Half An Hour Is Not Enough

Since 2000 I’ve been talking to piano teachers around Australia (and from time to time around New Zealand, even less often in the UK, and just twice in Malaysia), and it doesn’t matter where I go, Sydney, Belfast, Bendigo, Wellington or Penang, teachers ask me “how can we fit it all in a half hour piano lesson?”.

The short answer is “you can’t”, and in a way it’s a relief to just get that admission out of the way. It takes a lot of energy and self-deceit to pretend that 30 minute lessons on an almost weekly basis for 10+ years will produce master musicians, and once we recognise that this time frame is insufficient we can start looking for better strategies.

So, if half an hour isn’t enough, what can we do about it?

1. We can re-examine how we define ‘enough’. What are the goals we are setting? Are they the goals we want to work towards?! Most of the time, in former Commonwealth countries, teachers define ‘enough’ by examinations (do we have enough time in 32-40 x 30 minute lessons to prepare for a excellent result in a Grade x examination?). Defining what is ‘enough’ involves talking to students and their parents about what they want to accomplish, as well as interrogating ourselves as to what we think a piano education should encompass.

2. We can look at ways of getting the most out of the thirty minute lesson. Have we built inefficiencies into our lesson model? Are our teaching methods wasteful of our limited time resources?

3. We can explore how more learning can take place between lessons. Are we structuring appropriate learning experiences to take place when we are not present? Are we informing students and their parents of ways to enhance learning between formal lessons?

4. We can restructure our teaching so that lessons are longer. This may involve a serious culture shift in some teaching studios where all lessons have always been charged in 30 minute units (even if they lasted for 45 minutes!).

5. We can offer once-a-term (or twice-a-term) learning opportunities which enhance the learning being done in the one-on-one context. This might be anything from a performance masterclass through to a Baroque dance class, from a scales concert through to a blog carnival, from a group harmony class to a studio-wide YouTube concert.

6. We can encourage students to take on additional musical commitments. This could range from learning a second instrument through to accompanying worship services at church/the choir at school, or being part of a jazz ensemble, and beyond.

And as with any such list, I’m sure we could add more to it.

But it’s these six ideas I’d like to explore a little further in follow-up posts: redefining ‘enough’, teaching more efficiently, facilitating out-of-lesson learning, creating and implementing scheduling changes, enabling group learning opportunities, and encouraging participation in non-solo piano music making.

In the meantime, do you find that half an hour is simply not enough?

10 thoughts on “Half An Hour Is Not Enough

  1. I find I can generally get through enough of the repertoire to set up with the student how they need to practice throughout the week in order to achieve the goals we’ve set. It’s when we start adding things like theory (which is very useful) that 30 minutes really isn’t enough. I have one darling student who loves her Blitz theory books, but I find I often spend most of a lesson explaining concepts and correcting her (often rushed) work. I had to set up a pattern where I would see theory first one week and then piano first the next, just so the lessons wouldn’t become too theory heavy.

  2. As far back as I recall (which isn’t all the way), my piano, and later flute, lessons were an hour long, or at least 45 minutes.

    So when I began teaching others (flute), I followed the same approach and offered hour lessons. (Admittedly, when teaching flute you’re unlikely to have very, very young students – they have to be at least 10 or older just to hold the instrument correctly.)

    An hour lesson felt normal, and productive. It also allowed a better opportunity to “model” the sorts of things a student should be doing in a practice session at home: we never had to skip breathing exercises or physical warm-ups or basic tone exercises on the grounds we only had 30 minutes and there was repertoire to study.

  3. I feel like 30-minute lessons are actually just 45-minute lessons crammed into 30 minutes! I’m in the US and many teachers I talk with don’t even teach 30-minute lessons except for maybe young beginners.

  4. The best change I made this year was increasing lesson times to 45 minutes. Only a couple still have 30-minute lessons – and now that I’ve laid the groundwork, by next year, 30 minutes won’t even be an option in my studio.

    I should state that I am also no longer starting any student younger than 7 years old. I’m leaving that to the early childhood experts.

  5. I agree that half an hour is good for repertoire but not all the other avenues we explore at the same time.

    Next year I will be ensuring my students beyond beginners get more time with me. Now just to tell the parents.

  6. Yes half an hour is NOT enough! So many parents think it is an option because so many studios OFFER it. I read one teacher on the piano world forums comment that she doesn’t even offer 30 minute lessons any longer and all the 30 minute students upgraded to 45 and all her new students have to choose between 45 min or an hour.

    I try to encourage all my families to increase from 30 minutes to a higher time and most of them eagerly accept. Sometimes the families themselves do not understand the details and are happy for our professional expertise. So don’t be shy to encourage more time for your 30 min students!

  7. V interesting as our 2 new music teachers in US insisted that half an hour is not enough so we are paying for a 45 minute lesson for one child and hour for the other. And completely agree re other additional music experiences. Maybe 45 minutes should be standard time? It seems to be enough.

  8. I teach 45 minue to hour-long lessons at home, but at school I am stuck in the 30-minute routine common to most schools, with only one family paying the extra for 45 minute lessons. I think it comes down to finances for some families, but at school it is more a matter of time missed from regular classes. Few parents would be happy for their children to miss an hour’s worth of classes each week unfortunately.

  9. Being a Yamaha teacher, I am fortunate to teach many of my students with weekly 30-45 minute repertoire/technique/sight reading lessons and weekly group 60 minute harmony/theory/aural (inc by-ear playing of melody and harmony) /composition/ensemble lessons! I love it.

    In one group class on Monday we learned the blues scale. With three of the girls playing the 12-bar-blues in cadence-style accompaniment, the other three took turns improvising one 12-bar chorus at a time one after the other without a break. Then we swapped. On Tuesday, one of those girls (Gr 2 AMEB) in her private lesson learned the notes of “Boogie Band” by Catherine Rollin in about four minutes, BH. Some times these things are not “extras”. Sometimes they are the most direct route to learning a new concept.

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