Individualized Music Coaching: Why, When, Where, With Whom, How Often and How Much?

Treble CleffBy John Gardner

Dear music student,

There is only so much that can be done within the large ensemble setting. The director must focus on the total sound and can find it difficult to use rehearsal time for significant individual technique teaching. And besides, your director is a specialist on at least one instrument, but probably not on every instrument.

When your director was in college, he/she had a crash course (called methods classes) on every instrument group. For example, a “Woodwind Methods” class will roate people every 2-3 weeks so that they can experience most instruments within that 12 week semester. Similarly with brass, percussion and strings methods classes, the idea is to give the student an overview (not an expertise) of every instrument so he/she can offer general instruction in ensemble class.

Why individualized coaching?

  • Your director is NOT a specialist on your instrument
  • You are BEHIND the ensemble and need some help catching up
  • You are AHEAD of the ensemble and need a challenge
  • You are considering music as a major in college

Studying with a specialist on your instrument is the fastest way to improve.  With individual instruction, you get all the attention for faster progress that others will notice.

What can I do with individualized instruction?

  • Develop solid fundamentals in embouchure, finger position, stick/mallet control and quality sound
  • Learn how to maintain your instrument, and select and care for reeds, mutes, etc.
  • Conquer major, minor, chromatic (and other scales and technical exercises), plus lip slurs, double-tonguing and other instrument specific skills
  • Advance technique with etudes and specialized studies
  • Become more familiar with music terms plus music history and theory
  • Use solos and duets to learn how to perform – and then perform
  • …and have a good time becoming a better musician

What can the coach do with and for me, now and in the future?

A music coach can help with…

  • Current band and audition music
  • Preparation or critique for a playing test — catching the things you might miss
  • Selecting and preparing solos and ensembles for competition
  • Recommendations and selection of step-up instruments
  • A coach who gets to know you well can be an influential mentor in more ways than just music. He/she can provide positive reinforcement, encouragement, direction and support as you progress and achieve
  • Advocating on your behalf when the time comes to apply for jobs, college admissions and scholarships. A common scholarship application question for your coach is: “How long have you known the applicant, in what capacity, and how well do you know him/her. You have most teachers for one year. A music teacher or private study coach can work with you for years…..and that is a good thing.

When, Where, How Often, How Much, and How?

When should I start?

It is never too soon, and never too late, but a late start can be problematic for music majors going to top rated schools. Beginners can get a good foundational jump start. Everyone can move faster and get better. Once a student has a serious desire to pursue music in college, it is really important to get some specialized training. Top rated schools will likely expect more than you can do on your own, even for admission. And then, depending on the size of the program, if inadequately prepared you can find yourself starting farther down the proficiency chain than you’d rather. You’ll be auditioning for scholarships, for participation in the top ensembles, for chair placement and even for the right to study with the top professor.

How often can be financially driven. Ideal is weekly, but even twice monthly can accomplish a lot. Any specialized help is better than none.

Where can I find a coach?

  • Ask your teacher. If you just need a little help with your music, the director should be able to do that….or maybe he/she can have another student help. For higher level or more sustained study, if not qualified or comfortable doing it, he can help in your search. 
  • The local college music department may have a music major who would be thrilled to utilize some of that music ed training. And they should not be very expensive. Studying with the college professor can be significantly more expensive, but you are getting a higher level of expertise as well.
  • Music stores often maintain a list of private teachers in the area. They know if you are studying privately that they have a better chance of selling you a step up instrument.
  • Professional orchestra musicians. Similarly to college teachers, this offers you a high level of expertise. Once consideration, however….. these are often musicians who are amazing players but not always as good at telling you how to do what they are doing. I know of one instance where a college, utilizing a professional as an adjunct, had to sever the relationship because of unacceptable teaching methods and communication.
  • Summer music camps usually offer some lessons with the professor at the college where the camp is being held.
  • Remote (visual, virtual, vs personal on site) instruction. If you live in a rural area, the above options may not be available. There are people (like me) who can utilize Skype or some other method to offer professional help. Once you get past the potential creepiness of someone watching via camera your face or fingers, it can be a very effective tool. Other than the slight delay that makes playing duets unrealistic, you should consider it. Be sure to check references, have the parent or teacher involved in at least the initial contact, and utilize this powerfully effective internet tool.

=====> Virtual Music Lessons or Critique <=====

How much will it cost? I am writing from Northeast Indiana. Locally the going rate is about $15 for a 30-45 minute lesson. To study with a member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra (nearest professional group), the rate can be about $40 for an hour.

What if I can’t afford it? Ask for help. There are sometimes community organizations that will help. In the past handful of years, I have had underwriters sponsor a student for a period of time, helped students win local scholarships for lessons, and negotiated special arrangements with teachers. In multiple cases, once parents have realized the improvement and excitement, they find a way to justify or to pay for continued training. In an article called Excellence and Self Esteem, I include a description of my high school clarinet teacher, including how I couldn’t afford to study with him and the solution he offered. I had help when I was in high school and am always looking for ways to help others as well. And most teachers will want to work with a student who wants to work hard. Never give up!

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Hope this helps. Let me know if I can help.

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15 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them.Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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