Top 5 Problems with Lab Style Piano Lessons

By: Sara Chatalbash

Owner | Teacher

If you’re looking for a piano studio to call home and have done any research on the web, you’ve probably encountered some discussions about the problems associated with lab lessons (or really any type of lesson that’s not traditional 1-on-1 lessons). While I do offer lab piano lessons, I want to address, with full disclosure, five of the most common problems people have with lab lessons and why they’re not actually problems so you can make the most informed decision possible.

1. You get less time and attention from the teacher

This is the most common problem people have with lab lessons. In lab lessons, you’re in a class with other students so the teacher isn’t spending the whole class right by your side. You don’t get the teacher watching you every minute to make sure you’re doing everything right the whole time and because you’re not getting the same amount of teacher time you would in private lessons, people automatically assume they’re less effective. 

Why it’s not a problem:

They’re right, you DO get less attention than you do in private. But you’re not getting any less than the attention and time you actually NEED.

Think about how you learn in school. The teacher teaches a new concept and then gives everyone time BY THEMSELVES to review what was just taught so they know students truly understand it. The teacher does not come over and sit by your side the entire class, watching you do your review sheet to make sure every answer is correct as you write it. That would be super nerve wracking, right?

So why would you want that kind of attention to learn piano? Why do you think you need it to learn piano properly? 

Lab-style lessons are ONE HOUR long, as opposed to the 30 minute private lessons you would normally get as a beginner.

Lab lessons give students the benefit of 1:1 teaching AND the time alone to practice their songs and new concepts learned without the stress and anxiety of feeling like they need to get things right immediately. It’s really stressful having somebody stare at you as you fail over and over again practicing something new. Lab lessons give that privacy that traditional, private lessons don’t offer.

Since the teacher isn’t there every single second, students retain concepts better and learn how to problem-solve much faster because they’re not resorting to immediately asking their teacher for the answer (oftentimes answers that were already given).

Because students have hour lessons instead of only 30 minutes, they get to FULLY learn their songs and ask all of their questions in the lesson before going home. This ensures that students go home feeling confident and will practice more effectively at home with less stress. It means MORE progress each week!

2. You have to learn with other people in the room

The thought of learning something new with other people in the room is a bit stressful. Having to play in front of others, keep up with everyone, etc. is a tall order. They can talk, be distracting, or want to even monopolize all of the teacher’s time. People would rather just be alone with the teacher and not have to worry about anyone else in the room. Totally understandable.

Why it’s not a problem:

With lab lessons, you’re not taught as a group so all the anxiety over having to keep up with the others in your class or have to play in front of them is a non-issue. You’ll never have to do that.

Everybody wears headphones at their own keyboards and is working on their own individual songs and their own pace. Students in the same class don’t have to be on the same song, level, or age so there’s no pressure. Since everyone is wearing headphones, there are no distractions with talking or playing. They don’t hear you and you don’t hear them. It’s a calm, quiet space.

There will be a maximum of 3 other students in your class and those students will be taking some of the teacher’s attention, yes, but the teacher knows exactly how much attention each student requires and will never give any student any less than that so you can ask all the questions you need to and they will always be answered. 

3. I won’t be able to make as much progress in lab

A lot of people assume that they will make less progress with lab lessons because they’re getting less concentrated time with the teacher. They think that because they’ll have to figure some things out by themselves and will be left alone throughout the hour, they won’t be able to learn as much as they would in a private lesson. 

Why it’s not a problem:

This problem is really based on an assumption that you’re not capable of learning without a teacher present the entire time.

As I mentioned before, you learn for years on end in school without the constant attention of your teacher. You work on what you’re taught by yourself and it’s checked later.

If you’ve ever been in sports, dance, karate, whatever….did you learn 1:1, privately? No. Because you don’t need that kind of attention to learn something properly. You’re more than capable of being left alone to practice.

Since lab lessons are twice the length of normal beginner private lessons, you’ll actually be able to make more progress than in private lessons. Why? Because in those 60 minutes, you’re learning new concepts AND able to practice them in the lesson instead of being sent home to figure it out with private lessons.

