For the most part, humans are social beings. We need other humans around to be with, to feel safe, taken care of, loved and in many cases, to be healthy.
Children especially need to be in community with other humans, and most importantly, other children. From a developmental place, they need to be around other children in all aspects of their growing up, which is why learning music in a group atmosphere is the best way a child can learn music. If children are not part of a group while they learn, they miss integral milestones such as listening to others, constructive communication within a group, giving and receiving feedback, molding to fit with others, and much more.
In the first few years of music lessons, children are learning the basics of music and, while it can sound harsh to our ears as they become comfortable playing and collaborating with others, this is an extremely important stage. Missing this stage can mean all the musical world to your mini-musician when they are in their formative years. Participating in only private lessons doesn’t allow your mini-musician to discover that music is so much bigger than they had originally assumed! Participation in group classes with other children their age allows them to experiment, learn and make mistakes in a safe zone, before they get to more formal group collaboration.
Missing this early stage of group collaboration can become especially problematic later on when they go to play in youth orchestras, chamber ensembles, and bands. If they have not had the experience early on of playing with others in a collaborative and performance setting, they may find it difficult to learn to adapt to group playing.
The Suzuki Method, among other child-centric learning methods, has gotten around this by making group playing a mandatory part of studying the method. While other methods and ways of teaching sometimes do away with private lessons altogether and simply teach group lessons, the Suzuki Method is unique in the fact that it requires both to be truly Suzuki. Obviously I am a little biased, but I truly believe that both private and group classes are necessary for the early formation of little musicians.
Want to hear an added benefit of studying the Suzuki Method? Group classes also mean that your child gets twice the amount of time with a teacher per week. Double the time with a teacher equals double the learning! As a teacher who has taught both group and private lessons for quite a while now, it is astounding to me the leaps and bounds my youngest students make when they are enrolled in both group and private lessons. Students who are enrolled only in private lessons still learn a lot and progress well, but they are lacking one essential element to music making: group collaboration.
Why am I so fired up on group classes? Long story short, I grew up in a traditional Suzuki environment but by the time I was 12 wasn’t participating in Suzuki group classes, instead, I was in an informal group that was a very negative experience. Throughout my formative teenage years in preparation for university I wasn’t able to participate in group classes, and during university I struggled with performance anxiety so much that it wasn’t until a few years after university that I was able to start controlling my performance-related anxiety. I firmly believe that every musician, whatever age or skill level they are, should have the opportunity to play, learn and collaborate in group environments.