Group Music Classes vs. Private Music Lessons vs. Music Ensembles: Which Option Is Best for My Child? 

A collage of three images: two students playing flute, a young student sitting at the piano, and a choir performing.

When it comes to getting your baby, kid, or teen started making music, there’s no shortage of options. From Early Childhood music classes to private lessons, group classes, and ensembles—it can feel overwhelming to know what each option entails and which one might be right for your child.  

Read our breakdown of the benefits of and differences between each music programming option, as well as how they pair together to optimize musical and personal growth and provide your child with the most robust experience.  

Early Childhood Music Classes

Many parents want to jump right into group music classes or private lessons. It’s true that young children can begin specific instrument study as young as 4; however, when your little one is between the ages of 0 and 8, it’s worth considering first signing them up for Early Childhood music classes before beginning instrumental or vocal music classes. 

Top Benefits

  • Tap into the benefits of music early. No need to wait until elementary school for your child’s brain and social skills to be nurtured through music. Music classes for babies, toddlers, and young children are proven to enhance communication and interpersonal skills, promote greater self-regulation and discipline, improve language and literacy aptitudes, and much more. Read more about the benefits of music education.  
  • Learn the building blocks of music. The best long-term relationships always have a strong foundation, and children’s music education is no different. Games, dances, chants, and songs feel like playtime for babies and kids, but in reality, they’re learning concepts like rhythm and pitch in a way that’s developmentally appropriate. So, when it’s time for them to pick up a violin or hit that high note, they already have a strong grasp on the musical concepts they’ll need to go far and advance quickly.  
  • Build a positive relationship with music. If a child’s introduction to musical study is too complex or advanced for them, they can get frustrated and quickly decide it’s not for them. Early Childhood music classes put a stronger emphasis on having fun through music, helping to pique their interest before things – like practicing an instrument regularly! – get more challenging.
  • Learn side-by-side with parents or caregivers.  Merit School of Music‘s Early Childhood classes also allow you to play an active role in the developmental growth your child experiences through music and provide fun, family-bonding time. 
  • Explore multiple instruments before deciding. Merit’s Meet the Orchestra class allows kids ages 7 through 8 to explore an array of instruments ranging from barred instruments, strings, percussion, ukulele, recorder, and piano. What a great way to decide which instrument is the right fit! 

Group Music Classes

Group music classes are just what they sound like: students learning proper instrumental or vocal technique, basic musical concepts, performance skills, and how to read music in a small group setting.  

Two students play flute.

Top Benefits

  • A great fit for beginners in particular. Group classes are a great fit for student musicians of all experience levels. Beginners find additional value by starting here. Beginning music classes are structured so kids and teens not only learn technique, but also how to read music and apply basic musical concepts. Plus, starting a new instrument alongside peers can inspire new students to build strong practice habits and infuse a sense of fun into their relationship with music. 
  • Explore multiple facets of music-making. Group class curricula not only teach repertoire, but also music theory, history, musicianship, and so much more, helping to make your child a well-rounded music student. 
  • Make friends and build community. We often hear that Merit School of Music is where young music lovers find “their people. Your child is able to make new friends with peers from throughout Chicago and bond with them over the course of many months. Merit’s faculty facilitates a welcoming, friendly environment where everyone feels welcome and safe to be themselves. 
  • Balance group learning and individual support. Each child has a different learning style. If your child learns better in a communal setting, group classes are the right fit for them. Group classes provide interaction with other peers in an engaging, educational environment. At the same time, Merit’s classes are kept small enough (typically ranging from 4 to 10 students) so that your child can still receive individual support and feedback from their instructor.  
  • Practice performance skills. Small group performance skills are vitally important for any musician and can only be learned through a collaborative environment of playing alongside peers. During the performances that most group classes host throughout the year, your child will be exposed to the joys and pride of performing for an audience. Performing alongside peers vs. solo is often less stressful when first starting out. 
  • Less expensive. Group classes are known to be easier on your pocketbook than private lessons. By essentially sharing your teacher’s time with multiple other students, the tuition can be much lower.  

