Weekly Lessons – My Teaching Story
I stopped teaching private trumpet lessons through the schools in 1997. The story behind why I stopped is one that I tell often because it helps motivate the students to commit to showing up every week.
I am originally from El Paso, Texas, where even to this day (to my knowledge), it is illegal to teach trumpet lessons at the schools. In El Paso, I either taught lessons at the local music store, or the students met me at the University of Texas at El Paso where I was a student at the time.
This was in the 80’s.
I never had more than fifteen students in El Paso. Of those fifteen, most of them made All-Region and I did have All-State students. I never had more than one All-State student at a time, but one out of fifteen is a fairly impressive ratio.
Private Lessons in the Schools
I moved to Houston in 1988, where they do have lessons in the schools and the number of students you can teach is huge in comparison to El Paso. I soon had over fifty students and would eventually take on as many as 77 students. That’s 77 weekly lessons!
With one out of fifteen students making All-State in El Paso, I thought for certain I would have at least three All-State students per year, here in Houston where we can teach so many lessons in one week.
But I was wrong.
The first year came and went… no All-Stater students.
Second year came and went… no All-Stater students.
The third year, the fourth year, fifth year, sixth year…
No All-Stater students!
My students were barely even making region.
One Student Outside of the Schools
After many years of not even a single student making All-State, I received a message from a local band director that one of his students lived in the same apartment complex as I did. He wanted to know if I would give him lessons in the apartment.
He made All-State that year! At that point in my career, he became the most successful student I had ever taught. He played in the Disney all star band for a while, then was one of the first members of the on stage marching sensation called Blast.
Was this a coincidence? This new student was a great kid and a talented player. But so were many of the other seventy students I was teaching at the time.
So I decided to take on more students outside of the schools.
More All-State Students
Just as a side note, if you are interested in how I help my students prepare for their All-State competitions, you may want to check out my All-State Prep book by clicking HERE.
Not every student I taught outside of the schools was making All-State, but the ratio was a lot closer to what I was experiencing in El Paso.
Not only that, other indicators of the students’ successes began lighting up. The students who were taking lessons outside of the schools were experiencing more positive performances and were learning their music better, and faster, than the students I taught in the schools. The independent students also grew to enjoy the music more than the kids in the schools. Overall, private lessons seemed to be making a greater impact on the students’ musical lives when they happened independently of the public school music programs.
20 vs. 52 Weekly Lessons Per Year
There were two major differences between the lessons I taught outside the schools and lessons I taught in the schools. The biggest difference was the number of lessons the students were getting. Students getting lessons through the school band program were lucky to get 20 lessons per year. My students outside the schools were getting lessons almost every week, close to 52 lessons per year.
Why do the students in the schools get so few lessons?
Because the lessons are routinely canceled for a variety of reasons.
If there is testing, no lessons.
If there is an assembly, no lessons.
If there is a field trip, no lessons.
If there is an important rehearsal before an important competition, you guessed it…. no lessons.
My students outside of the schools make their commitments to me, not their band directors. When they cannot show up to their lessons, they are obligated to make those lessons up. So the number of lessons is pretty steady.
The other problem with school lessons is that they are always too short. The typical lesson in the schools is between twenty and twenty five minutes long. This is if the lessons are during the students’ band class periods. If the lessons are after school, they may get the full half hour of lessons. Most students do not take full hour lessons if they are taking lessons through the schools.
Lessons outside of the schools are almost always a full hour long. So let’s do the math. My students inside the schools would often receive as few as 6.5 hours of lesson time in a year. Students who took lessons outside the schools are getting as many as 52 hours of lesson time in a year.
Which of these students do you think are going to do better?
Benefits of Regular Weekly Lessons
This story has two morals to it. The first is that lessons in the schools are not as valuable as lessons outside the schools. The second moral is that weekly lessons make a huge difference. When students spend more time with their teacher, they do better. The difference between lessons in the schools and independent lessons where the students can take as many as 52 weekly lessons per year is a drastic difference in time spent with the student. Eight times as much time!
I quit teaching in the schools in 1997 (there have been two, short-term exceptions but the story about why is too long to share here). I do not think that lessons in the schools is a good thing. I thought it was good when I first moved to Houston.
In fact, I should clarify my statement here. I actually DO believe that lessons in the schools ARE a good thing….for the band. They are probably even a good thing for the average students who have no genuine musical ambitions. Most band students wouldn’t take lessons at all if they weren’t offered through the schools. So yes, the band benefits from lessons in the schools because the worst students are not going to be as bad when they get lessons. And the band is only as strong as it’s weakest students. Right?
But for those students who really want to do well, lessons in the schools are not good enough.
Of course, this is when people write to me and say that they only ever had lessons in the schools and they made All-State. My answer to them is that my story is not about All-State. I only use All-State as a litmus test, to demonstrate the differences between the two types of lessons. Those differences are about FAR MORE than just whether they make All-State or not.
The bottom line is that more lesson time is better than less lesson time. It’s very difficult to argue against that point. So my story here is just to show you have I figured out precisely HOW much difference more lesson time makes.
Enthusiastic students should be taking weekly lessons. I am not one of those who believes that every trumpet student must be enthusiastic. I actually quite like working with less enthusiastic students. The problem is when the more enthusiastic students communicate their desires to me but then don’t make it to half of their lessons.