Private and Small Group Lessons in the School Band Program

Mike Lawson • Features • January 26, 2015

Share This:

Private teachers can play an important role in the development of young musicians by providing instrument-specific instruction, modeling technique, and monitoring progress. However, it is sometimes challenging to engage qualified instructors due to cost or a lack of professional musicians in the area. Nonetheless, there are several ways directors can foster individualized instruction among their students.

Private Instructors

The ideal applied instructor will have a degree in music and professional experience as a teacher and performer. The local university, symphony orchestra, and musicians’ union amongst the first places to look for individuals of this caliber. Although college faculty and professional musicians may accept younger students, they often have limited availability because they teach part-time and/or commute a great distance. They or a college band director, however, might be able to recommend capable students interested in earning additional income as private teachers. Other options include hiring retired music educators, community band members, or advanced high school students. Even a mature eighth grader can serve as an effective model and practice partner for a younger beginner.

 Directors should meet potential teachers to ensure that they share the same goals and will work well with students. While some teachers will be effective with a wide range of pupils, others may work best with struggling beginners or advancing high school players. Be aware of the going rate for lessons in your area so that all parties receive fair treatment. Once teachers are in place, create a list that includes instructors’ names, contact information, availability, and fee. Distribute the list in students’ folders and to parents through email and at performances, open house, and conferences. To encourage participation, invite instructors to solo with the ensemble or play a piece alongside students at a concert. Use this opportunity to introduce these individuals and discuss the benefits of lessons in addition to ensemble work. Compare applied instruction to preparing for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) with a tutor or developing athletic skills with a private coach.

 Most lessons will probably take place outside school hours and off campus. However, students could take lessons at school during rehearsal time if the administration approves, space is available, and full ensemble instruction can proceed effectively. Directors might also allow private teachers to give lessons after school, though they might have to provide supervision. Some music stores engage private instructors who work on the premises or have knowledge of applied teachers in the area. If students must travel to a music store or college in another community, try scheduling multiple lessons at the same time to allow for carpooling. Another way to defray cost would be to take lessons once or twice per month for a longer period.

 If necessary, consider arranging small group lessons to make efficient use of instructors’ time and allow more students to benefit from their expertise. If an instructor can teach more than one instrument, group students by ability rather than section and have them work through a class method book series. Be aware that some applied teachers might be reluctant to teach multiple players at one time. Directors can facilitate this plan by helping instructors schedule students, select material, and set an appropriate rate for group vs. private lessons.

Directors Teaching Lessons

Some directors will find that the only option for providing lessons is to teach these themselves. Depending on schedules, it might be possible to provide pullout instruction where students leave their regularly scheduled class to participate in individual or small group lessons. Pullouts usually occur on a fixed schedule, where students are excused from the same class each lesson, or a rotating basis, where lessons meet during a different period and result in less time out of a single subject. Directors can alleviate concerns about missing class by rescheduling lessons during tests or other special activities, not pulling students from classes where they struggle, and sharing research on the effect of such programs. A number of studies have examined the academic achievement of non-instrumental students vs. instrumental students involved in pullout lessons by comparing scores of the two groups on various standardized tests. In every case, findings indicated either no statistically significant difference between the two groups, or a significant difference in favor of instrumental students (see sidebar for further information). 

 Music educators unable to teach lessons within the academic schedule might offer them before or after school, or during the summer. However, directors should be compensated for their time outside regular contract hours either through lesson fees, a stipend provided by the school district, or a combination of both. Booster groups might also consider supplementing lesson fees for motivated students unable to pay the full amount themselves.

 It is in the best interests of district employees to teach lessons at school rather than home. Consult with administration to attain permission to use school facilities, ensure that there are no conflicts with district policy, and review guidelines for protecting teachers and students working one-on-one and outside the regular school day. Finally, create a lesson handbook for parents that outlines expectations, fees, schedules, and other details.

 Individualized instruction can help students reach their full potential as mature, independent musicians as well as raise the standard of the entire band program. Although it might not be possible for every student to take private lessons, creative directors can increase the amount of individualized instruction by connecting students with applied teachers and offering alternatives when necessary.         

Additional Resources

For Parents

  • Schmidt, E. (2010). Hey mom! Listen to this!: A parent’s guide to music. New York: Hal Leonard.

For Teachers and Students

  • Green, E. A. H. (2005). Practicing successfully: A master class in the musical art. Chicago: GIA.

Pullout Lessons

  • Gillespie, R. (1992). The elementary pull-out crisis: Using research effectively. American String Teacher Journal, 42(2), 79-81.
  • Hash, P. M. (2004). Hash, P. M. (2004, winter). Literature review: Pullout lessons in instrumental music education. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 159, 1-10.
  • Hash, P. M. (2005, June). Pullouts can work. Instrumentalist, 59(11), 38-40.
  • Hash, P. M. (2011). Research summary: Effect of pullout instrumental music lessons on academic achievement.
  • National Association for Music Education (n.d.). Specialized music instruction (position statement).


Author Biography

Phillip Hash is Associate Professor of Music Education at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds an Ed.D. in music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a M.M in wind conducting from Northwestern University, and a B.M. in music education from Millikin University. Dr. Hash taught instrumental music in the Chicago area for 14 years and has received the Citation of Excellence from the National Band Association on two occasions as well as the Outstanding Chicagoland Music Educator Award. Bands under his direction have performed at the University of Illinois Superstate Concert Band Festival and the Illinois Music Educators Association All-State Conference. Dr. Hash is a member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and the National Band Association. He has published numerous arrangements for developing instrumentalists and articles in various music education research journals and periodicals.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!