Sunday, November 16, 2014


“Hi. I live in Rochester, New York, and I’m really interested in taking bass lessons with you!”

“Great! I teach out of the Rochester Contemporary School of Music. Lessons there are $46 an hour, and right now I have an opening at 4:30 on Tuesdays. Does that work?”

“Can... I take a half hour instead?”

“No; I only offer one hour time slots.”

“Oh. I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of commitment.”

“If it’s the money, some of my students who are on a tight budget just take two lessons per month.”

“Oh — no, the money’s not the issue. It’s just that... I don’t know about taking a lesson for a whole hour. That seems like a lot.”

(pause) “Do you like any shows on television?”


“TV shows. Do you like them?”

“Sure…  why?”

“How long are the shows you like?”

“I… guess they’re an hour, more or less…”

“Okay. Do you watch them every week?”

“Well… yeah.”

“Do you keep forgetting what happened the previous week?”

“Ah, not really; and they usually put a recap of the last episode before the new one starts, so…”

“So no problem. How many shows do you watch each week?”

“I guess…   three?”

“Three shows. Each one is an hour long commitment each week, and you follow them simultaneously with no confusion?”

“uh… sure.”

“If you can handle staring at a television screen for three hours a week, you’re more than ready to actively engage in music-making for just one hour a week.”


“If you took a half-hour lesson, you’d still be spending more time watching commercials each week than learning the instrument you claim to be avidly interested in.”


“So. Four-thirty on Tuesdays?"


Seriously. I deal with stuff like this ALL THE TIME. There is some irrational craziness leading people to believe that they should spend as little time as they can get away with doing something that they enjoy. 

The idea of the half-hour lesson does have some legitimacy; it comes from the teaching of children. Between the short attention spans and the lack of fine motor skills, thirty minutes is actually plenty of time for learning…

….FOR A SIX YEAR OLD.  But assuming the child enjoys playing and sticks with the instrument, there’s no reason not to start extending the lessons as early as eight or nine.

Somehow, “thirty minutes” got stuck in people’s minds as the standard. I’ve had two students who, when registering, commented that they found it unusual that I “only teach double slots”.

Here’s the secret: an hour long lesson isn’t a “double slot”. I will explain:

At any lesson, regardless of length, the first five minutes involve “the change-over” from one student to the next. One student is ready to leave, and departs. The other comes in, takes off a jacket, puts the notebook on the music stand, takes the instrument out of its case and straps it on, gets out a tuner and tunes it up, gets a cable and plugs it into the amplifier. These small actions add up and take a bit of time. Also, this time is conversational between teacher and student; we reconnect, and the student can bring up anything that’s happened since the last lesson.

The lesson itself begins with a review of the previous week’s assignment. The teacher listens to the student play to verify that the concepts introduced at the last lesson are now usable by the student. If the student has practiced and passes this section with flying colors, it can take as little as five to seven minutes.  If not, it can take much longer to re-tread the material, clear up any confusion, and set up a new assignment for further review.

Let’s assume the student did great, and that we’re only twelve minutes in to the allotted time. Now it’s time to further the student’s education and introduce a new concept. This involves explanation, demonstration, and maybe some listening to provide context. Of course, the student also has to try the concept out themselves and prove they have the basics of it. Then the teacher can give the student an assignment for the following week.  This all takes a solid fifteen minutes for one concept, and that’s if the student grasps concepts quickly.

Only… if this is a half hour lesson, that’s IT. Even after moving at the most optimal pace, this student received a whopping fifteen minutes of quality time. There are only three minutes left; time to pack up and leave so the next student can come in.

BUT - if the lesson lasts an hour, there’s enough time for an extra TWO fifteen-minute concepts. Or perhaps the student needs reinforcement in a particular area? With an hour lesson, that student can get what they need and still have time to move forward and develop multiple aspects simultaneously.

So for twice the price of a half-hour lesson, you get at least 3x the learning and reinforcement.  It is superior to a half-hour time slot in every way.

Given all this information, it’s my opinion that anyone interested in learning would jump at the chance to take hour lessons. If I explain this and one is still “uncertain”, it’s because they’re not coming to me for the right reasons to begin with. It’s just as well that they don’t follow-through…

…if they did, I might force them to learn something.