are learned by the entire family then we focus on learning to play and perform together. In group lessons this is impossible to achieve. Private lessons can and will help prevent or minimize frustrations. Remember how there was always that one kid in math class who could never solve the equation on the board. The rest of the class had to sit around and wait while he or she figured out the right answer. The same effect happens in group music lessons. Every student deserves the opportunity to learn an instrument at their speed and not be frustrated or bored trying to stay on the same level as other students. The only situation in which group lessons do have some benefit is with teaching social skills to younger students. However the truth is that a private lesson has more benefits than group lessons and produce a far more talented musician as an end result.
Some local schools are now offering guitar clubs or after school classes. I work with a lot of students who are enrolled in these special social clubs. To a student who has a good knowledge, of the basics these classes could be a good place to learn something new or different. I don’t believe these classes were created for the beginner student because of reasons listed above. I still stand by the theory that a true beginner needs that individual personal help only found in private music lessons.
Setting up a student to be successful in music is an important task of every music teacher. With a personal instructor a student will learn the fundamentals of music at a much faster rate. Once the fundamentals of playing are formed, the student can keep playing and succeeding at a rate which is comfortable to them. Plus, once a student is strong in instrumental skills, he or she can focus more on ensemble skills and with the help of a good teacher can prepare them to play or perform in a band environment. Learning how to perform while sitting on the front porch with family and friends or in front of hundreds of people is something I have always felt was an overlooked skill not taught by many. This is another great reason to look into private lessons.
Can a student learn more than one instrument at a time? Most definitely they can but not as a group! Learning to play multiple instruments at a time isn’t for everyone. It takes hours of practice time each week and a lot of hard work from the student but it can be done. Years ago I was learning three instruments at once. You have to keep in mind that back then we didn't have smartphones or the Internet in those days and I was an only child growing up. For me, learning a new instrument helped consume a lot of time for me. I often performed on stage during my teenage years not only with the guitar but the fiddle and banjo as well. One of the things every student must realize before starting to learn a new instrument is you still have to practice your old material. This is where a personal music instructor will greatly benefit you and your music. If the teacher is experienced in teaching multiple instruments he or she will know what steps you need to take for your learning to become a success. The good news is the music theory and chord progressions are the same on all instruments. The chords may be formed very differently but the theory is still the same and can be applied to the new instrument. I often help set practice times for students learning more than one instrument. Setting daily practice times help insure that the student doesn’t neglect the instrument they started learning first. Equal time on each is so important and must be done daily. For most students I recommend not to try multiple instruments. Master one and then move to another is usually my advice. But, there are those that I feel can handle the extra practice and work and they seem to do well learning more than one at a time. Being a multiple instrumentalist is a lifelong commitment of hard work and practice. Most people never think about this. For every new song I learn, I have to learn it on five different instruments, five different ways and in several different keys. Being able to teach new material on all instruments requires a lot of time and practice even as a teacher. I average 15 to 20 hours a week learning and practicing in addition to my teaching time. If you choose to learn multiple instruments an experienced instructor will be the key for your success.
These are just a few examples why private lessons excel over YouTube, video, and book lessons. Regardless of why you choose private lessons, finding the right music instructor is the key. Try to find an instructor who has had a performing career and is knowledgeable in many genres of music. If the student is a child it’s important to find someone who has a good track record with children and can work with their special needs if any. If the student may be in their golden years, it’s important to look for someone who has patience. As far as I am concerned, the older I get the harder it is to learn something new. Remember, I said harder, not impossible. So a good teacher will have students ranging in ages and have lots of years teaching music under his or her belt.
For more information on private lessons visit us at www.terrystrange.com and start your musical journey today.
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