Lessons to play by

Students at the MU School of Music offer private lessons to aspiring musicians of all ages in central Missouri.

July 30, 2021
Contact: Sara Diedrich, 573-882-3243, diedrichs@missouri.edu

Sarah Traub took piano lessons when she was a child and wanted her daughter and son to have the same experience. So, when she heard about lessons offered through the Community Music Program (CMP) at the University of Missouri School of Music, she jumped at the opportunity to sign up 11-year-old Lizzie and 9-year-old John.

The siblings enjoyed the lessons so much that within a few months the Traub family purchased a piano. Now, Lizzie’s goal is to learn Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” and John hopes to master staccato notes.

This is an image of a child focusing on playing a piano.

John Traub reads and plays his sheet music. John’s mother, Sarah Traub, also took lessons as a child and said that she wanted her children to have that same experience.

“They love the lessons,” said Sarah Traub, who works at MU and lives in Boonville. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The Traub siblings are among 90 children and adults who are taking private music lessons this summer taught by approved undergraduate and graduate students through CMP. The number of participants averages between 110 and 120 during the academic year, and the cost is based on the educational qualifications of the instructor and the length of the lesson — 30-, 45- or 60-minutes long.

Participants can receive instruction on percussion, woodwind, string, brass and keyboard as well as voice, and lessons are offered online or in person at the Sinquefield Music Center and the Fine Arts Building on the MU campus. Piano is, by far, the most popular instrument for instruction. Fall and spring sessions conclude with a recital for family and friends at Whitmore Recital Hall.

Joanna Griffith, coordinator of the community music programs at Mizzou, said CMP is a valuable outreach tool for the music school because it provides community members with another bridge to the school in addition to public concerts.

“People get to actually use our facilities and get to know students,” she said. “We are offering low-cost lessons because we have student instructors, but it’s a win-win for everyone because our students get much-needed teaching experience, and the community gets the opportunity to learn from young, enthusiastic instructors who are eager to share their knowledge.”

The program offers partial scholarships and recently added Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Scholarships (IDEAS) for eligible recipients. This fall, there will be 18 slots for IDEAS recipients and 20 by spring 2022, Griffith said. Long-term goals for the program include providing instruments for those who don’t have them and covering the cost of lesson books.

“We are always looking for new ways to reach more people in the community,” Griffith said.

While the average CMP instructor has about five students, Meghan Speed, who is in her third year of a doctorate in music education at Mizzou, has 30 piano students under her tutelage. The 26-year-old has been playing piano since the age of 6 and gave her first lesson at 13.

“At my age, most musicians have three, maybe four, years of teaching experience,” she said. “Not that I knew much of what I was doing early on, but simply putting in that number of hours teaching has really helped.”

  • a teacher with a piano student
    Meghan Speed (right) reviews sheet music with her student John Traub (left). Speed comes prepared to each lesson with stickers, used to reward students for mastering a new song or skill.

Speed said most musicians end up teaching lessons at some time in their career, even if it’s to supplement a job teaching music or directing a band or choir. She said teaching piano has helped her overcome her own performance anxiety.

“I’m not a performer primarily; I’m a teacher,” she said. “But I’ve seen with my students how important it is to play from the heart and to play from the soul when you’re in front of a crowd. Nobody cares if you miss a note here or there if you are deeply engaged with the music.”

Zachary Scamurra, an undergraduate majoring in flute performance, said before teaching his first flute lesson, he grappled with how to explain playing a flute to someone who had never done it before.

“When you’ve been playing for 10 years, you don’t stop to think about, ‘Where am I directing my air stream? Where are my fingers? And all the other minute details that can make the slightest change in sound,” he said.

Consequently, Scamurra revisited the basics and in the process, became a better player himself.

Both Scamurra and Speed are grateful for the opportunity to hone their teaching skills.

“I plan to continue teaching privately for my entire career,” Speed said. “I never want to stop because it’s my favorite thing to do.”

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