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Back to School: How Long Should My Lesson Be?

People generally think of a music lesson as being a 30-minute chunk of time in which to accomplish a whole lot of work. We have to review what you've done, give you some new information, workshop your scales, warm-ups, studies, pieces and other repertoire and give some new material to work on. All in a pizza delivery-guarantee window.

When considering music lesson length, there are three main factors that come into play when it comes to deciding a lesson length:

Budgetary Constraints

Student Interest

Lesson Content

The first is obvious. If you cannot afford more than a 30-minute lesson, then you must restrict the lesson length. There is no debate about that.

Student interest mainly affects younger students, in that if one cannot give their attention for more than a 30-minute span, the lesson becomes a chore rather than the positive learning experience it can and should be. But for most students over age 10, maintaining focus for longer than half an hour is much easier, which gives way to the final point.

Lesson content is king. It is hard to gauge improvement with simple cursory reviews, or explain a music theory concept beyond what a book might say in the time constraints of a 30-minute lesson. Often, there are great depths to be found in the simplest of foundational concepts, depths which can ultimately lead to greater student successes.

However, many teachers feel that by suggesting that a student take a longer lesson than that, they may be perceived as being "greedy." After all, a 45-minute lesson does cost more than a 30-minute one. But no teacher is going to suggest a longer lesson strictly for monetary gain. Rather, it is solely to see a student improve at a better rate, with greater breadth of discovery and accomplishment.

The reality is, a great many students are chronically undertaught because of this teacher fear of being seen negatively. As a result, a lot of students move at a slower pace of improvement simply because there isn't the time to workshop something that may be blocking their upward path. Having 50% more lesson time can often lead to 75% faster improvement. We have seen this time and time again with our own students. That little bit of extra investment of time and money can yield far greater dividends than you may think.

Furthermore, as students progress, pieces simply take longer to perform, which means they take longer to workshop. While this may seem obvious, many students (and even some teachers!) have neglected this important point. Grade six pieces are longer and more complex than grade two. Beyond extra practice time (a subject for another blog!), extra lesson time becomes a necessity - simply to cover more ground.

In the end, lesson length is a very personal, individual choice. However, don't think that your lesson needs to be confined to a prescribed 30-minute box. You would be surprised what 15 extra minutes with your supportive teacher will do to your improvement. Talk to your teacher to see if a longer lesson may be the right answer for your future progress. 

Finally, talk to other students. See how many of them are taking a 45- or 60-minute lesson. You may be surprised by how many there are, and how much happier they are with their music.

And you should talk to the girl who's taking 105-minute lessons. (No, we're not making this up.)

Back to School: Attendance Policy

After a bit of a break (well, not really; we've been getting students ready for August exams!) we're back, and gearing up for the coming school year! If you're a student with us, you'll be getting your Welcome Back information in your email inbox shortly. If you're thinking of signing up, now's a great time to enroll. But as we approach the new year, we wanted to talk about something a bit more serious: our Attendance Policy. Keep reading for some important information and interesting perspective.

When you enroll, we require you to read and sign our Attendance Policy. While we try to keep administration to a minimum here at MTMS, this document outlines our mutual expectations for your attendance during the school year. We've written it in plain English, but often people wonder about what happens when you are away. Lessons missed by students will be billed, except in special cases (we always try to be sensitive to family emergencies and serious illness). But for soccer games, or school exams and other events, we have to bill. But we have our reasons. The Ottawa Suzuki School posted an article on their website from a parent's perspective. This parent is also an economist. We are re-publishing the article below, with special thanks to the Ottawa Suzuki School for their permission to repost it. You can read the original here.

Make-up Lessons from an Economist's Point of View

I'm a parent of children enrolled in Suzuki music lessons.  I'd like to explain to other parents why I feel - quite strongly, actually - that it is unreasonable of we parents to expect our teachers to make up lessons we miss, even if I know as well as they do just how expensive lessons are, and, equally importantly, how important that weekly contact is with the teacher to keeping practicing ticking along smoothly.  I think that it is natural for we parents to share the point of view that students should have their missed lessons rescheduled, but if we were to 'walk a mile' in our teachers' shoes, we might change our minds about what it is reasonable for us to expect of our teachers.

Like many parents, I pay in advance for lessons each term.  In my mind, what this means is that I have reserved a regular spot in the busy schedules of my sons' teachers.  I understand - fully - that if I can't make it to the lesson one week (perhaps my son is sick, or we are away on holiday, or there is some other major event at school) then we will pay for the lesson, but that my teacher is under no obligation to find another spot for me that week, or to refund me for the untaught lesson. And this is the way it should be.

In my 'other life' I am an economist and teach at our local university.  Students pay good money to attend classes at the university; but if they don't come to my lecture on a Monday morning, then I am not going to turn around and deliver them a private tutorial on Tuesday afternoon.  When I go to the store and buy groceries, I may purchase something that doesn't get used.  Days or months later, I end up throwing it out.  I don't get a refund from the grocery store for the unused merchandise.  If I sign my child up for swimming lessons at the local pool, and s/he refuses to return after the first lesson, I can't get my money back.  So there are lots of situations in our everyday lives where we regularly pay in advance for goods or some service, and if we end up not using what we have purchased, we have to just 'swallow our losses'.  On the other hand, if I purchase an item of clothing, and get home and change my mind, I can take it back and expect either a refund or a store credit. 

