We understand that there can be many questions that may arise when it comes to getting your children involved in music. Where can I find a qualified private teacher? Should I rent or buy an instrument? etc. Music teachers from across the Pittsburgh area are here to answer all your questions and make the process of getting your child involved in music as easy as possible. We will respond to a new question each month, so check back soon! Have a question you would like us to answer? Fill out our question submission form or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
September 2023 Question: How do you address a student who has come to their last few lessons underprepared?
–Morgan Wynn, a trombone private teacher says:
My primary concern is the physical and mental well-being of my students, so if a student arrives underprepared for several lessons in a row, I first ask them if everything is okay! There are a variety of reasons a student may fail to prepare adequately such as stress, lack of sleep, lack of confidence, illness, or family/extracurricular obligations. If those have been ruled out, then we have a frank conversation about their short-term and long-term musical goals and what level of preparation is required to achieve them. The lesson will not be a substitute for individual practice sessions, so if the student does not have enough repertoire prepared to have a productive lesson, we may instead use the time to work on other things like redefining goals or designing a practice plan to ensure the student feels more prepared for their next lesson.
. . .
–Rachel Stegeman, private teacher and owner of Fiddlers Too Inc. says:
- Do the assignment you gave together. This can help you get a peek into the practice habits of the student and offer more hints for success.
- Work on basic skills. All students can benefit from tone development, refining intonation, and other fundamental techniques.
- Talk about music history. What can you share with the students about the composer of their concerto? Share age-appropriate resources for the student to further explore on their own.
- Focus on music theory. Where can you close gaps in the student’s knowledge? Create some basic theory quizzes to administer at times like these and asses and enrich. Some suggestions: basic note naming, interval identification, rhythmic or melodic dictation, key signature identification and scales, and understanding chord progressions.
- Sight Reading. Play duets together! Students love to play with their teacher.
- Improvisation. Work on creating melodies over chord changes or even a drone.
June 2023 Question: What summer camps are available for my child?
- Choir Summer Camps
- South Hills Children’s Choir Summer Singers Camp
- Pittsburgh Opera BRAVO Academy Sumer Camp
- Instrument Summer Camps
- Lewis Music Studio Summer Camps
- Pittsburgh Youth Concert Orchestra Jazz Camp
- Greater Pittsburgh Suzuki Institute Summer Day Camp
- Fiddlers Too Inc. Violin and Viola Bootcamp
- Choir Summer Camps
- Find information on any and all of these opportunities here: https://unisound.us/aboutus/roundup/
May 2023 Question: What music classes are available for children who are toddlers and younger?
- Pittsburgh Music Academy offers a Family Music for Babies and Toddlers class which is for ages 6 months up to 3 years old. They have three locations in Greentree, Squirrel Hill, and Upper Saint Clair. You can get more information on their website: https://www.pghma.com
- Lewis Music Studio offers a Me and My Grown Up Music Time class for babies 6-18 months old. They also have another class which is for children as young as 2 ½ years old. They are located in Bridgeville. You can get more information on their website: http://lewismusicstudio.net
- Practice Makes Perfect Music Studio offers a Munchkins, Music, and Me class for ages 6 months to 4 years old. They have two locations in Connellsville and Greensburg. You can learn more on their website: https://pmpmusicstudio.com
April 2023 Question: When does it make sense to buy an instrument rather than continue renting it?
If a parent is unsure if their child is serious aboutplaying an instrument in the long run – inconsistent practice,conflicts with sports programs at their school, apparent lack ofenthusiasm, etc. – then renting is the best option to ensurea way to terminate the rental if they decide to quit.
If the student is clearly practicing, is making progress, takes good care of theirinstrument, and shows an interest by participating in District, Regional, and State PMEA functions and pursuing playing beyond high school – then by all means, parents should reward their child with an upscale intermediate or professional level instrument.
March 2023 Question: What are your practice and preparation expectations for your students?
