Today, I want to share with you my personal opinion on the pros and cons of each path so you can make an informed decision.
Let’s start with class piano.
The immediate, obvious benefit of class piano is having a peer group. When we’re alone not all of us can stay motivated to do whatever it is that needs to get done. It’s hard to see the value (yet) of developing skill at something unless we can compare ourselves to others.
So the greatest benefit a group piano class can give you is one of accountability. The pressure of not wanting to be the one holding the class back is usually enough to make the average student want to put the work in every day. That’s why mastermind groups and team sports are such powerful social incentives.
And let’s face it, the piano is the loneliest instrument you could ever choose to want to play. Unless you have a rock solid self-discipline it’s hard to keep going without other people to relate to. If you don’t have a strong internal compass, private piano lessons are going to be a tough sell for you.
As a side note, I have to admit that I was always jealous of violinists and other instrumentalists. Having the orchestra as a creative and collaborative outlet is a luxury that pianists usually can’t count on.
Now… the negatives.
Learning is not a one-size-fits-all model! If you don’t fit into the “average” standard of the group you are placed in, you’ll always stick out like a sore thumb. For example, if you’re always ahead of the curve you’ll have to wait for the rest of the class to catch up each time.
But what’s worse is if you’re the one struggling. Do you really want to be the black sheep that’s always playing catch-up? This could be potentially even more detrimental for a younger student since they are more likely to identify with their peers and haven’t developed the backbone of an adult yet. Cue the feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Unrealistic comparisons and expectations can lead to traumatic experiences.
Another thing to keep in mind is the size of the class. Did you know that the larger the group, the less likely each member will be accountable to each other? In Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence,” he talks about this rule as being the law of numbers. I’d encourage you to read that chapter in more detail. The short of it is that people are more likely to be responsible when they are fewer in number than when they are in a big group. So if you happen to have 40 or more piano classmates… good luck.
Onto private piano lessons.
The biggest advantage (provided you have the right teacher for you) has to do with choice. You can choose to progress effortlessly. Or you can work out of your comfort zone. You’ll become better at your strengths while addressing your weaknesses, all at your own pace. Most importantly, you can choose the type of music you want to play (I hope).
Of course there are many private teachers who don’t give students this option. Many of my transfer students were playing music that they weren’t interested in at all, some of them for a FEW YEARS. Talk about having their curiosity and passion ground into the dirt! In my studio I let my piano students choose all their own music. As a teacher I have a hard time understanding why you would take that freedom away from them.
Now, the hardest part of private lessons is self-accountability. In my experience, adult students struggle the most and have a difficult time being consistent. An important lesson I try to hammer home for them is that they have to be responsible for their own actions. Mommy and Daddy won’t be there to make you practice. What I desperately try to communicate is they have to both create rewards and self-punishments for themselves.
No consequences = no results.
No rewards = miserable experience.
No system in place = a waste of time.
Younger students who have the benefit of a solid support system (parents, environment + teacher) don’t have to bear the responsibility of doing it all on their own. If the right structure and incentives are in place, they will practice.
Of course you can try giving ALL the responsibility to your kid. Let me know how that one goes…
In conclusion, I don’t have anything against group lessons but in my opinion they lose their benefits quickly. If you want to use them as a quick, short-term boost, go for it. Whatever gets you start.
Yes, private piano lessons are definitely more challenging and most of the responsibility will fall on you. But do you really want to have to depend on other people for motivation?
I say rise to the challenge. It’s worth it. Because that’s what life is all about, isn’t it?