“Private teacher” or multi-instrument, multi-teacher music studio?

We know, with all the instruments hanging in the window and the official looking building, the multi-instrument studios look like the perfect place to try out a new instrument!

The answer is – well, maybe. It depends on what you’re after.

Heading to a private studio, one where a teacher teaches from their home or is the sole teacher, means you are going specifically for that teacher.  That means that it’s really important for there to be a good teacher-student fit.

The benefit of studios employing several teachers is that they’re easy to find – just look for instruments in the window and sign up! The benefit for the teachers employed at these studios is that the teachers don’t have to handle finding students, scheduling, or payments.

If the teacher is without a suitable space in which to teach (read: close neighbors!), multi instrument/teacher studios can also have benefits. We’ve been there, we know!

Also, if you’re just looking for a quick sample of an instrument and want a general intro, sometimes studios offer good two week or month long classes to get you going.

The downside is that for all these possible benefits for the teacher, the multi teacher/instrument studio takes a big cut of a teacher’s pay (most often, teachers are paid less than half of what you pay the school)! That often translates to less experienced or less educated teachers, and much higher rate of teacher changeover. At worst, we’ve taught at studios where teachers teach instruments they’re not very experienced on, because they “can teach at a beginning level”. This may lead to a lot of issues down the road if your child is really dedicated to the instrument, or worse, the student just gets frustrated and gives up the instrument.

Teachers who have their own studios have the freedom to organize and administrate in a way that will be most in the interest of the student and the educational experience, and less in the interest of the “business” aspects of the studio itself. Not only do private teachers most often not have a reception desk (when you call you get the teacher!), we often depend solely on our reputations and word of mouth to create our student base- the focus remains on teaching and not promoting. Though more students equals more monthly tuition checks, it also means less individual attention for each student, especially in terms of lesson planning and communication with families. This in turn means less collaboration with parents and students in creating the best possible experience for the student. Sometimes, smaller really is better!

When teachers must reschedule a lesson or class, most multi teacher/instrument studios provide a substitute teacher for a lesson. While this can be fabulous and have no detriment for group classes, the idea of consistency with lesson schedules is outweighed heavily by the downside of having an unfamiliar teacher step in and try to be effective for a class! There is more than one “right way” to play most instruments, so conflicting ideas and teaching styles can lead to some confusion. For young students, this can be especially confusing.

Because of the myriad policies and presentations that different studios cultivate, teachers at multi-teacher/instrument studios often have less control over how they teach and must conform to a uniform style or method of teaching for each child. The result is often boredom, frustration, or disinterest in the instrument.

Most independent teachers have started their studios after many, many years of teaching (though of course, ask any teacher you’re considering how long they’ve been teaching, or what their teaching background is)! Additionally, those of us who teach private lessons independently often have active performing and teaching schedules outside of the private studio, and teach out of pure love of teaching – it’s not a necessity but a desire!

However, it must be said: we’re all for arts education, period, no matter what the format!

I must add that there are there are a few notable exceptions in every city- usually if there is a college or conservatory, the preparatory departments are fantastic.  In SF, the Conservatory prep is indeed fantastic, and in east bay Crowden is another school that has cred!  These places can actually be “upgrades” for very serious students looking to take the next step if their current teacher is not able to teach more advanced students.