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DEATH to the 30-minute Private Lesson

December 28, 2017


This post is for those private music teachers who are in the trenches still teaching a 30-minute lesson.

If you have been teaching private lessons for a while, you might have started with the 30-minute music lesson format. In my early years of teaching, that 30 minutes felt like a 24-hour marathon with some of my younger students. Back then, I struggled to keep some of them engaged. I can look back now and say that I was in survival mode in the early years of private teaching, and my teaching “toolbox” was relatively small.

As I grew as a teacher, connecting with other private teachers and continuing my education, I applied new teaching strategies, new repertoire, and performance opportunities for my students. The 30-minute lesson seemed a good fit for most young singers (albeit a tad rushed).

When I discovered that many of my young singers were interested in glee clubs, songwriting, musical theatre auditions, voice examinations, and preparing for post-secondary music programs, it became apparent to me that they needed some help with more than just technical exercises and repertoire development. They desperately needed instructions in:

  • music theory

  • ear-training

  • sight singing

  • audition preparation

  • And even more performance opportunities.

The 30-minute lesson was now a stressful rush for me and my students. (It was misery when they were a few minutes late.) I struggled at recital time.  I gave away my time for free with group lessons and endless make-up lessons. (I didn’t have a family back then, and I hadn’t made peace with my business self either.) I was exhausted at the end of my teaching day. 

Although I had so much more to offer my students, I hesitated for many years to make the change.  It was a friend/successful colleague who finally talked sense to me, and I made the scary policy change and informed my employer, students, and families that I would be moving to a 45-minute lesson for ALL MY students, including the littles ages 6 and up. The transition went smoother than expected, and I only lost a couple of students who were not willing to meet the commitment level I felt was required for successful music lessons. Everyone settled in and enjoyed the longer lesson format. 

I made this change about seven years ago, and I will NEVER go back to the 30-minute lesson. 

If you are on the fence about making a change like this in your studio, I appreciate the apprehension. However, the benefits are overwhelming. Here are the most apparent reasons for ditching the 30-minute private lesson. FOREVER!

Quality NOT quantity

Find your People
Only offering longer lessons deterred the students/families who weren’t interested in a serious commitment. 

Less Teacher Burnout
For those of you who are screaming for a better life/work balance, teaching fewer students can save you time and energy in many, many ways. You can work with fewer students in a day. In my early days of teaching, I could have up to fourteen students in a workday. Now my max is FIVE. I have streamlined my business hours and I am not as exhausted as in the past. Fewer students also mean fewer administrative tasks. (fewer repertoire dilemmas, emails, texts, phone calls, and follow-up with mom and dad). More time for my family.  

Shorter, more enjoyable recitals
Recitals are a LOT of work. The more students you have, the longer the concert will be (not enjoyable!) and more (unpaid) prep work (and worry) for the teacher.  

Inspired Music Lessons
Comprehensive music lessons include so much more than warm-ups and repertoire development. (Our piano colleagues get this! They offer fun games and “off the bench” activities to keep students engaged and learning!) In a longer lesson, you now have time to:

  • properly warm up the voice

  • incorporate multi-sensory activities (writing, listening, moving)

  • teach to the needs of EVERY student

  • solidify necessary music skills for all students

  • review old repertoire (so important!)

  • thoroughly introduce new songs (which facilitates better/more successful practicing at home)

  • dive into character development/acting

  • incorporate fun games and activities (to keep them learning and smiling!)

  • answer more questions

  • explore more of the student’s interests (and yours)

  • have more fun!

I want to make the change…but HOW do you do this?

As with any policy change, you need to give your families a timely “heads up.” This studio improvement isn’t just a time change, but a financial one as well, so let families know with plenty of notice. You may have to explain or even “sell” the idea to some of your students who have become accustomed to a time and price point. (They may need some time to ponder all the excellent reasons you give them!) As with any change, be prepared for losing a student or two. (It is always sad when they go, but you will find someone even more excited to take their place!) 

For those of you with big-time worries – You can grandfather in older students and allow them to keep the 30-minute lesson, and encourage them to move to the 45-minute lessons in the future. 

Quality NOT Quantity

As always, I wish you inspired teaching and Happy Singing! ~ Nikki