Understanding the Natural Limitations of School Band and Choir Programs

(Why your student needs private lessons to get the most out of playing and singing.)

It’s so important to understand that school band and choir programs are simply not equipped to teach the instruments (including voice) at the faster rate that many students can learn them. This is by their very design, as it’s simply not possible for a school to provide the amount of instruction necessary for music students to master their instruments.

I don’t mean this to be critical at all, but simply a matter-of-fact observation about how it has always been: The public school’s music program tends to be more of a sink-or-swim affair, where the progress is geared to keep those of average capability moving forward, while sometimes losing the less capable students—and all of this, at the risk of boring the most capable students, even to the point where they might lose interest altogether.

In other words, the program simply cannot be designed to bring the music students to an appreciable level of mastery on their instruments. No, a goal like that requires private instructioneven for the most gifted students.

And that goes not only for technique on the instrument , but for the more abstract skills of musicality.

About the Gifted Students

And let me put in a special plug about those most gifted students: for a different reason, they need private music instruction just as much as do the students of lower capability. Where the latter need private help to keep up with the program, the former need private help to keep up with their own personal potential and interest.

Just as they are the gifted students make the most of the class instruction they get in band, they are also the ones who make the most of private instruction. These are the ones who show the best return on the investment of private lessons, and who are the most apt to be musically bored without them. These are also the students who tend to spread the skills by teaching (and modeling to) their classmates some of the skills they learn in private lessons.

Musicality: More Than Words and Notes and Fingerings

Playing or singing music excellent involves so much more than just getting the words and notes right. It’s so much more than getting the right fingerings and the right rhythms. Those basics are musts in school music programs, but where the music really comes alive is with the more advanced things like phrasing and dynamics and richness of tone quality—things that are best learned in private instruction.

Raising the Standard

It’s easy to think of just being in the band or choir as the standard of music education in the schools. But really, I think that that experience should be understood more as something like the Band-Lite or Choir-Lite experience. And the standard should be to be in the band/choir program with the private instruction needed to achieve an appreciable level of mastery of the instrument during one’s schooling years. People can attain high levels of musical skill without becoming music majors in college—and there’s no better time to attain that than in those years from 6th to 12th grade!