Yesterday, Contrapuntist and I received an e-mail from a blogger advertising an online computer game which teaches children how to play the ocarina. Part of the pitch was that it is for children who can’t afford to take music lessons on other instruments. The blogger also claimed that the online game followed an idea from the Suzuki philosophy that every child has the ability to learn how to play music. As a Suzuki teacher, something about the concept didn’t sit right with me. I’ve been mulling over it all day long, and I finally figured out what was bothering me. But more on that in a moment.
First, for those of you who are not familiar with the Suzuki method, here is an extremely concise description. For a thorough explanation, please check out the Suzuki Association of the Americas website. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki developed the Suzuki method based on the idea that children can learn how to play music in the same way that they learn to speak their native language – by listening to and imitating adults. In the Suzuki method, children learn how to play music by listening to a CD and taking lessons with a Suzuki-trained teacher.
Another essential component of the Suzuki method is that musical ability is not an inborn talent but is an ability that can be learned. Following that line of thought, every child has the ability to learn music. Even though the blogger is correct about that idea, she left out another key component of the Suzuki method. Dr. Suzuki says that it is essential for a child to have a highly trained teacher with excellent playing abilities. The teacher serves as the child’s role model for beautiful sound quality, correct posture, strong rhythmic abilities, etc. Without an appropriate role model, he won’t learn how to play well. That’s why this online game is less than ideal. Would you expect your child to learn how to speak his native language exclusively from a computer game? Of course not.
Here’s yet another reason why the online game is less than ideal. Let’s say your child tells you that he wants to learn how to play the trumpet. You say that we can’t afford to pay for trumpet lessons, but instead, here’s an online game that will teach you how to play the ocarina. How do you think your child would react?
By now, if you’re not familiar with the ocarina, I’m sure you’re wondering what it is. If you don’t know, your child probably won’t know either. It’s basically an instrument which sounds like a recorder and resembles a sweet potato. This website has a good description of one. The ocarina is a perfectly fine instrument, but it won’t substitute for a trumpet or whatever instrument your child might want to play.
So the question is, how can you afford to take music lessons if you are short on money? Here is a list of different ways that students can take lessons, and some options to make lessons affordable:
Community Music Schools
A community music school usually provides instruction for students of all ages including early childhood classes (babies and toddlers), pre-college students, and post-college adults. Schools normally have a staff of teachers who can play and teach all different kinds of instruments. Some are independent (like the Levine School of Music in Washington DC), and some are a branch of a college (like The Eastman Community Music School, a division of the Eastman School of Music). Schools may also offer music theory classes and musical ensembles such as orchestra, band, and choir.
Because the school employs a variety of teachers, you can find one whose teaching style and personality fits with your child. You can also take advantage of music theory classes and ensembles. You also get the added benefit of feeling like you are part of a larger musical community, which is a key component in inspiring your child to continue playing his instrument. It’s a lot more fun to continue playing your instrument if you have friends who play one as well. Plus, music is most enjoyable when played with others. Last but not least, you are likely to find high-caliber teachers at music schools. Many have gone through a series of interviews and are regularly evaluated by the heads of their departments.
Keep in mind that your tuition rate often includes 2 to 3 classes in addition to your private lesson. For example, at the school where I teach, every student who takes private lessons is eligible for a free music theory class. You may also be able to apply for financial aid and/or scholarships. Don’t be afraid to apply, even if you think that you might make too much money. Community music schools want your business, and they’ll do everything possible to get things to work out for you.
Many community music schools offer semi-private and group lessons for beginners. They cost less than private lessons, and you get the added bonus of meeting other children who are playing your instrument. As I mentioned before, children are more likely to continue playing an instrument if their friends are also doing it.
Independent Private Teachers
Many teachers work out of out of their homes or run their own studios. They often go to great effort to develop a sense of community among their students, which encourages students to continue taking lessons. Plus, lessons will often cost less than at a community music school or college. Your dollars are going directly to the teacher, rather than to pay for an administrative staff. You may have more flexibility in scheduling lesson times than at a music school because the teacher always has an available space in which to teach. However, unlike a community music school or college, you may not get music theory classes or group lessons included with the cost of tuition. You will definitely not have any ensembles. There are many independent youth orchestras, bands, and choirs out there that you can still join, but it’ll be an additional cost. Finally, do your research carefully. Make sure that you get some background information on the teacher to make sure that he is qualified.
Park districts often offer low-cost beginning group instruction. The caliber of the teacher will vary, depending on the park district.
You can often get lessons at a very low cost from advanced high school or college students. Even though they will not be as experienced as a professional teacher, many of the students are fine players who plan on pursuing music professionally. So they may have a great deal of valuable knowledge to share. The best way to find one of the students is to contact your local high school or college music department to see if they can recommend a student to you.
Many instrument music stores (like a guitar or piano store) are owned by musicians who teach private lessons themselves. The store may also employ private lesson teachers. These lessons will normally cost less than those at community music schools. Again, do your research on the teacher’s background.
How to Find a Music Teacher
A good way to find a teacher is through word of mouth. If you don’t know anybody who’s taking lessons, try calling the music teacher at your child’s school. He often has a list of private teachers in the area, or he can suggest a good place for you to go.
You can also find instructors online. As a Suzuki violin teacher, I’m a little biased, but I think it’s the single best way to teach children how to play an instrument. You can learn instruments including viola, cello, guitar, flute, piano, and recorder. The method is also now being adapted to teaching voice lessons. The Suzuki Association of the Americas has a search engine where you can look for a teacher in your area.
Here are some other websites you can try:
- American String Teachers Association teacher locator search engine.
- Guitar Foundation of America teacher directory
- Music Teachers National Association teacher locator search engine
- National Association of Teachers of Singing teacher locator search engine