Parent Teacher Corner

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! 


-Jennifer Madge, Owner and private violin teacher at Pittsburgh Music Academy says: 

Every teacher brings a tool kit to the lesson experience.  Mine is unique because:
  • I learned my instrument as a traditional student, having started in the public schools, but teaching using the Suzuki Philosophy.
  • I have a BM and MM in performance and extensive teacher training through the Suzuki Association of the Americas.
  • I am an actively performing musician in addition to being a dedicated teacher.
  • I use music teaching as a vehicle for building strong family bonds and conscientious citizens.
This approach generates students who become more dedicated with each year of study, some achieve high honors and accolades, some continue to study at the collegiate level, and some go on to careers in music.  

-Rachel Stegeman, Owner and private teacher of Fiddlers Too Inc. says:

I feel each teacher is truly unique in their way! What I value is the connection between teacher and student in the end because the information coming from the teacher will resonate with the student more especially when the bond is there.


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: 

I would start by asking the student a few questions including: How have things been in your life the past few weeks? Have there been stressors? What are they? What are your goals on the violin?
What are some specific goals you’d like to achieve?
. . . 

Jennifer Madge, private teacher and owner of Pittsburgh Music Academy says: 

It is extremely important to make your students feel safe so they can be honest with you about preparation.  Underprepared students need guidance, not shaming.  The first step is to dig deeper into the “why” of the lack of practice.  Is the student overloaded in other areas of life?  You can create a “low time available” practice assignment for busy days.  Is the student unmotivated?  You can look for ways to inspire.  Offering assistance to the student will go a long way toward deepening the bond between teacher and student and therefore help the student reach a better ultimate result.
Now, what to do with the next 30-60 minutes???
  1. 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.
  2. Work on basic skills.  All students can benefit from tone development, refining intonation, and other fundamental techniques.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Sight Reading.  Play duets together!  Students love to play with their teacher.
  6. Improvisation.  Work on creating melodies over chord changes or even a drone.
The student who leaves the lesson feeling good about what they have done with you is more likely to practice in the week ahead.  It is not a guarantee, but it is a safer bet!
. . . 
Erik Barber, a trombone private teacher from Practice Makes Perfect Music Studio says: 
Firstly, I would ask them if they are doing alright mentally and physically, and then I’d ask if they are stuck with school or work (depending on age). Based on their response I may lighten the workload, but an equally likely option is tough love. I also may question my own methods as a teacher, keeping in mind that I am fallible as well.


Summer is the best time of year to try new things especially when it comes to music classes and camps! Summer camps are a wonderful way to see if a certain music activity is a good fit for your child. From singing camps to musical theater, and instrument-focused camps, there are plenty of options to explore! To help you start this adventure, we have listed out some summer camps below.
    • 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


There are many UniSound member organizations that offer classes for young children, toddlers, and babies. Typically any music school that offers Musikgarten classes should have programming for toddlers. Some specific organizations that have programming for toddlers and babies include:
    • 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:


    • 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:


    • 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:


Beth Schiemer, Director of Education at Brighton Music Center and private teacher of clarinet and saxophone says:  
If the company you are renting from has a rental credit program, it is wise to make your decision based on that.  Once your monthly rental payment no longer earns you equity towards the purchase of a new instrument, that is the time to decide whether to continue renting or to buy.  However, if you choose to purchase an instrument, I recommend not purchasing a student model instrument but buying either an intermediate instrument or a professional-level instrument.  These instruments will serve your student musician better, provide better sound, and hold a higher resell value going forward.  The intermediate instruments are perfect for any student who isn’t really looking to go on in their musical studies after graduation from high school but may want to participate in community bands, symphonies, or orchestras as an adult.  Students who are choosing to pursue music as a career would be better served by purchasing a professional-level instrument.

Jennifer Madge, private teacher and owner of Pittsburgh Music Academy says:

In the first year of playing, if it is possible to rent, please do! And get the insurance coverage if offered! This will provide the family with the freedom to return the instrument with no regrets if they decide (*gasp*) instrument study is not for them.
After that, take a look at your contract and see if you will ever max out any possible “rent-to-own” deals.  Once you have reached the maximum benefit, go ahead and purchase.  Expect to pay something more to purchase the full kit.
If your student needs a lot of repairs, it may make sense to rent longer to take advantage of the offered coverages.
In the case of string instruments, after purchasing a full size, continue to save for future upgrades.  Always make your instrument purchases under the guidance of your teacher.
-Matthew Litterini, French Horn teacher says:
  • If a parent is unsure if their child is serious about
    playing an instrument in the long run – inconsistent practice,
    conflicts with sports programs at their school, apparent lack of
    enthusiasm, etc. – then renting is the best option to ensure
    a way to terminate the rental if they decide to quit.
  • If the student is clearly practicing, is making progress, takes good care of their
    instrument, 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.
-Rachel Stegeman, private teacher and owner of Fiddlers Too Inc. says:
When the student is showing significant interest in the instrument, and seeking better equipment that can help develop their technique, then it might be the right time to quit renting and buy an instrument. Rentals are often very cheaply made, bows are not rehaired, strings are old, and don’t have a great sound.


Gina Glen, piano teacher with Pittsburgh Music Academy says:  
I ask my students to buy a notebook. I draw pictures for the early Suzuki rep, they love it! Also very helpful for my little ones who are just learning to read. I also ask them to wash their hands, I can tell if they had an art class that day just by looking at their hands.

Jennifer Madge, private teacher and owner of Pittsburgh Music Academy says:

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
Happy practicing!
-Matthew Litterini, French Horn teacher says:
  • 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.


