Lessons: What to Expect & What is Expected of You

I learned how to play the saxophone in a group class at school when I was 12. My friends and I went to class together, we played scales and had fun! When I got older and realized that I wanted to take saxophone more seriously, I decided to take private lessons. I was really nervous when I started my first private lesson because I didn’t know what to expect!!! You have the teacher for yourself for an hour?! During a group class, the teacher might only spend 15 minutes with you, but now… 1 hour!? I wish someone had told me what was expected of students at every level for their private lessons when I was 15.

It's okay, I am here to help. (JSYK: This isn't just for the newbies)


Though the level of playing is different from beginner to advanced, generally speaking, there is not a huge difference in expectations for students in their private lessons. The following are some basic guidelines:

Be prepared

Lessons are not a place or time for practicing. Teachers are not paid to practice with you, but they are there to help you to improve. They might give you practice exercises and run through a few of them with you, but students should always practice at home and be prepared for lessons.

Make sure to have the required materials needed for your lessons

Students should have their own copies of the materials. Materials should include method books, etude books, solos, etc., as well as a pencil, notebook, metronome, tuner, and any necessary instrument accessories. You can always check the music out from your library!

Dedicate a notebook to your lessons

Keep a notebook with you all the time when you are practicing at home or having lessons at your teacher’s studio. You can write down what you learned in lessons so you can refer back to it when you are practicing at home. (Trust me, write everything down!! You think you will remember everything you learned, but you won’t! Talking from my own experience…)

Practice between lessons

Practicing is the most important step to being prepared for lessons. Here is the time to use your NOTEBOOK! Another tip for practice is that you should practice soon after lessons; it will help you remember the “new stuff” better.

Check out Allyson’s article, Efficient & Effective Practicing, to learn how to have a fun practice session. If you are not able to pull out your instrument but would like to do some couch practicing, go check out my other article Couch Practicing: Benefits of Practicing without your instrument, and be inspired!

Warm-up before lessons

Having your instrument put together before lessons and warming-up for at least 30 mins will help you to have a more productive lesson. Not only it will save time by picking the best reed for your instrument (if you are a reed player... we all know that pain...), but it will also help you to prepare for your lesson mentally and physically. Warming up could include playing some long tones, scales, and/or playing through the exercises or pieces for that lesson. This can help to get those easy mistakes out before you get into the lesson.

Ask questions

All questions are good questions!! That is a quote from my college professor. Sometimes you might think the question you are going to ask is stupid, but if you think about it and you truly don’t know the answer, then NO, IT’S NOT A STUPID QUESTION! That is why you need to ask it! Be brave, and seek help from your teachers, they are your best resources.

Use your notebook to write down your questions and what you were struggling with during your practice sessions so that you can share these with your teacher the problem and solve it together.


Beginner (Middle School level and younger)

At this level, students are learning how to play their instrument correctly, and are expected to learn how to play different rhythms and notes. Teachers are expected to design exercises to help students to build their fundamental technique according to their level. Over the course of several weeks, students should make progress on a piece or a chapter in a method book. Here, some errors in notes and rhythms can be expected and improved upon in the following weeks.

Students are expected to be able to:

- Learn how to handle their instrument

- Learn the fundamentals of playing their instrument

- Learn and play music from method books according to their level

- Daily practice goals: 30 mins – 1 hour, depending on the student’s level

Intermediate (High School level)

At this level, students might not be able to learn the music all by themselves. Teachers are expected to help students with their musicality, rhythm, fingering, technique, and style. Students should be able to play through the music with correct rhythms and notes, and with minimal errors in their lesson.

Students are expected to be able to:

- Play all major scales with different articulations and patterns, full range

- Play all minor scales if possible

- Play chromatic scale

- To learn and play etudes and solo repertoire

- Daily practice goals: 1 hour – 2 hours, depends on the students’ level

Advanced (College level)

At this level, students should be able to learn the music by themselves and come to lessons with questions prepared. Teachers are expected to help students with their musicality and extended techniques. To an extent, students should also study the history of the pieces and listen to recordings during their practice hours. Music should be prepared to a level that they are able to change things and play at different tempos within the lesson.

Students are expected to be able to:

- Play all major and minor (harmonic and melodic) scales with different articulations and patterns, full range

- Play chromatic scale

- Other types of scales such as blues scale, octatonic scale, modes, etc.

- To learn and play etudes and solo repertoire

- Daily practice goals: 2 – 3 hours for undergraduate; 4+ hours for graduate.

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