By Kristina Lee
It used to be that I would start a beginning student with 30-min lessons and then move them to longer lessons.
We don’t offer 30-min lessons anymore because along the way, I realized that 30-min lessons don’t work.
Why? Because learning music and learning to play an instrument is a lot like the process of learning a language.
To teach someone to understand and speak a language, there has to more than simply teaching the student to start learning a speech; a student of a language has to explore the sounds of the language, hear the language, imitate words and phrases, and learn useful phrases that help them “get by.” And then when the student is ready to learn reading and writing, she/he has to learn the alphabet, spelling, grammar, and styles of writing.
In piano lessons, we need time to not only teach students pieces of music, but also time to help them learn the building blocks of music, the skills and concepts that are necessary to make music (e.g. time, rhythm, tonality, key signature, harmony, technique).
Over the years, I’ve gotten a fair number of transfer students who came to me after 2, 3 or 4 years of lessons because they wanted to quit piano. Here is a big reason why students want to quit piano; they want to quit piano because they don’t understand how music works. They might have learned to play a piece by imitating someone over a period of time but they don’t understand the meaning of it, just like a non-English speaker who learned to recite a famous English speech, but they really cannot converse in English. (*It is usually a difficult process to help a student who’s been taking piano lessons for some time without music comprehension to help them start seeing and understanding music.)
So that answers why our beginners start at 45-minutes lessons. But how about the intermediate and advanced students who still get 45-minute lessons?
There are two main reasons for this:
- We require a high-level of concentration during the entire lesson time. Concentration is like a muscle. You can strengthen it by exercising it and pushing its limits. That is what we want—higher impact and maximum return—and I realized that 45-minutes is a good amount of time to achieve this without the brain becoming too fatigued.
- Students must learn to be independent and self-directed to be a successful musician and a student of music. During the 45-minutes, students should be able to show their progress to the teacher and take the coaching they need to go home and set a plan for themselves. In other words, we shouldn’t be “holding our student’s hands”; they must learn to get what they need for the week during the 45-minute time.
There are a few students who get 60-minute lessons in our program. We offer 60-minute lessons to those students who work on a large amount of music and/or who compose. These students deserve and require the extra time because they are putting in more work.