Lab Lessons vs. Group Lessons vs. Private Lessons (An Honest Comparison)

By: Sara Chatalbash

Owner | Teacher

When it comes to finding information on piano lessons, it’s a desert wasteland, as you’re probably already aware… searching the internet for useful information is nearly impossible. Most of the few forums I’ve found devolve into trolls arguing over and over again about 1-on-1 piano lessons vs. lab piano lessons vs. group piano lessons. 

To be transparent I do offer lab lessons. However, this article is my effort to provide an objective source of information about the three types of piano lessons out there. The approach is simple. I list the advantages and disadvantages of each…then back off so you can form your own opinion. 

Lab Piano Lessons 

Pros of Lab Piano Lessons:

  • You learn at your own pace
  • You’re not forced to learn the same thing as everyone else
  • You get 1:1 time with the teacher
  • You get private practice time
  • You wear headphones
  • You get 60 minute lessons
  • You’re in a small class
  • You get a piano community

You learn at your own pace: students don’t have to keep up with each other or be on the same level so there’s no pressure to make the same amount of progress as the other students in your class

You’re not forced to learn the same thing as everyone else: students get to play what they’re interested in,not what everyone else is playing. Since lab lessons aren’t taught as a group, everyone is not learning the same thing. Students choose their genres and songs. 

You get 1:1 time with the teacher: students are taught 1:1 with the teacher instead of as a group. They get private time to ask questions and be taught individually at their own pace.

You get private practice time: students get time by themselves to practice what was just taught without the teacher adding pressure by watching their every move. Students problem solve and gain independence during this private time and can present when ready.

You wear headphones: students don’t hear anybody else playing in the class and the other students don’t hear them. There’s no playing with or in front of other students so everything is private.

You get 60 minute lessons: students get 60 minutes to learn new concepts, ask questions, and practice their songs fully before going home.

You’re in a small class: lab lessons have a maximum of 4 students in each class so students will only have 3 other students sharing the teacher’s time.

You get a piano community: students get to interact with other students who are on the same journey, make friends, ask questions, and feel a sense of community.

Cons of Lab Piano Lessons:

  • You have other students in the class
  • You don’t have the teacher beside you the whole lesson
  • You may need to wait a couple of minutes for a question to be answered
  • Can only take lessons at teacher’s studio
  • Can’t play on an acoustic piano
  • Not designed for extremely young children or students with special needs

You have other students in the class: students will be in a class with a maximum of 3 other students who will be sharing the teacher’s attention throughout the hour.

You don’t have the teacher beside you the whole lesson: the teacher will be circulating from student to student during the entire lesson to give each student time to practice on their own.

You may need to wait a couple of minutes for a question to be answered: since the teacher will be teaching other students while you’re practicing, it may take a minute or two before your question is answered.

Can only take lessons at teacher’s studio: since lessons are with other students, lessons can only be held at the teacher’s studio so you won’t have the option to have lessons at your home.

Can’t play on an acoustic piano: students need to be able to use headphones so lessons are held on digital pianos instead of acoustic pianos.

Not designed for extremely young children or students with special needs: young children ages 6 and under have short attention spans and usually can’t focus for longer than 30 minutes so lab lessons may be too long for them as well as students with special needs who need more attention.

Group Piano Lessons

Pros of Group Piano Lessons:

  • Develops confidence playing with and in front of others
  • Students can learn from peers
  • Teaches ability to play with someone else
  • Positive peer pressure and competition
  • Often 60 minutes long
  • Teacher doesn’t hover

Develops confidence playing with and in front of others: students will have to regularly play with other students and in front of other students in their class. Sometimes there may be recitals or performances as well.

Students can learn from peers: with other students in the room, students can listen to each other and help each other out or even just inspire.

Teaches ability to play with someone else: students often play in unison with the other students and sometimes, students will share keyboards and have to play with their partner or even in duets.

Positive peer pressure and competition: students push one another to improve and give boosts of confidence and encouragement. There may be a friendly push to get something faster or practice more at home because of some friendly competition or incentive.

Often 60 minutes long: group classes are usually longer than beginner private lessons that are only 30 minutes long. 