You’re able to ask questions and learn your songs fully before going home so you don’t have any confusion when you practice during the week.  Instead of being frustrated at home, you’ll enjoy sitting down to practice because all the kinks will have been ironed out already.

4. Being left alone to practice by myself means I’ll make more mistakes for longer than if a teacher were there to correct me right away

It’s understandable that people think that they’ll make more mistakes if they’re left to their own devices and aren’t corrected right away. They don’t want to sit there for 5-10 minutes practicing something wrong the whole time only to have to correct it once the teacher comes over. That’s why they think they’ll make less progress.

Why it’s not a problem: 

In reality, when you rely on a teacher to correct you the second you make a mistake and to do all the listening for you, what does that teach you? Nothing. You go home and when the teacher isn’t there anymore, you have no clue what to do or if something is wrong or have to fix it.

Now don’t get me wrong, you’re not just going to be left alone to figure everything out on your own with no guidance or correction. When the teacher comes over and gives you your 1:1 instruction, they’ll teach you the new concept or part of the song completely and then watch you for a bit to make sure you understand what to do and be able to answer any questions before leaving you to practice it. If at any point you have other questions, all you have to do is ask. The teacher never wants you to be confused. 

There’s a difference between practicing with mistakes and practicing with errors and practicing with errors is the problem people fear. Errors will be corrected immediately before being left to practice on your own and if you want something checked, you can flag the teacher over at any point.

With lab lessons, you get time to make your mistakes as you practice without a teacher looming over you the whole time and you gain the knowledge and independence over time to hear problems that need to be fixed and know how to fix them.

You only spend 1 hour a week with a teacher. The rest is practicing by yourself at home so doesn’t it make sense to learn how to be independent and problem-solve so you’re not spending an entire week practicing something completely wrong? You are smarter and more capable than you think you are! Your teacher isn’t meant to be your crutch.

5. You have to wait to ask a question

When we have questions, we want them answered immediately and in private lessons, they would be answered immediately because you’re the only student in the room. You get to ask questions every minute if you want to and you can look to your teacher for approval after everything you play. In lab lessons, you sometimes have to wait a couple of minutes for the teacher to come over and answer your question and people think that because they have to wait around they will be making slower progress.

Why it’s not a problem:

Imagine if your school teacher sat right next to you as you completed your worksheet and you were able to ask as many questions as you wanted, get answers right away, and ask if your answers were correct after you wrote each one down. Sounds great, right?

Well, it’s actually not so great for your learning and problem-solving skills.

It’s called learned helplessness.

When you have an answer button right next to you all the time, you don’t learn to figure things out for yourself. You rely on your teacher for all the answers and you don’t retain as well. You start asking the same questions over and over again because you weren’t truly listening the first time and you knew you’d be able to ask again if you needed to.

You’re not actually listening to your own playing because you’re depending on your teacher to do it for you. This is a huge skill that most students lack due to private lessons. 

When left by yourself for a bit and you have to wait a couple of minutes to ask your question, you have the time to contemplate what the answer is before the teacher comes over. You learn to be resourceful and answer questions for yourself that were probably taught and answered previously, but you just forgot.

You start to realize that you don’t need your teacher to answer so many questions anymore and you learn independence.

This way, when you go home and your teacher isn’t there to constantly answer your questions, you know how to answer them yourself so you’re not stuck all week.

This obviously doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever ask your teacher questions. If you’re truly stuck and you’ve searched for the answer but couldn’t find it or you want something checked or maybe you just have a general music question that doesn’t necessarily pertain to your song, by all means, ask away! However, if you’re asking a question that’s been answered a bunch of times before, your teacher will most likely tell you to try and figure it out yourself this time.

I know that lab lessons are not suited for everyone. Some people have special needs and requirements to learn and that is completely understandable. So with all the information I’ve given you, I hope you feel a little better about these common problems with lab lessons because it turns out that they’re really not problems at all. It’s just fear of the unknown and a little self doubt!

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