Are Group Music Lessons Holding You Back?

Many people playing on one piano

When I hear of people signing up for group music lessons to promptly quit, I wonder:

Were they were looking for the cheapest, easiest option. Maybe they wanted to ‘try it out’, before deciding to commit to ‘proper’ lessons.

Both terrible ideas.

When you sign up for group music lessons, you’re entrusting your passion to a tutor. You’re letting them direct your enthusiasm in the subject.

Can they do that?

You’re joining a band of people committed to progressing on their instrument.

Are they actually committed?

You deserve to get all you can out of your lessons. Make sure you find the right group for you.

The right music teacher is hard to find

A teacher’s skill is the most important consideration when you are deciding whether to take music lessons in a group or individually. I’m not concerned with how well they can play; we expect them to be able to play! How well can they teach?

Group music lessons done well are awesome! A good teacher will create an experience for the group that will result in each student being challenged, feeling inspired, and growing as a musician. If they are taught poorly a student will find themselves frustrated. They will notice they’re not achieving much, and will often blame themselves or reason that they’re ‘just not cut out to do music’. Obviously the skill of the teacher is not the only factor involved, however it is something you’ll want to seriously consider when signing up for group lessons.

A tutor needs experience to teach group lessons effectively. You’re putting your passion for music in their care. You’re signing up to let them give you direction. Make sure you’re confident that direction actually points where you want to go. 

“Oh yeah, I’ve taught guitar for 20 years”, does not guarantee a tutor can teach well. How many students have they taught during that time? Do they have student testimonials? Can they back up their musical understanding and ability to teach with solid evidence?

If a tutor can’t break down and explain things to you in a simple and concise way with proper context, they are not the tutor for you. If a teacher can’t give you a clear explanation of how what you’re learning contributes toward you achieving your musical goals, find someone else.

Your group is not any group

Have you ever heard of an amateur football player training with the national team? Maybe for a charity event, but it’s not something you expect to hear about every week. Sportsman playing at that level expect their coaches to train them at an intensity that would leave amateur players discouraged and wanting to quit. This is what can happen if you’re trying to take lessons in a group differing significantly in terms of level and ability.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be in a group like this. You might find yourself in one and have a great time! But you’d be the exception to the rule. Groups like this are definitely not ideal, especially for beginners, and it takes a very effective tutor to teach them well.

I want to let you know what I mean by level and ability. Level is the skill of a musician at one time. Ability is the rate at which that musician is able to improve, and their capacity to apply skills in different musical situations. A student playing at a lower level, with a lot of ability, can often learn in a group playing at a higher level. They will be able to hold their own in a lesson and rise to the challenge of improving their skills to compete with their peers.

If you’re looking to join a group with students who differ in level and ability, make sure you do your due diligence on your teacher. Do they meet all the criteria I mentioned earlier? Can they sufficiently answer all your questions and explain how they’re going to make sure you achieve your goals in such a colourful environment? Will they confront you if they feel you’d be better learning in another environment?

Their practice effects your progress

You’ve signed up for group lessons. The tutor is great! You’ve been learning in a group environment for a few weeks and it’s going pretty well. Only, now you’re beginning to notice that someone isn’t pulling their weight. They come to lessons unprepared, they haven’t gone over the material, and they’re not really trying to apply what the tutor’s teaching. You’re beginning to realise that even though the tutor’s great, your group’s progress is limited by the weaker members who aren’t practicing effectively during the week. Disinterested students drag a group down.

A group learning environment is an excellent place for positive peer pressure. The challenge and expectation created by learning music in a group can often inspire students to practice hard, keeping up with their peers. These dedicated students propel the group forward. You don’t get this benefit learning individually.

It comes down to each student’s discipline to practice. Practice is actively trying to improve on something we find difficult. It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always fun. I have more days than I’d like to admit where I don’t really feel like practicing. Maybe I’m tired? Maybe I’ve got a full schedule? Maybe I’m behind on a TV show? When I’m not feeling inspired, I focus on how much fun I’ll have when I’ve nailed what I’m practicing and can incorporate it into my playing.

The difference between great musicians and those who just dabble, is the discipline they put into their practice. Don’t be that guy, holding your group back. A bit of discipline can go a long way.

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Make music together

Music is a language. To practice speaking, it helps to have someone to talk to. I’m not suggesting you stand up and perform solo for an audience. Giving a speech isn’t the best way to practice a new language. You really develop a fluency for a new language in the context of conversation. Interaction, response; a meaningful discussion between a small group of people.

This is what we’re aiming for when we play music. It’s meant to be played together. Don’t hinder your musical development by denying yourself the opportunity to practice ‘speaking’ with other musicians.

Making music together is another benefit of group lessons. Jamming with your peers and musicians better than yourself inspires you to take risks, to step out. You may fumble over the words, but you’ll expand your thinking. You’ll start trying to say more interesting things as you discover how to form the words on your instrument.

Perform with confidence

Some people are born with confidence; others struggle putting themselves out there. Confidence is like a muscle. It grows under stress. Performing music is a great way to put stress on this muscle and grow your confidence. It’s not always easy, but we learn that a mistake is not the end of the world. We learn to back our abilities and accept criticism. We learn there is always room for improvement.

A group lesson is a great place for small performance opportunities. With guidance from your tutor, and feedback from other members of the group, you’ll develop confidence that will flow through all areas of your life.

Two heads are (still) better than one

Have you heard the old saying, ‘two heads are better than one’? This definitely applies when you’ve got two or more dedicated students learning together.

Learning music in a group environment allows students to critique each other’s performances. You can discuss how to more effectively learn a piece, even if you’re not learning the same song. Throughout this process you’ll become more aware of your own playing, reinforce good technique, and better understand your learning process.

Attending group music lessons is not a bad way to learn, although there are more variables to consider. One person might excel in a group environment, another may find that individual lessons work better for them. Whatever you choose, make sure your music lessons are taught well!

What else do you look for in group music lessons?

About the Author

Matt Stuart

Matt Stuart is the founder of Activate Music Academy. A guitarist and a producer, Matt loves the creative aspect of music and working with others to make music happen!

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