How to find a great music teacher for your child

The world is full of great music teachers, but unfortunately there are also bad ones.

I met my worst music teacher in New York City, at the age of 19, when I was studying violin at a conservatory. The school sent me to an internationally renowned violinist who taught in his posh Greenwich Village apartment. I was excited.

As it turned out, this teacher had a unique way of communicating: when I played something wrong, his foot would lash out with a reflex kick, landing on my butt (thankfully, I was wearing slippers). After a few lessons, he was out of there.

A year later, I found one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. This man was not famous, wealthy, or even a world-class violinist. He was a scruffy new immigrant living in a small walk-up apartment in Queens.

He turned out to be a fantastic, creative and inspiring teacher. At 20, my playing blossomed almost overnight. Thanks to him, I passed my first audition for a professional symphony orchestra.

Many adults have stories like this. Sometimes the worst teachers make the funniest stories. What’s not so fun is that they can turn talented young people away from music, sometimes forever. We don’t want this to happen to our own children.

Now I am the director of a music school, as well as the father of children with musical achievements. I know that anyone can hang a tile by declaring themselves a music teacher. But to find the gems, you have to proceed carefully and do your homework.

beginnings are important

Start with the research.

1. ASK EVERYONE YOU KNOW. Aim for at least three recommendations, just as if you were choosing an orthodontist. While collecting names, also ask how much they charge.

2. LOOK ON THE WEB. When you get to a music teacher’s website or school website, look for student performance videos. Hold them to high standards. If you don’t know anything about music, email the link to your musician friends and ask if the students have a good teacher.

3. WAIT AT THE RECITAL. If all the students play poorly, to the hills! A few struggling beginners at a recital is absolutely normal and appropriate; but there must also be beautiful players.

If the teacher doesn’t have student recitals, that’s a red flag. The teacher may be hiding something (or worse, vague).

Interview the candidates

Have a deep conversation, with your child present. Everyone should be interviewing each other.

the important questions

  • ‘WHAT IS YOUR AVAILABILITY?’ He wants to get an idea of ​​the teachers’ schedule. Teachers who are out of town often may not be the best choice. It never fails: Lessons canceled = less practice. Too many breaks will hinder progress.
  • ‘ARE YOU A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN?’ I would worry if the teacher is not in the music world but he just makes a little extra money.
  • ‘DO YOUR STUDENTS PARTICIPATE IN EXTERNAL MUSICAL ACTIVITIES?’ A good teacher exposes students to the larger world of music and is not afraid to send them to outside places: ensembles, camps, workshops, etc. It is even better if your students play in top quality youth orchestras and win competitions.
  • ‘WHAT LEVELS DO YOU TEACH?’ You want a good fit. If your child is just starting out, look for a teacher with an organized starting method and a proven track record. Other professors may accept only advanced students, for pre-professional training.

“Many levels” may also be a good answer. I chose my daughter’s violin teacher after attending her student recital. She ran the string department at an excellent school, and I was impressed that she taught a wide range of students, from advanced beginners to very advanced.

  • ‘DO YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC APPROACH TO TEACHING?’ It is good if they can articulate their methods and ideas. However, if they can’t, that’s not necessarily a reason to cross them off. Musicians tend to be right-brained and “outside the box”. Some cannot explain, but can ‘do’.
  • ‘WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF THE STUDENTS?’ Look for short-term and long-term expectations. Long-term goals might be “Participate in recitals every three months.” Short-term goals relate to daily practice.
  • ‘DO YOU PUT HOMEWORK IN WRITING?’ A teacher who supports the goals in writing, with practice charts, notebooks, and notes in each lesson, is a good teacher.
  • ‘WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE PARENTS?’ A teacher asked me to be the stenographer during my daughter’s lessons so she could focus on teaching. Consider if she is willing to do what is asked of her.
  • ‘WHAT IS YOUR FEE?’ By talking with other parents, you should get an idea of ​​the rates going on in your area. But don’t judge a teacher by price. Subsidized programs (through schools or cities) will be less expensive, while in-demand teachers charge more. If you find a grandmaster with fees beyond your budget, ask if they have an assistant or protégé who charges less. You will still have access to the main teacher.

One less important question:

or ‘HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING?’ Some of the best teachers I have worked with are young. One year of teaching experience is no reason to rule them out. It is safer to go for a less experienced teacher if they are part of a larger music school with a strong principal.

Questions the teacher should ask you

An interested and responsive teacher will ask questions such as: ‘Does your child express an interest in music?’ ‘He has he the ability to concentrate for 20 minutes?’ ‘How is he doing in school?’ ‘Do the parents or grandparents have a musical background?’ ‘Is there a piano (or other instrument) in your house?’ ‘Do you (parents) have time and energy to help children practice daily? ‘

The teacher should ask to hear your child play, if the student is not a beginner.

put it all together

Now think about all the factors we’ve discussed. To recap, ask yourself if the teacher offers:

  • High quality teaching?
  • Recitals?
  • Make contacts with outside music organizations?
  • Relationship with your son and you?
  • Inspiration?

Plus, consider:

  • The availability of the teacher.
  • The cost
  • The location

For my own children, quality training and an inspiring teacher are the two most important factors, and I am willing to go the distance for them.

© 2008, Susan Pascale, all rights reserved.

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