Jennifer Madge, private teacher and owner of Pittsburgh Music Academy says:

Children are ready to start private lessons when a number of criteria are met, including, but not limited to:
  • 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.
The youngest students experience the slowest progress, yet may benefit most from this early start.  The student may never remember a time in their life when they didn’t play an instrument.  The routine of daily practice can become an expected part of the day and not a dreaded event.  Being raised in a musical environment can set up the student to develop perfect pitch and excellent rhythm/pulse.  Most of all, the time parent and child spend together practicing can create deep family bonds.
I have had great success with students as young as 2 years old.  Children who have had some kind of school experience (preschool or daycare) can do very well in private lessons.  Programs for babies and toddlers, like Musikgarten, Music Together, Kindermusik, and Suzuki Early Childhood Education can also prepare a family for a great study experience.  Success is far more dependent on the level of family commitment to instrument study than on the age of the student.
Camille Strahl, a private teacher of oboe, says: 
When to start taking lessons depends on the instrument. You see children playing violin at age three, but not oboe! There is no quarter-size oboe. As soon as you start playing an instrument at school you should get lessons. That might be as early as the fourth grade for an oboist depending on the school program. Band directors are rarely oboe players, so if a student is drawn to the oboe—get a teacher.
Aaron Gray, owner and private teacher of Practice Makes Perfect Music Studio says:
Children are usually ready for private 1 on 1 instruction as soon as they can identify and name letters. But we also find fun ways for younger children to begin lessons, we offer a small beginner class that teaches children 4-8 how to identify notes and basic rhythms, which allows the children to start as early as 4! Every child is different so every child starts lessons at a different age, and there is no wrong age to start whether 5 years old or 50!
Beth Schiemer, Director of Education at Brighton Music Center and private teacher of clarinet and saxophone says: 
The child really should be taken into consideration here.  I typically recommend private lessons once a child knows their ABCs because I come from a tradition of music reading.  This is also usually when children can be focused on a task for a longer period of time. Frankly, it’s more important to find a teacher who is “the right fit” for the student than age.
Rachel Stegeman private teacher and owner of Fiddlers Too Inc. says:
If the lessons are mainly instrument-based, and the student is enthusiastic about it, I would recommend age six or seven. If the student is younger than that other things can be focused on interspersed with fun and play.


-Beth Schiemer, Director of Education at Brighton Music Center and private teacher of clarinet and saxophone, says:

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.

-Rachel Stegeman private teacher and owner of Fiddlers Too Inc. says:

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!

Jennifer Madge, private teacher and owner of Pittsburgh Music Academy says:

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:

My go-to is book 1 of the Maxime-Alphonse Two Hundred New Melodic and Gradual Studies for Horn. Each melody is interesting and fun, which provides a great context for technical and musical growth as a horn player. I also love “Recipe for Success: A Balanced Curriculum for Young Horn Players” by Karen Houghton and Janet B. Nye. I use this resource with my youngest players because it provides comprehensive guidance in one place.


Jennifer Madge, Owner and private violin teacher at Pittsburgh Music Academy says: 

The student and parent are welcomed into the lesson room with a smile and we catch up on the life events since our last meeting.  The student unpacks the instrument and tunes the violin to the best of their ability (with the teacher or parent offering assistance as needed). The lesson begins with a bow, a sign of respect for each other, and a signal to note the start of the lesson.
We begin with some kind of warm-up:  the current study scale and exercises, an etude targeting a specific technique, or some other kind of work on tone.  This directs our mental focus to improve our music and demonstrates the work accomplished since the last lesson.
Next, we move on to the current repertoire:  orchestral excerpts, solos, or review pieces.  We may start with a “performance” to check overall progress or immediately target trouble zones.  Throughout this time of the lesson, we are creating the goals for the home practice and techniques to meet those goals.
Finally, we move on to theory:  reading music or introducing new pieces and concepts.  A specific plan is designed to guide the home practice in order to move the student ahead in skills and repertoire.
The lesson finishes with another bow and a time for any questions, either from students or parents.  Everyone takes notes throughout the lesson so Big Ideas can be remembered.

Aaron Gray, Owner and private teacher of Practice Makes Perfect Music Studio says:

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:

I cover fundamentals and repertoire in my lessons: Ear training, embouchure development, technique, scales, etc., and solos, etudes, or ensemble music that the student brings. My goal is to help the student learn to identify good sound, rhythm, and musicality for themselves as they mature. I organize my comments to that end. I also demonstrate on my horn frequently in order to help them learn through their musical ears and not merely by technical concepts.

Beth Schiemer, Director of Education at Brighton Music Center and private teacher of clarinet and saxophone, 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

A normal lesson looks different for every student!  Each one is going to start with a friendly greeting and a fun warm-up to get the student ready to play their best.  The teacher will play along with the student in order to serve as a model of a good sound.  Next, the student and teacher (briefly) discuss goals for the lesson in order for the most important and pressing material to be given time to be worked on.  For example, a student struggling with music for an upcoming performance or audition is likely to want to work on that material in their lesson.  If not, then there will be work on solos, etudes, or other exercises.  The student will always have input in what they play so as to pick material that is enjoyable; it is the job of the teacher to make sure that the music is appropriately challenging as well.  In a relaxed but serious environment, a lesson is a place where the teacher gives the students constructive feedback on all aspects of being a musician, including technical ability, how to practice, time management, and the mental game.
Rather than being one-size-fits-all, lessons are a collaboration between student and teacher.  They are fun, full of playing and packed with feedback tailored to the specific goals of the specific student.

Have a question you would like us to answer? Send it to! 

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