Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?

Supporting Teachers • Promoting Learning

During a recent discussion I mentioned that I prefer to teach my students for 45 minutes weekly or fortnightly, even when they are beginners (more advanced students often come for a consultation lesson once a month for 90 minutes).

The question was asked,

“45 minutes for somebody on Grade One is a lot, surely… isn’t 30 minutes long enough?”

Styles of Teaching

I believe that determining an appropriate length for lessons partly has to do with our style of teaching and, in particular, what we expect to achieve in a lesson. Most importantly of all, to what extent is the student an independent learner, and for what (and to what extent) do they rely on the teacher?

Many of us probably had 30 minute lessons ourselves when we were in the early stages of learning to play. But those of us who developed into good players were probably very motivated and enjoyed music.

What about those others who didn’t manage so well on 30 minute lessons, and who didn’t build up enough momentum to develop their enjoyment and sense of achievement? Might some of them have developed better had they received longer lessons? I am sure that all teachers are aware of the problem of student drop off, and are keen to find ways to stem it.

When I was a beginner, my teacher would suggest I learn a piece or two during the week, on my own at home. This undoubtedly encouraged independence, but could I handle it? In the lessons she would check that I had practised my scales, then hear the piece she had set, point out the many mistakes, and set me to work at putting right the various things that, without her help, I had learnt wrong.

This approach at least compensated for the fact that her expectations of me learning the piece independently were probably a little misplaced! And provided I didn’t make a complete mess of the piece, there might be time left at the end of the lesson, in which case we could fit in a bit of aural training and/or sight reading.

It’s easy to shoot down that approach, but let’s remember that many of us have learnt that way and lived to tell the tale! Clearly it’s not all bad. But can we offer something better?

Developing Independence

In the early stages of learning, I generally find that students learn faster and more securely if we work on a new piece during the lesson. There is little doubt that a more holistic approach is both possible and hugely beneficial. And longer lessons leave time to leverage the benefits of learning music “sound before symbol“, surely the most effective approach.

The student can then play at home to consolidate and enjoy the piece, which they have at least partially learnt with my help. This means that the balance between lesson and practice is shifted, with less expectation of independent learning in the early stages of musical development.

I also feel that it is important to try including quite a wide range of activities in the lesson which foster that ability to learn independently.

For example, it is great to have sufficient time to include plenty of aural activities, sight reading / flash cards, improvisation, exploration, duets, games, basic techniques, and so on. It is great to integrate some theory work and musicianship as soon as possible rather than regularly postponing them due to lack of time.

It is of course possible to cover all of this stuff in a 30 minute lesson using an integrated “simultaneous learning” approach, but it’s important to plan well and not try to include every activity in every lesson. And I must confess that I have noticed such lessons often feel rushed.

In my Music Service management days I observed a number of lessons where there was simply too much content for the allocated time, apparently leaving the student ultimately confused by “too much information” (verbal and/or musical).

As a private piano teacher, I am not shackled by the same issues of funding, and am able to give my students the best independent advice about maximising the benefits of tuition.

My Conclusions

In my view 45 minutes is not too long for a student working on the early grades. On the contrary: it is ideal. I have found that it allows enough time to cover a wide variety of material and try to establish the best foundations for future playing. And above all, it gives sufficient space for a love of music to take root.

I still sometimes provide 30 minute lessons for the younger beginner, for example to siblings whose lesson is part of a family’s shared musical journey. And it’s worth repeating that many of us have thrived on 30 minute lessons in the past, and many continue to do so today!

So the final decision about what works best will no doubt be a personal one.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.

6 thoughts on “Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?”

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Over the past seven years since I’ve started teaching piano, I have found that starting off with 30 minutes is a good idea. Then, however, it can go up to as much as two hours per week or stay at 30 minutes – this entirely depends on the individual level of maturity, enthusiasm, drive etc. For ezample, I started teaching a 7-year old girl two years ago who coped with one hour so easily and wanted more so that I’m now teaching her 120 minutes every week in one session. Others find it hard to focus for 30 minutes even at age 8 and above. So, I think as a general rule you’re absolutely right that 45 minutes is a good amount that allows for enough variety, but it all depends on the individual (as with everything that’s related to teaching).

    Thanks 🙂

  2. I totally agree with this article! Ive been teaching 45min to 7year olds and that allows room for learning new pieces, scales, theory, creativity – including rhythm games and improvisation based on 5 notes etc.

  3. I take 1 hour lessons for beginners – even the young ones. We do rhythm exercises with activity, singing and piano playing 15 min each – cos many students here don’t have music class in school. I also spend 15 mins where the student practises again, and I talk to the parent – about scheduling play, studies and sometimes discipline issues. Many parents have either excessively high expectations or excessively low expectations of what their children can achieve so I find it essential to talk to them and explain practise to them. I find this helps a lot in the long term.
    Gradually the class moves to more piano time, as the students interest and ability to sit still grows .

  4. Amazing Andrew thanks for sharing. I believe that practice practice and practice is the key of learning and becoming a professional. Whenever i sit on the piano chair, it is very hard for someone to force me off my place for over 3-4 hours. Just love playing it 🙂

  5. I start with 30 mins and quickly progress a student up to 45 mins (3 months or so). Much better paced, time for discussion, enjoyable activities and quick reflection at end with parent. To encourage this I charge only a small proportion more for 45 mins than I do for 30 mins!

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