So why do I believe that music lessons fall into the first category of 'non-returnable merchandise', rather than into the second case of 'exchange privileges unlimited' (which I think is one of the advertising slogans of an established women's clothing store!)?  Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are "durable goods' - meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price - whereas music lessons are non-durable goods - meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son's teacher can't turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable - I can't think of many employees who would be thrilled if their bosses were to announce that they couldn't work from 3:30 to 4:30 this afternoon, but would they please stay until 6:30 on Thursday, because there will be work for them then!

Many teachers hesitate to refuse our request to shift lesson times (because our busy schedules do change), because unless they keep us parents happy, we will decide to take our child somewhere else for lessons (or to drop musical study), and they will lose part of their income.  This is particularly true in areas with lower average income, where it can be particularly difficult to find students. So rather than telling us that 'well, actually, the only time when I'm not teaching and that you can bring your son for lesson is during the time I set aside each week to go for a long soul-cleansing walk, and I can't do that on Monday at 3:30 when you should have turned up', they agree to teach us at a time that really doesn't suit their schedule.  Teachers who are 'nice' in this way often, in the long run, end up exhausted, and feeling exploited; they try to draw a line in the sand.  However, too few parents ask to switch only when absolutely necessary, and too many parents want lesson times when it suits them this week, which is not the same time that suited last week.  If the conflict arises because my child is in the School play, and they have their dress-rehearsal during his lesson time, then I feel that I must choose between the two activities, and if he attends the dress rehearsal my private lesson teacher doesn't owe me anything.

During May, my eldest son will be missing three lessons because he is going to accompany me on a trip to New Zealand to visit his great-grandparents.  I do not expect my son's teacher to refund me for those missed lessons, or to reschedule them by 'doubling up' lessons in the weeks before or after our departure.  Since there will be lots of advanced notice, I might ask her to consider preparing a special 'practice tape' for that period, or to answer my questions via e-mail, but if she doesn't have the time (the second half of April is going to be really busy for her, and she wouldn't be able to do the tape until more or less the week we left) and so has to refuse, then that's fine. I certainly don't expect her to credit me with three make-up lessons; there is no way for her to find a student to fill a three-week hole in her schedule during our absence.  Instead, I hope that she will enjoy the extra hour of rest during those three weeks, and that we will all feel renewed enthusiasm when we return to lessons at the end of the trip.

Article Copyright © 2001 Vicky Barham

Welcome Yunior Lopez!

Ever seen that clef before? If not, then we're thrilled to have someone on faculty to help you learn to read it. Please join us in welcoming Midtown Music School's newest faculty member, violist Junior Lopez! Read his bio here, or keep reading for more info.

An avid and enthusiastic musician, Yunior brings expertise to one of music's most often-neglected instrument, the viola. (There is a real difference between a true viola player and a violinist who can sort of wing it.) He also brings a wealth of expertise in chamber music and conducting thanks to his experience with many ensembles including the prestigious YAPA Program. Yunior is also a member of our ensemble-in-residence, the Annex Quartet. MTMS is very glad to have a musician of such calibre on our faculty.

Annex Quartet Concert on Saturday, July 14

Midtown Music School's ensemble-in-residence, the Annex Quartet, is performing this Saturday, July 14 at 5:00 as part of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Summer Music Series. They will be performing at the Visitation Centre, with a great program including Mozart's Duo for Violin and Viola, Eugene Ysaye's Ballade for Solo Violin and Haydn's String Quartet op. 77/1. We will be there to enjoy beautiful music in a peaceful setting. Hope to see you there!

Big News: Welcome Peter and Mariko Cosbey!

More incredible news, and we can take the wraps off some big plans here at Midtown Music School. We're extremely excited to welcome Peter and Mariko Cosbey, who will be teaching cello and piano lessons. As well, we are proud to unveil our chamber music and accompaniment programs. Read on for all the details.

Peter Cosbey is an incredibly active cellist and teacher in Toronto. A member of the Annex Quartet as well as the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Peter brings an amazing amount of experience, care and quality of teaching to our faculty.

Mariko Cosbey is an equally active pianist in the city, accompanying musicians and performing in various venues in and around Toronto. She is a passionate musician, and a very positive, encouraging teacher.

Both these fine musicians are going to add tremendous quality to our already-outstanding faculty. But there's even more they bring than just great cello and piano teaching.

Mariko is an amazing accompanist, which is absolutely critical for anyone performing at a recital, exam or audition. If you need a pianist who can also help you with your musicianship, and help you present your music at its very best, Mariko will be available to work with you. Please let us know when your performance will take place, and we can work with you to make sure you put your best musical foot forward.

Finally (and boy, there seems to be a lot to mention here!), Peter and the members of the Annex Quartet (our ensemble-in-residence!) are going to be available for chamber music programs and masterclasses. We already have repertoire and ideas for masterclasses, which will be revealed over the coming weeks. We know there has been a demand for this kind of program for some time. We are thrilled to be able to offer these programs, involving some of the finest musicians in the city.

As we've promised throughout the last year, we have big plans for our students. However, we are more than just saying it: we are living it. There's never been a better time to be a part of our community. If you're already here, enjoy the upcoming musical life here at the school! If not, you're missing out, and we look forward to including you in our vibrant, enriching musical community.