When I first started guitar at the age of about 8 I had a personal tutor who was fantastic. Unfortunately after a couple of years of lessons we moved towns and I couldn’t go to the same tutor. My parents decided to take me to a local music school. They expected top service as many people expect from music schools.
The first problem was obvious to me in the very first lesson. It was a group lesson of three students and there was an obvious skill difference between the other two students and myself. I was a full year worth of lessons ahead of the other two. This meant that whatever we would be learning would either be too hard for the other two or too easy for me. So most of the time I would learn something quickly then sit there waiting for the other two students to catch up. I estimate that I would have spent about 7-10 minutes every lesson (30 minutes long) sitting listening to the other players. That’s a huge waste of time.
The next problem was that we tuned the guitars up at the start of every lesson. The tutor explained that it’s a very important skill to be able to tune a guitar properly (which I agree with) so we would ‘practice’ tuning the guitar every lesson. Now I absolutely agree that every guitarist should be able to properly tune a guitar. What I don’t agree with is spending up to 10 minutes every lesson tuning all three guitars. That’s a massive waste of time and money. In a one-on-one lesson tuning up a guitar is quick and important. But tuning up three guitars (four considering sometimes the tutor would have to do his too) takes too much time out of a very short lesson.
The third problem I eventually noticed after a few months was that the tutor wasn’t an expert guitarist. It’s pretty bad when a 10 year old student can recognize the limitations of a tutor’s skill level. Now when I look back I can clearly see that he was not an accomplished player at all despite the certificates on his wall. I still remember to this day when we were learning ‘Beat it’ by Michael Jackson and the tutor making mistakes when demonstrating it. Not exactly the type of tutor you would expect in a music school.
After a couple months of lessons I became frustrated and wanted to quit. We had to wait until the end of the term because we were locked into a contract so I had to go to three more lessons and never went back. I was too scared to tell the tutor in person that I was leaving (explained why below) so my mother cancelled the lessons by phone.
The reason I was too scared to quit in person was because of what a friend had told me. I mentioned I was learning guitar from the school and he said he used to learn from the same person a year ago. My friend was also frustrated with the lessons so one day he told the tutor he was quitting. The tutor apparently tried to pressure my friend to stay with lines like ‘the chicks won’t be interested in a quitter’ and ‘if you quit these guys (the other group students) will become great guitarists and you will miss out’. Not exactly a professional response.
Why I share this story
I have put this story here not to lash out at music schools or discourage anyone from using them, but to give warning on potential problems you could face. Over the years I have had many students come to me after experiencing similar issues so unfortunately this is fairly common. I put my experience here because my parents sent me to a music school expecting quality lessons and ended up receiving garbage. The amount of time wasted in the lessons means that my parents wasted a lot of money for nothing. Hopefully by posting my story other people can avoid the same thing from happening from them.
What to learn from this story
To avoid the same situation I faced as a beginner, watch out for the following:
- Don’t assume because it says ‘music school’ that it’s high quality
- Group lessons can be extremely ineffective and waste time
- Music schools can lock you into contracts
- You may not get any refund for missed lessons or if you quit half way through
- Group lessons often don’t work because everybody learns at different rates
- Not all tutors are equal
- Wasting as little as 5 minutes every lesson adds up to 6 full lessons wasted a year
This is based on my personal experience. Please note that everybody will have different experiences so I am not saying that all music schools and group lessons are worthless.
If you have had similar experiences, please post them in the comments so other beginners can take note.