How To Structure a One Hour Private Lesson

One hour. Sometimes sixty minutes feels like a lifetime, but then other times it flies by. Time is strange like that. 

One Hour Structure

Over the years, I have tweaked the structure and break down of time in one hour private lessons. Having taken private lessons for years, I experienced many different types of lessons, student teacher interaction, and lesson format. These experiences shaped how and why I teach.

Here is how I break down an hour:

  1. Start with a general greeting and “how was your day, week, school?” type question.
  2. Ask the student what they would like to start with. Usually, students pick the usual order listed below.
  3. Scales
  4. Schradieck and/or Sevcik
  5. Etude
  6. Repertoire
  7. End with this question to them: do you have any concerns, questions, or anything else I can help you with?

The Whys

Let’s break down the whys of this one hour structure:

1. The student/teacher interaction is really important.

Honestly, for me, it’s the most important. There must be mutual respect and good communication between the student and teacher for the lessons to work and go well. 

So, one of the ways I work on this in nbk studios and establish a good connection from the start is by screening student applicants. Typically, I do a trial lesson. This gives us the opportunity to talk and get a feel for how lessons would go. Sometimes, it isn’t a good fit and I recommend someone I believe would be. 

Once accepted into my studio the work begins. I think it’s important to establish trust with students and parents. The private lesson teacher is typically one of the only adults a young person will have extended contact with, 1:1 for years. Most of my students study with me for a minimum of three years. However, I’ve taught students for up to seven or eight years depending on the situation. This is a significant relationship and time spent. It is an honor to get to know a young person and guide them through their musical journey, and I do not take it lightly.

I want to know how they are doing and get to know them outside of their instrument. 

It is so easy to fall into the trap of I’m a musician, this is all I am, and all I do. By having simple conversations and checking in, it a) shows them I care and I listen, b) helps me get to know them as people, c) establishes trust, d) sets boundaries. 

Setting boundaries with students is really important. While I ask how they are and how life is going, I always make sure to have clear boundaries with them as their teacher and musical guide.

2. I always ask this question.

I have found, particularly over the last five years, that young people are afraid to make decisions. So much of their school day is packed with activities they have no control over. It is not uncommon for students to tell me they don’t want to pick because they either don’t care about order or they are afraid to make a decision. This lack of decision making skill, critical thinking, and decisiveness prompted me to start requiring students to make choices. We start small, and I’ve seen it help students be more confident and more assured in their choices.

3 through 6: 

Obviously, there are non-negotiables. All of my students are required to learn scales, exercises, etudes, and repertoire. Students are assigned a minimum of one scale a week, repertoire to learn over time, and an etude a week. We work on how to learn an etude in a week over time and start small. Then, by a few months, they are learning 1 caprice or etude a week with no problem. So, this makes Region a breeze. 

Speaking of Region, every spring and every fall I get calls and requests to “help my child learn their solo and ensemble piece” or “help my child get into all-state.” I say no, I don’t teach to the test or to the system that is set up here in the Texas school system. However, I will teach your son or daughter violin or viola, but they must follow my system and guidelines. 

Sometimes, this is a tough sell because our tragic education system has veered so far off the rails that “teaching the test” is common in all subjects. 

Now, I do help students with Region, All-State, and Solo and Ensemble. My rule, however, is that we will not only do that. The Texas Music Education calendar does dictate when these things happen, but what I tell my students and their parents is that if they follow my system and guidance, they will be ready for these events when they arise. The students that thrive in those are practicing repertoire, scales, and other exercises, not just pounding out one Kreutzer etude for six months. 

7. End with a call for questions.

It is important for students to understand expectations. Plus, I want to be clear and eliminate any confusion. In addition to asking this question, I also tell them that they can contact me during the week if they have troubles with anything and that it is better to ask than practice something incorrectly for days.

While my style of teaching and structure isn’t right for everyone, it works for me. My studios at home and at Sam are full of students who work really hard and know what to expect from me as their guide.