When I moved back to New York in 2011, I began teaching violin right away. First in New Jersey, and not soon after, in Midtown Manhattan, Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Downtown. At first I had a lot of kids (students, not my own children) but the more I focused on teaching in Midtown West, the more adult students I began to have as we would meet after work. The kids had the benefit of a concert to perform at, but that company didn’t accept adults onto the stage. As my adult roster grew, and they started practicing less, I knew I had to get them on the stage. Not only does performing give you a rush, a sense of accomplishment, something to strive for, and something for your friends and family to do (coming to watch you and your new friends), but it also gives you a reason to practice.
Now maybe you’re one of the few people out there who are motivated all on your own and you don’t need any outside help. But I know that for me personally, as well as a lot of my students, we need a reason to practice. And all it takes is an obligation. Too often we’re willing to break promises with ourself but not wtih other people. The solution? Make a commitment to perform, and then work towards that goal!
A really, really good way to do that is to perform with a group. An orchestra is the perfect opportunity to boost your own skills while hiding in the crowd. That’s right, I said it. I admitted that an orchestra is a great place to hide. Just because most teachers won’t say that directly doesn’t mean it’s not true. And what happens when you hide? It’s a little like you’re practicing on your own, except that you are surrounded by people that are playing your part, so it’s hard to get lost for too long. It’s like you’re all on a rowboat, and everyone has an oar. You lose your flow for a second, but everybody else has your back, and so it’s easy to get back on track. (At least, that’s how I imagine a many-oared row boat would work.)
In my first 10 years of playing, I played in an orchestra several times a week. I practiced at home too, but my teacher wasn’t with me when I was practicing, so I could only practice the best I knew how, and then I in orchestra I would find out if I had practiced it right or not. Hey, I’m just being honest.
One great thing about being in an orchestra is that if you make a mistake, whoop-de-doo, nobody cares! It’s the exact opposite of a solo performance. Hardly anyone in the orchestra will notice, much less the audience. On the other hand, with the majority of the orchestra members playing the right then (or maybe even all of them!) the audience is wowed by what an incredible sound everybody can make when they come together.
Now don’t get me wrong. I want everyone in the orchestra to play the right thing. But what I knew would happen as a direct result was that people would have more of a reason to practice. In my estimation I thought, “They have committed to performing this in 10 weeks from now; they’ll definitely be practicing!” but then something even better happened. I had students telling me they were practicing for the rehearsal times, which is so much better than I intended! And it made so much sense. They didn’t want to show up to class not having practiced, and feel embarrassed in front of their friends.
Now technically, there is no reason to feel embarrassed. In truth, everybody is just trying to play their own part as best they can. They barely have any time to think about what everyone else is playing! Though when you get a grasp on your part and you can start listening to the orchestra – wow! What an amazing feeling it is to sit in the middle of a music making session. Irreplaceable by anything else! You thought listening to music was good? Try being in it! So amazing.
There are more benefits to group classes. In addition to:
- Practicing more as a result.
- Providing accountability each week.
You should also know that:
- Music is more fun in a group than alone.
- You will meet some of the best people in NYC.
- You will get to perform at semester end.
- You will learn things about musicality that are impossible to obtain in private lessons.
- You will meet peers your age going through the same violin journey.
- Your musical weaknesses will be improved by the group.
- Your strengths will help others in the group.
- They are more cost effective.
Here are some examples of these principles in action:
Eva used to play piano when she was a kid. Now, as an adult, she’s moved to NYC to pursue her career but finds her days tedious. She signs up for group lessons and has the least trouble with reading music and rhythm. One thing she lacks, however, is musically and expression. Her stand partner, Chris, has never played any instrument before and is weakest in rhythm but plays with great passion. As they learn at a similar pace, they are seated together, and as they progress through the classes, Eva learns to be less timid and Chris gets better with rhythm. Just by sitting in the same section!
