Getting the Most Out of Private Lessons


Why Take Private Lessons?

Whether you're a beginning, intermediate, or advanced student, private lessons with a supportive, knowledgeable, and motivating instructor are the best way to develop your skills. In a personalized process focused on students' individual needs, I do my best to adapt to your learning style, approach hurdles creatively, and motivate through positive and encouraging experiences.

Private lessons are a wonderful opportunity! They are also a commitment and investment – of your time, energy, and focus. If you are not prepared to prioritize daily practice and regular lessons (I recommend at least 2 lessons per month and encourage weekly lessons to make progress on your goals), then you should reconsider taking private lessons. If you're under 18 years of age, talk with your parents/guardians about how you will schedule time in your daily lives for practice and lessons – the commitment comes from the whole family!

Getting the Most Out of Private Lessons

When you commit to taking private lessons, you want to get the most out of the experience. Here are some tips that might be helpful; I also encourage you to make your own list and share it with me. Planning ahead is a crucial part of squeezing every last ounce of goodness out of your lessons!

Student Tips

1. Come to your lesson with an open mind.

Your teacher might ask you to try new things – posture, hand position, fingerings, singing, who knows!? Do your best to “go with it” and see what you learn. Some things might work and some might not, but being willing to try everything keeps you open to new information.

2. Bring a lesson notebook to your lesson.

A lesson notebook is a place to write down your practice assignments, information that you and your teacher discuss during lessons, and helpful reminders for your upcoming week of practice.

3. Use your lesson notebook when you practice at home!

Sometimes I can tell students haven't looked at their lesson assignments or the things we discussed since their last lesson. That probably means that if they practiced they didn't practice the things we talked about but instead played things they just like playing. Playing what you enjoy always has a place in your practice session, but practice is also about progress. Look carefully through your assignment and the information your teacher provided each time you practice. The lesson notebook is also a great place to note your questions, frustrations, successes, etc. from your practice sessions.

4. Plan your practice time.

Daily practice is incredibly important for brass players – the small muscles of our embouchure lose strength every day we don't use them. It's okay to take a day off each week, but shoot for 5-6 days a week. Don't just say you'll practice – decide when that time will be and then make it a priority. If you can, practice at the same time every day so it becomes part of your daily routine. Ask your parents/guardians, siblings, and friends to help you keep that time set aside for practicing. If you know you can't practice for 30 minutes, try for at least 10 – it's surprising how often 10 minutes can turn into 25. And remember, something is better than nothing.

5. Have a designated practice space.

Depending on your home and family situation, this can be tricky. There might not be an obvious place where you can practice without disruption or distraction. But do your best to find a place where you can be alone, where it's quiet and calm, and where you can have a strong chair (don't sit on your bed!), a music stand, and place to empty your water. Let those around you know that you're going to practice and ask them not to disrupt you.

6. Maintain your instrument.

Nothing is more frustrating that a horn that's not working. If the valves stick or click or you can't get the slides out to empty water, it's sure not much fun practicing. So, keep your horn in good condition – oil and grease the appropriate equipment, if something breaks get it fixed by a professional, and make sure it's professionally cleaned at least once a year. If you have a school horn, talk to your band director about any maintenance or repair issues – don't give up until it's fixed!

7. Reward yourself.

Make your practice plan, track your practice on a plan/guide worksheet or in your lesson notebook, and at the end of the week allow yourself a small reward if you practiced 6 days. Sometimes that external enticement can help you get through the days when you feel like you “just can't.”

8. Ask questions!

Your lesson teacher is an expert. Now is your chance to ask all the questions you can think of about playing your horn, taking care of it, reading music, learning rhythms, etc. Ask, ask, ask! And then listen, listen, listen!

Parent/Guardian Tips

1. Commit to helping.

You don't have to know anything about music, playing an instrument, or practicing. You can help your student by talking with them about how to structure their time, asking them about how they practice and what they do, and assisting them in designating a space in your home that's conducive to focused practice. Of course, you will most likely also have to commit to driving them to lessons, carrying the horn occasionally, and purchasing music. Staying involved in these ways shows your student that you care, that you prioritize their horn-playing, and that you want them to succeed.

2. Show interest.

Again, you don't have to know anything about music or horn playing to do this. Just ask your student what they've learned. Letting them teach you is a great opportunity to show you care, but it's also a great opportunity for them to assimilate knowledge – when sharing it with you they have to articulate what they've learned in new ways.

3. Sit in on lessons – and pay attention.

This is something that's a little different for every family – some students don't want parents/guardians in on the lesson because they feel self-conscious; some parents/guardians don't want to be in on the lesson because they can use that time to do things that wouldn't otherwise get done. However, if it's a good fit for all of you, consider sitting in, even if it's only once a month. It's my recommendation to try not to interject during the lesson unless directly engaged in conversation by the teacher/student; just observe and soak in what your student is doing, asking, trying, etc. Not only will you probably learn new things about music or horn-playing, but you'll also get to see your student in a new light and appreciate all that they are navigating during lessons.

4. Stay positive.

There will definitely be times that your student gets frustrated, wants to quit, doesn't want to practice, doesn't want to go to their lesson, or even throws a tantrum. Take a deep breath and know that every... single... parent/guardian has experienced this with a student learning to do something new. Try to stay positive and encourage your student to keep trying – perhaps after a break! – and work through their frustration by approaching practice sessions as information-gathering experiences rather than performances. If you're also learning to do something new, “practice” your new skill while they practice their horn – then talk about how things went during your practice session. Demonstrate positive ways of dealing with things that didn't go “right” or were frustrating for you. Students will begin to understand that learning is a life-long process and that boredom or anger or laziness is always a part of that process and that it can be worked through.

5. Ask, ask, ask!

If you have questions or concerns about your student's music study, instrument, equipment, or anything horn related, use your private lesson teacher as a resource. You can also ask your student's band/orchestra director, other private lesson teachers, college/university professors, music stores, etc. You don't have to guess when it comes to choosing an instrument or finding music or helping your student maintain their horn – just ask! Everyone is willing to help.


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Melissa Morey - Horn Teacher & Performer

photo credit: Jenna Mahr 2015

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