Teaching Private Lessons

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    Hi, I’m going in for a job interview today to possibly teach private beginner to advanced voice and private beginner saxophone. I know more about classroom settings than private lessons, however, I’ve taught my cousin a few things to improve her already naturally beautiful tone. She was 11 at the time.

    I’m wondering if there are some tips I could follow to properly and effectively teach private voice to young children through adult without “dumbing it down” too much, or being overly complicated. The way I taught my cousin seemed to work very well, but she was also at an age where I could speak to her much like an adult student.

    I guess I’m just nervous about the FIRST lesson (with both instruments). I was thinking for the first lesson, work on posture, identifying the parts of the instrument (for sax), and perhaps some sight reading skills using solfege (start with sol and mi for little ones).

    Any other tips?



    While I can’t advise you in regards to voice, I can give you some pointers with the saxophone lessons, and lessons in general.

    No matter what you are teaching, Be Confident. Yes, you will probably be making things up as you go along since it is your first ones, but that is okay. The good news, is that it gets easier with practice. For in lessons, be sure that you set your guidelines and rules for what you expect out of them, both for in lessons and for practicing requirements. Stick to your guns! Don’t back down on your expectations, and experiment to see what motivates the child to practice. For some it is guilt, for some it is incentive, while others still need to see the value of what practicing does. Every child is different, so experiment to see what works best. Next, build a relationship with the child. This will not happen overnight, or even the first day, but it will take effort on your part to connect with the child. This is where ensemble teaching and private teaching have their main difference. Your success or failure in lessons, will ultimately depend on how you connect and communicate with the child. While in short term, going off on strictly music will work, if you do not have a working, even personal relationship with the child, long term the child will not stick with it.

    For saxophone, your three main things to worry about for starting out are going to be introducing the child to the instrument(parts, care, etc), embouchure/ blowing the instrument, and note reading. You can decide on whether to teach reading notes first or blowing the instrument first, but expect each of those to eat up its own private lesson. You can work in the basic introduction of the instrument into either of those lessons. For working on embouchure, try having the child work with just the mouthpiece. There are multiple ways of having an embouchure for saxophone(and it’s still heavily debated on which one is the “right” one). My suggestion is to research it out for yourself, and choose which one you deem the most accurate. From there, work on having the child learn how to blow into the mouthpiece, until they can get sound out of it, then reattach the mouthpiece to the saxophone and work on them blowing the actual instrument. Consult your method book as to which one to start with, but I find that G is easiest for a lot of them. Be SURE, that within the first month of the child learning the instrument, that you teach them how to tongue. If they do not learn it relatively soon to when they start, if they ever get into band or contest, trying to get them to tongue will be a nightmare. Again, this will probably take a whole lesson to teach. Be sure that they don’t slaptongue (tonguing with the middle of their tongue), and that the tip of their tongue strikes the tip of the reed(almost like a snake).

    Don’t worry about having to talk down to your students. Bring your students up to your level so to speak, and respect their intelligence. Granted, don’t try to give them as much information as you would an adult. Depending on the child, the information you give them can take longer to explain, so focus mainly on giving the kid the information they need, with the depth of the explanation being appropriate to where they are musically. With dynamics for example, if they are a first year student, you will want to focus on the difference between loud and soft, as opposed to a third you student where you can start to focus on phrase shaping.

    I hope this was helpful for you. Best of luck on your new adventure!


    Hi loveislegend,

    As you may have already had your interview for the position, I’ll be brief in my remarks. Clarinetcaitlin had several good suggestions and tips for you in regards to teaching voice and saxophone.

    Your question mentions teaching beginner to advanced voice and private beginner saxophone. My immediate question is are you a vocalist? A saxophone player? Or both? In teaching voice and saxophone, it is extremely important to have experience in singing and playing the saxophone. If this is the case, teaching private lessons can be very similar to teaching in a classroom. To be effective in the private setting, you need to 1) Analyze your student’s performance to discern what he/she is doing well and what areas need improvement, 2) Diagnose the errors or problems that occur in his/her performance as well as praise the good things that are being done, 3) Prescribe solutions of ways to correct the errors, improve his/her performance, and continue to accentuate the good qualities of his/her performance, and 4) Implement the changes necessary to improve your student’s performance. If you are a vocalist and saxophonist, you can relate the appropriate information in each circumstance to instruct and motivate your students towards improved musical performance.

    Dr. McClellan
    NAfME Online Mentor



    I think that when teaching that first lesson, especially to younger children, it’s about making them feel welcome in the lesson and making them want to be excited about singing or playing the instrument. When I have a student, that first lesson is used to get an idea of what they know already and what you need to teach them. For younger students, it might be that you have to teach them about music itself first, and then move on to singing when they have more general musical knowledge. I think the most important part of a private lesson is to let them do something at the end of the lesson that they want to do, that way they have some fun and feel like they are getting what they want out of the lesson as well as learning what you want them to learn. That’s my main advice to people who are giving first lessons at least.

    Mark Miller, music education student at Kent State University


    Take your first lesson to get to know your student and who they are and what they know. You can have them play or sing something that they feel comfortable with and like playing so they have some fun with it. This will give you a better idea of what level your student is at and where you can further their learning. Have fun and talk about their instrument, asking them questions about it and seeing how much they know. A student needs to have an understanding of their instrument and even voice to progress more as well. At the very end of your lesson, you could play or sing something together that is fun for them. Your student could be nervous about playing by themselves, so if you play with them it can help make them feel more comfortable.

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