We follow the guidance set forth by Dr. Suzuki: “You only have to practice on the days that you eat.”
Of course, this was meant tongue-in-cheek. Dr. Suzuki was famous for making statements like this but also made the concept easy to remember. Things that are important to us should be done every day. This is especially important for the youngest learners. Each night when we sleep, research has shown that the brain engages in an elaborate process of filing the information taken in during the day. The activities engaged in are deemed important and filed away in the long-term memory section, to be called upon when needed in the future. Other memories may be discarded if not reinforced on a regular basis. For the youngest students, because so much more of their day is filled with new information and learning, the brain has to be more discerning during this filing process. All the more reason daily practice is important to ensure success! Consider consulting the research of Dr. Robert Duke to learn more about it.
Some days are really busy, so what can you do to practice daily?
- Design a short version of your practice routine lasting just 5-15 minutes
- Listen to pieces while eating meals or dressing
- Play a tune or two at bedtime to squeeze in just a little playing
- Play the proper warm-up before the method book materials are practiced
- Always be mindful of proper breathing preparation when playing, and proper hand position in the bell
- Two, 30-minute practice sessions are necessary for proper embouchure development, so plan for, and allow this use of time each day and every day if at all possible.
February 2023 Question: What age are children ready to start private lessons?
- The family has found a teacher willing and able to work with a child of that age.
- The parent is ready to commit time and energy to weekly lessons, supplemental activities, and daily practice.
- The parent has helped the child choose an instrument.
- The parent is willing to remain committed to the process, understanding that young children are not always able to perform on demand.
December 2022 Question: What are your staple materials that students should expect to use in each lesson?
Students really only need their instrument, extra reeds (because you never when reeds will quit), methods books/sheet music, and a pencil. We have good music stands in the studios but I would hope the student would have a music stand at home for their practicing.
In each lesson, the student can expect to use the instrument itself, rosin, shoulder rest, pencil, metronome, all music assigned, recording device, music stand, practice journal, and my mirror. Recordings also may be played, or youtube examples if useful. Other things sometimes: highlighter, colored pencils, Post-its, and stickers as a reward!
All lessons are beautiful connections between the teacher, student, and possibly the parent, depending on the age of the student, of course. All that is really needed are the people and the instruments. Lessons can occur outside, online, or in any number of buildings from churches to stores to homes. But, having a few more supplies might make the experience even better:
- Chairs for parents, teachers, and students when resting (unless required for playing the instrument)
- Ideally, a music stand for both teacher and student
- a table for cases to rest on
- notebooks for note taking and pencils for this and music marking. Staff paper might come in handy, too!
- required musical textbooks
- a tuner and metronome (or smartphone app!)
- a recording device for making teacher examples, video, and/or audio
- the internet for quick info searches
- instrument quick fixes: extra strings, rosin, valve oil, cleaning cloth, etc.
- Minds and bodies ready to learn, grow and make music!
Andrew Symington, who teaches french horn private lessons, says:
November 2022 Question: What does a typical private lesson with you look like?
Typical lessons get split into two sections, techniques and repertoire. Usually, the first half hour is spent working on scales, arpeggios, or other technical exercises. The second half of the lesson is where we work on assigned repertoire. This way our students get a good grasp of their instrument as well as the theory and technique needed to execute it.
-Victoria McGinnis, Owner of Craft Your Music says:
Focused, fun, and student-centered – week after week it is easy to observe progress in our classrooms.
Andrew Symington, who teaches french horn private lessons, says:
Private lessons with me are tailor-made for each individual student because each individual student is unique. I ask them how their day is, what’s happening in school, and what exciting things are happening in their life. This gives me an idea of where the student’s mind is at the time as well as things that may have complicated their preparation for the lesson. From there, the student performs the items they were assigned the week before in lessons. We review where needed, and move on as we can, and I always strive to move the student forward musically at their own individual pace.
Nathan Meyers, who teaches lower brass private lessons, says