Or take this example: Todd played the drums briefly a number of years ago. His rhythm is spot on, but he’s not great with pitch. His stand partner, Justin, has been playing guitar for a number of years. Justin’s musicality is through the roof. He can play along to anything, but he’s always had trouble reading music. Aside from plain old good company, these two learn from each other, and form Eva and Chris, because their strengths and weaknesses all compliment one other.
Of course, it’s not all there is to learning, but it’s always nice to get an effortless booster. Everybody has their own strengths, and yours will compliment the rest of the class without you even knowing what it is. Even something as simple as being studious, being attentive, or being committed can be what it takes to rocket you to the next level. Whether you grew up playing violin or you have never taken a single music class in your life, we have a class that is perfect for you.
Why not take both? One for one, students progress fastest and happiest when they take group classes alongside private lessons. If you have room in your budget and time in your schedule to do both, do both. If your budget is tight, take group classes. If your schedule is inflexible, take private lessons.
Private lessons have a more flexible schedule but a firmer cancellation policy. To find out more about private lessons, click here. See the chart below for further comparison.
How Do Group Classes Work?
Class size: Each class contains a small number of students and 1-2 teachers, depending on the level. All group classes include violin, viola or cello. You must bring your instrument to class (rentals here) and practice on it between classes. Chairs, music stands and music will be provided for you.
Online Support: More and more content is being put up on our website to help you learn the group music faster. When you sign up, you will receive a password to the Violin Class Resources Page which has sheet music, videos and MP3 files to help you learn as fast as possible.
Difficulty Level: The class is programmed to not be too difficult, but to push you along. If you never practice, you will have a hard time keeping up. If you practice 1-2 times per week, you will barely keep up. If you practice 3-4 times per week, you will be right on track. If you practice 5-7 times per week, you will be ahead, and will be very comfortable with the pace of the class. Your head teacher has been teaching for over 14 years and is very familiar with how different people learn at different speeds. In all orchestras, there are two violin sections: Violin I and Violin II. Violin I generally has the more complicated, harder and higher parts and Violin II generally has the easier, lower, supporting parts. Here, we use this model to our advantage, even in the most beginner classes, to not only keep the music and learning interesting and fun, but also to give a slight challenge to the faster and more experienced students, and to keep the slower and less experienced students moving along. The student orchestra a group of students, some of whom are returning semester after semester. Thus, you can expect the orchestra pieces to become more difficult over time. Orchestra pieces generally do not repeat from one semester to the other. 1st Violin plays the more challenging part while 2nd violin supports them with a slightly easier part.
Schedule: Each level of class is held twice a week. You may attend one or both classes. Take the Absolute Beginner schedule as an example. Classes are held on Tuesday night and on Saturday morning. Tuesday’s class material will be repeated on Saturday morning. Since semesters are 10 weeks long, that’s a total of 20 classes. As a note, you may use your package for classes of any level. E.g. If you start the semester and realize the class is too easy for you, you can switch to a higher level class at any time. Or, if you want to brush up on your basics, you can use one of the classes in your package to join a lower-level class one evening.
Expiration and Cancellation: In a private lesson, the teacher is blocking off a time slot in their calendar for you, preventing other students from signing up for a lesson at that time. Therefore in private lessons, a 24 cancellation policy exists. However, in group classes, the affordable price gets you access to classes all semester, with no penalty for cancelling classes last-minute or no-showing (though please do inform your teacher as soon as you know so they may plan properly). However, at the end of the semester all lessons in that package expire. They are not transferable or interchangeable with private lessons or any other good or service.
Comparisons: Having trouble deciding between group classes or private lessons? Many students take both simultaneously. It’s fun to play in a group, and there is a degree of accountability. Private lessons help you excel technically and hastens learning time. If you have no musical background, or would like to speed progress, consider doing both. If you are on a limited budget or schedule, you might have to choose one or the other during active semester times.
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