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Thirty-Minute Lessons

To give, or not to give

· Practical Pedagogy

There is value in any length of lesson. Is 30 minutes ideal? For some maybe not, but for others I actually love them. If the goal of music learning at the piano is joy, enrichment, embracing a process and making music come to life, I think I can make magic happen in 30 minutes! If I can't, that's on me. There is a book by Brian Tracy that I love called Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. This phrase applies here. Listed below are the 3 types of students that I enjoy 30 minutes a week with:

  1. Littles: My young students in kindergarten who come right after school. Being 5 or 6 in school all day is a hard job! I want to have a good time making music and continuing the love of learning and exploration. In 1st grade they have a better acclimation to school, so we can always bump up the time when they are ready. 
  2. Hobby Learners: In general, some people want to just play familiar music, acquire a basic skill set and play the piano very casually. They probably will participate in two of the four performance opportunities we provide, and maybe one judged event per year.  It's like me and downhill skiing. I'll likely never get to the Black Diamond Level. I'm content, even happy, skilling the blues and easy greens. There is nothing wrong with this! 
  3. High School Hobby Learners: I have 15 high school students this year, nine of which are students I have had for ten years. The insanity of high school here in Texas has these kids scheduled from 7am to 8pm and then they get to start their homework. I'm thrilled they are still coming to lessons! Some of them have reached an advanced level where we have 45 and 60 minute lessons, and others are at an intermediate level where they are motivated to keep learning new songs/pieces and challenging themselves. Their only goal is to have a good time making music, well. I agree, that's what's important. So we build repertoire...mostly these kids are wanting to learn popular songs, classic rock songs and maybe a sprinkle of familiar classical pieces, Christmas/holiday music and arrangements. My goal for them is to learn 15 pieces/songs each school year. 
  4. Families that can't afford longer lesson: Let's face it, the cost of private piano lessons is high for middle class families. They are paying for an expert to guide their child and enrich their lives in ways they never knew existed, in a private setting, and to me it makes sense. Some people simply cannot make the budget work for two 45-minute lessons into their middle-income salaries and that's okay. So, is it better to have two 3-minute lessons, some other creative solution or no lessons at all? I'll take the 30 minutes any day. Now, if the family is genuine and wants their child on a conservatory track, 30 minutes isn't going to work and you'll need to have some tough conversations. Be prepared to offer some creative solutions that may include bartering. 
Other Thoughts:
  • You can get a lot done in 30 minutes! Don't be a grump and try to fit everything into a half hour that you would in 45 minutes. Make different choices so the journey is enjoyable for both you and the student. 
  • Young students do not need longer lessons, yet. 45 and 60 minute lessons are fantastic with the right learner. 
  • Value can (and does) happen in 30 minute lessons. The teacher is the one who needs to adjust his/her expectations, pacing and concepts. 
  • Students who are simply learning music for a casual hobby don't have the technique and theory that the serious hobby students require. Does that mean they play sloppily? NO, it likely means they are simply learning at a rate that is slower than our trained and educated ideals we were taught in school. 
  • High School students who have been playing for a decade and on a hobby level are more interested in you helping pick out songs that they can learn on their own. Isn't that the goal anyway? Independent learning at its best. 
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