What Every Parent Should Know About Private Music Lessons

by Jenny Maclay

Date Posted: August 01, 2016

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As students enter band and orchestra programs each year, many parents enroll their children into private music lessons. Here is some advice and helpful hints for any parent of a student enrolled in private lessons:

  • “Interview” potential teachers. Finding a good teacher/student match is crucial. Take an introductory lesson with any candidates and sit in during your child’s lesson. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Finding the right teacher for your child can make all the difference.

  • Private lessons are not a quick fix. Do not enroll your child in lessons a month before All-State auditions and expect them to be first chair. Realize that improvement may take time. On a related note (pun slightly intended), realize that teachers may have to correct fundamental issues (incorrect embouchure, finger/hand positions, articulation, breathing) before moving to more advanced concepts. Demanding that your child work on band music if they have a fundamental issue will just reinforce bad habits and may even cause injury.

  • Please make sure your child practices outside of their lesson. Teachers know when students have not practiced. Besides hindering improvement, paying for private lessons if a child does not practice is wasting hard-earned money. Also, running through band music for twenty minutes does not count as practicing. Students should work on assignments given during lessons and practice concepts and ideas discussed during their lesson.

  • Encourage your child to listen to music. It can be famous performers on their instrument or jazz bands or symphony orchestras – listening to good musicians reinforces good musicianship. You would be surprised how many students I see who have never even heard of Beethoven!

  • Please, please, please do not be late for your lesson. If your lesson is at 5, your child should have their instrument out and warmed up by 4:50. If you show up at 5 (or later), you are wasting time getting set up and warming up, and most teachers have very full teaching schedules and may not be able to make up lost time.

  • Pay on time. Discuss payment options with the teacher and follow through. Music isn’t just a hobby for us – many teachers are freelance musicians and live paycheck to paycheck (or gig to gig).

  • If you have to miss a lesson, let your teacher know as soon as possible (ideally 24 hours advance notice). Nothing is more frustrating than a no-show with no explanation. Keep in mind that many teachers will also bill you for their time if you do not show up. Check your teacher’s absence and makeup policy.

  • Be open to your teacher’s suggestions on equipment. If the teacher suggests getting a new mouthpiece, bow, instrument, etc. have them explain the benefits. Playing on the best equipment you can afford will greatly help your child.

  • Make sure your child comes to every lesson with any assigned material, pencil, paper, and anything else the teacher tells you to bring. If they recommend buying music, please follow through. As catchy as your child’s band music may be (here’s looking at you, Frozen renditions), it will not teach them much in terms of fundamentals or other concepts we may be covering.

  • Listen to your child. If they do not want to continue private lessons, ask why. If they have valid reasons, consider the options. If your child is unhappy with their teacher, consider trying a new teacher. Students who no longer enjoy what they are doing should find something they are truly passionate about.

I hope these tips help anyone interested in having their child take private lessons. It is a valuable investment and will be beneficial for anyone looking to have an edge over their peers or to just learn more about music for music’s sake.

Jenny Maclay Circle

Dr. Jenny Maclay enjoys a diverse career as a clarinet soloist, recitalist, orchestral player, chamber musician, pedagogue, and blogger. In 2021, she was the Visiting Instructor of Clarinet at Brandon University (Canada) and was Visiting Lecturer of Clarinet at Iowa State University in 2020. Online, she is known as Jenny Clarinet, where she created her eponymous popular blog, and she is also the Social Media Coordinator for the International Clarinet Association.

In addition to teaching and performing, Jenny is also interested in travelling and researching clarinet cultures around the world. To date, she has visited and performed in over 30 countries, and she enjoys meeting other clarinetists during her travels. Recently, she was selected by the Council of Faroese Artists as an artist-in-residence in Tjørnuvík, Faroe Islands, where she performed and promoted clarinet compositions by Faroese composers. She has also been named an Artist-in-Residence Niederösterreich, and she will study the clarinet compositions of Ernst Krenek and his wife Gladys Nordenstrom during her residency in Austria in 2022.

Jenny was the recipient of the 2015-2016 Harriet Hale Woolley Award for musical study in Paris, where she was an artist-in-residence at the Fondation des Etats-Unis. She received her Master of Musique, interprétation, et patrimoine at the Versailles Conservatoire in the class of Philippe Cuper and her Doctorat en musique interprétation at the Université de Montréal in the class of André Moisan. She has achieved a number of other notable musical honors, including selection as a prizewinner, finalist, and semi-finalist for such international competitions as Concerts Artists Guild and Astral Artists, and other recent prizes include 1st prize at the 2017 Clé d’Or international music competition and highest-ranking clarinetist at the 2016 Tunbridge Wells International Young Artist Competition in England. Most recently, Jenny performed a virtual recital at the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest 2021, featuring a transcription of Brahms’ Zwei Gesänge, Op. 91 for clarinet, theremin, and piano. Other recent performances include a virtual recital for the U.S. Embassy France and a collaborative duo recital with Sauro Berti, solo bass clarinetist of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma at ClarinetFest 2019.

Jenny has performed with orchestras throughout Europe and North America. In 2017, she toured with the Jeune Philharmonie franco-allemande et hongroise, an international orchestra comprised of musicians from over 20 different countries. During past seasons, she has performed with several orchestras, including the Ensemble Orchestral Les Voyages Extraordinaires, Écoute Ensemble de Musique Contemporaine, Orchestre d’Harmonie de Levallois, Florida Orchestra, Valdosta Symphony, and Ocala Symphony. As a chamber musician, she has performed several masterworks in prestigious venues, including the Mozart clarinet quintet at La Seine Musicale and the Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps at the Fondation des Etats-Unis in Paris.

Jenny received her Bachelor of Music Degree in Clarinet Performance from the University of Florida, where she graduated summa cum laude and was a Fulbright Scholar alternate. Her teachers include Philippe Cuper, Karl Leister, André Moisan, Mitchell Estrin, Todd Waldecker, John Cooper, and Donald Dowdy. She was the youngest presenter of refereed research at the 2014 International Clarinet Association ClarinetFest. Recently, Jenny has been an invited artist and presented lectures on musicpreneurship at Louisiana State University, University of Memphis, University of Iowa, Loyola University, Millikin University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Alabama Birmingham, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida, University of Southern Mississippi, and has been a featured soloist at the keynote ceremony of the Alabama Music Educators Association Conference.

Jenny Clarinet has been featured in The Clarinet and the Clarineat podcast and has been named one of Feedspot’s “Top 20 Clarinet Blogs, Websites, and Influencers to Follow.” To date, she has published over 300 articles which have been read in over 177 countries and translated into multiple languages, and she has contributed articles which have been featured in The Clarinet, Vandoren WAVE newsletter, Deutsche Klarinetten-Gesellschaft, Rodriguez Musical Services blog, and Lisa’s Clarinet Shop blog. Her first book, an examination of unaccompanied clarinet repertoire, is currently in publication. Jenny Maclay performs exclusively on Vandoren reeds, mouthpieces, and ligatures.

In addition to clarinet, Jenny is also learning to play the theremin, an early electronic instrument and the only one played without physical contact. After writing this blog post, Jenny became interested in the theremin and has collaborated and performed with theremin virtuosi Grégoire Blanc and Charlie Draper. You can listen to some of these collaborations here and here.

When she’s not onstage or in a practice room, Jenny enjoys travelling and has visited over 30 countries. During her travels, she likes to befriend the local cats and enjoys reading books at kitschy cafés. Her caffeination of choice is espresso or Earl Grey tea.

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