Teacher doesn’t hover: students get to work on material without the stress of the teacher sitting right beside them the entire lesson watching their every move

Cons of Group Piano Lessons:

  • You’re taught at the same time as everyone else
  • Class sizes are large
  • May need to share an instrument
  • You need to keep up with the other students
  • You need to be on the same level as the other students 
  • You learn the same music as everyone else

You’re taught at the same time as everyone else: the teacher will teach new concepts to all students at the same time. There is no 1:1 teaching so students need to keep up with the pace of the class.

Class sizes are large: group lessons can be anywhere from 4 students to as many as 10+ depending on the studio you choose, so students oftentimes get very little help from the teacher. 

May need to share an instrument: In group lessons, everyone should have their own instrument, but in some cases, students have to share. 

You need to keep up with the other students: students need to keep up with the class and learn at that speed. Students have to play in front of or with the other students in the class. 

You need to be on the same level as the other students: students need to stay on the same level as everyone else in the class and keep up with the pace, which often creates a lot of pressure.

You learn the same music as everyone else: group lessons are pretty much exactly how you learn in school and tend to be very limiting when it comes to learning what each student wants to learn and going at the pace that’s comfortable for each student. 

Private 1-on-1 Lessons

Pros of Private Piano Lessons:

  • 1:1 teaching
  • You get all of the attention for the whole lesson
  • Questions are answered immediately
  • You work at your own pace
  • You don’t have to play with anyone else or compete
  • Caters to different learning styles

1:1 teaching: the student gets personal attention from the instructor during the lesson. This way, the instructor is able to tailor the lessons: that is the concepts, learning pace, and progression of the student- according to their capabilities.

You work at your own pace: the teacher can slow down or speed up, according to how the student is responding and comprehending the concepts presented before they move on to the next one.

Cons of Private Piano Lessons

  • No social opportunities 
  • Tend to be more expensive
  • No private practice time
  • Not enough time to fully learn songs
  • No experiences playing for or with peers
  • Learned helplessness

No social opportunities: The truth is that piano playing is a solitary activity and students who already struggle with this may feel even more isolated if they are being given private lessons.

Tend to be more expensive: Many times, private lessons are much more expensive than group lessons- and families that are on a budget may not necessarily be able to afford private instruction.

No private practice time: students don’t get any time away from the teacher to practice new concepts on their own. The teacher is always right over their shoulder watching their every move and can be stressful.

Not enough time to fully learn songs: beginner private lessons, especially for children, are only 30 minutes long and don’t provide much time to warm up, go over last week’s assignments, and learn new songs fully before going home. Usually, students are sent home to learn the rest of their song on their own, which leads to confusion and frustration. 

No experiences playing for or with peers: students are alone in their lesson and do not have any opportunities to play in front of others or with their peers, which may lead to added anxiety in recitals since they’ve never practiced those skills.

Learned helplessness: students rely on the teacher heavily to answer questions immediately and listen to their playing instead of learning problem solving skills, listening skills, and independence for practicing at home.

Key Takeaways

Each of the three types of piano lessons comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Pros and cons of Lab Lessons

Lab lessons provide 1:1 instruction with the added benefit of private practice time within the lesson, social interaction, and longer lessons, but students have to share attention from the teacher during the lesson and they aren’t designed for extremely young children.

Pros and cons of Group Lessons

Group lessons provide students with a ton of social interaction, the ability to play with and in front of peers, and longer lessons, but don’t give students 1:1 instruction and students may feel pressured to keep up with the other students, not want to play in front of others, and feel they can’t play the music they want to.

Pros and cons of Private Lessons

Private lessons provide 1:1 instruction and the teacher’s attention is only on one student. Students get to learn at their own pace, but they get no social interaction, practice playing with/in front of others or private practice time without the stress of the teacher watching every moment. 

At the end of the day, the decision to take lab, group, or private piano lessons depends on a variety of factors including personality, preferred learning style, needs, and affordability. It’s a personal choice and you need to go with your gut! Just make sure that whoever you choose as your teacher is qualified and makes you feel comfortable.

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