Private Music Lessons

In private music lessons, students have the opportunity to study one-on-one with their teacher. In this individual setting, a dedicated music teacher can best learn your individual talents and personal challenges, allowing them to guide you in meeting new goals through lessons tailored just for you. At Merit, you can choose between a lesson length of 30, 45, 60, or 90 minutes.  

A student stands playing the violin in front of his teacher.

Top Benefits

  • Pick your pace. Individual, focused attention allows your private lesson instructor to cater to your child’s needs. This often allows students to progress more quickly in their studies. It also provides the opportunity to slow things down to ensure your child stays engaged and truly masters a piece or skill before moving on. While private lesson teachers will recommend skill level-appropriate repertoire, they are also happy to incorporate students special requests in an educationally appropriate way. 
  • Refine skills. Similarly, the one-on-one experience that private lessons provide enables your teacher to better pinpoint areas that you need to focus on. Whether it’s refining your finger positioning or nailing those tricky scale passages in your music, your teacher can give you the personalized coaching you need to take your technique to the next level.  
  • Develop a strong relationship with your teacher. Since it’s just the two of you, you’ll be able to build a deeper and more meaningful bond over time. These bonds can last a lifetime!  
  • Build solo performance skills. Private lesson studios offer recitals throughout the year. If your child loves to perform solo, this is the opportunity for them! In addition, because many students from a teacher’s studio perform during these recitals, they’re a great way for your child to hear more advanced students and be inspired.  
  • More flexible scheduling. With private lessons, you’re able to set your own schedule. Merit’s team works with you to build a schedule that fits your preferences and your teacher’s availability.  

Music Ensembles

Large ensembles bring together larger groups of student musicians to make music in unison. At Merit School of Music, band, strings, and voice students have the option to join a large ensemble in conjunction with their small group class. 

Top Benefits

  • Learn in a bigger group. Group classes introduce student musicians to making music with others, but large ensembles take those skills to the next level. Merit’s bands, orchestras, and choirs can range anywhere from 10 to 50 or more students. 
  • Strengthen teamwork skills. Sports aren’t the only activity that builds teamwork skills. In an ensemble, each person must learn to work with others in their section and across the entire ensemble in order to create beautiful music. 
  • It’s fun! There is no other experience quite like playing music with other instruments and musicians. 
  • Develop your child’s ear. Listening across an ensemble to different instruments and parts creates new neural pathways and increases concentration and focus. 

Pairing Classes, Lessons, & Ensembles

Now you know the benefits of each type of music programming, but what happens when you combine them? Well…it’s pretty powerful. Keep reading to learn why many families choose to participate in both. 

“Enrolling in private lessons and group classes is very beneficial for a young musician. Private lessons are designed to provide one-on-one instruction to sharpen your musical skills and technique, while group classes allow you to learn how to play together with other musicians and make new friends! Attending both will also allow a student to develop their musicianship faster than if they were to only take a private lesson or a group class.”


Jeremiah Price, Band & Jazz Program Director

Band & Jazz Program Director Jeremiah Price smiles for the camera.

Top Benefits

  • Reinforce skills. By pairing private lessons with group instruction, your private teacher will often incorporate reinforcement of skills currently being taught in your child’s group class or ensemble for extra practice.  
  • Immerse yourself in music. Just like learning a language, immersing your child in music helps them grasp concepts more naturally and to understand all facets of music-making. The more music programming your child takes, the easier it will be for them to pick up new skills and develop their musicianship. 
  • Increased motivation. When you’re picking things up quickly, hitting all the right notes, and feeling supported by your musical community, it’s natural to feel more confident and inspired to keep at it. 
  • Supercharge your progress. By combining all of the above, your child’s musical progress will be unstoppable! 

At Merit School of Music, we‘re here for music lovers at all stages of their musical journey. Our robust music education pathway of classes, lessons, and ensembles allows your child to continue to learn and grow through music as their interest and skills expand. 

Start Your Musical Journey with Merit

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