In years (very) gone by, music was relegated almost exclusively to the home. The musical “The Music Man” depicts a traveling con-man named Harold Hill who travels from town to town, selling the townsfolk on the advantages of a school instrumental music program to help keep the students from getting into trouble. His ploy is to secure payment for instruments and uniforms, then skip town without providing either. He eventually has a change of heart (falling in love with the beautiful and insightful Marian Paroo, the town’s librarian and piano instructor), and a wonderful marching band is born in the fictional town of River City, Iowa! I suppose it could have worked this way in 1912, but would be doubtful in 2021! School music programs are curricular based performing arts programs, developed for the main purpose of providing a solid musical experience for the students K-12 and for extended performance experience for those students who show interest. The school programs can accommodate individuals but are more cost effective when applied to mass education. There are no mandates as to what type of music programs the schools must provide, but there are certain standards that are generally implemented.
One definite requirement is that any public school music program must be taught or at least supervised by a state certified music teacher who has at least a four year bachelor’s degree from a qualified college or university. However, this is probably where any strict standards end. Some districts have general classroom music for all to at least the end of the elementary school level, while many offer the same through middle school. Instrumental programs (band and orchestra) require specialized training, and usually begin in 3rd or 4th grade and last through high school graduation. Vocal music gets the same attention and also lasts to high school graduation. Some schools supplement their instrumental and vocal programs with specialties such as jazz band, jazz vocal ensemble, small group ensembles, hand bells, steel drums, and even rock music laboratory experiences. These are all usually managed from within the school’s instrumental, vocal, or general music programs. In some schools, the same could be said for other more solo types of instrumental experiences like piano, guitar, ukulele, etc. So if all of this is already going on, why would any school age student consider private lessons when they can learn the basics of what they want in most (sadly not all) public and even private and parochial schools? The answer depends on what the student’s goals and desires are, and what type of musical experience they desire. This quote from the article titled “Five Reasons Why Private Music Lessons Work” (http://thevault.musicarts.com/five-reasons-private-music-lessons-work/) is probably the best reason to consider enrolling your child in private music lessons:
“At the end of the day, private music lessons will help set your child up for success in music. With a private music instructor, your child will learn the fundamentals of playing at a much quicker rate. Once that foundation is built, your child can keep learning, playing, and succeeding.”
Large and small group instruction is fine for the novice or even more enthusiastic learner, but it will not satisfy the specific needs of a student at either end of the learning spectrum. Most very talented and even driven students can reach a moderately high level exclusively through the school music programs; unfortunately, a moderately high achievement level will likely not get them an audition opportunity to perform with state and regional ensembles, made up of only the best musicians in that area (not to say the least regarding continued music performance at the university and possibly the professional levels). There is also a matter of extended music education for those who have extreme learning disabilities, where their involvement through the school’s music programs might be above their capabilities. Finally, what about instruments like guitar and piano? Some school music programs are beginning to offer these experiences for upper grade level students, but they are usually taught in varying size classes or groups. They possess the same limitations as for the more traditional instrumental and vocal program participants.
In conclusion, I do not want to sound as if school music programs are inferior to private music instruction. To the contrary, private music instruction can only enhance a students’ interest and involvement in the school music program. As a veteran school music teacher of over 33 total years (as well as a product of private lessons while participating in my school’s band and chorus), I can say with absolute confidence that there is no experience like making music in a large group of peers with the same interests. It is usually the type of experience that one never forgets, even if they go on to other interests in their lives!