You’ve finally found a music teacher that is the right price, at the right location, and at the right time, but is the teacher the right teacher for you or your child? If you’re paying for music lessons, your goal is to actually get better not just to take music lessons right? Then you need to be aware of what to look for in a teacher, but you also need to be willing to give your teacher enough of a chance to do a good job.
Understand that in your first lesson with a new teacher they don’t know much about the student. Even if you told them before hand, they don’t know what the student’s personality is like, how much the student is going to practice each week, or how talented the student is. It takes a little while to understand all of this. Because of this, one lesson may not be enough to make an accurate judgement about a music teacher.
If the student is a child, a good teacher won’t be afraid to talk to parents about misbehavior. When I was a new piano teacher, I was a little too nervous to talk to parents. Even though a student was not behaving in lessons, I would just let it go. In hindsight, that’s crazy. It doesn’t always work, but often when parents are made aware of a student’s bad behavior the child will begin acting better very quickly.
If your teacher is afraid to ruffle some feathers, you may need to let the teacher know that they don’t have to tolerate bad behavior and that they can go to you as a parent for help.
A teacher can discipline a student in a nice way without being demeaning. A teacher should never compare a student with others or talk down to them. Not ever. If your teacher does that in the first, 10th, or 100th lesson, run the other way. It’s not ok, and it can really hurt a young student’s self esteem. Luckily this is not something that happens very often.
Don’t Worry About Credentials
Don’t get caught up too much in credentials. Going to school for music is great, and if the student is very advanced (college level) then having a teacher with an advanced degree could be important. If the student is a beginner, intermediate, or even early advanced, though, having a degree from a music school helps very little with teaching.
Some of the best teachers out there have no degree in music to speak of. Teachers with a lot of credentials will often cost a lot more as well. Teachers with advanced degrees may have a lot of knowledge about music, but is any of that extra knowledge really necessary to teach a student how to read music or play Mary Had a Little Lamb? It really isn’t.
Some degrees do require a “pedagogy” classes. Pedagogy is a class that teaches how to teach. I only had to take one semester of it at my school. It was helpful, but I’ve learned a lot more from actually teaching than I learned in a one semester pedagogy class.
The best performers are not always the best teachers. Just because your teacher tours all over the place playing their instrument doesn’t mean they’ll be a better teacher than the person who does no performing at all. Teaching is a completely separate skill. The teacher you choose should definitely have a decent ability at the instrument you’re learning, but the assumption is that if they’re teaching they already do.
Let the Teacher Know Your Needs Before and After Each Lesson
Music teachers aren’t mind readers. If you get a teacher that is extremely kind, but doesn’t seem to be strict enough to get your child to practice, tell them. They may just need to know what you want from them. If the teacher is being too strict and your child is coming home in tears, tell them. Most teachers will be more than happy to change. If your teacher doesn’t change, and it becomes a real issue, you can always look for another teacher. The worst thing you can do is fire a teacher before even telling them what your concerns are.
Learning to Play an Instrument Takes a While
No, you aren’t going to be an expert in 5 lessons. I don’t care who your teacher is, how talented you are, what instrument you’re learning, or how much you practice, you can’t learn to play an instrument in a few lessons, you just can’t.
I match students to music teachers all day long, that’s my job. For some reason, a lot of students think that taking a couple of music lessons will help them play an instrument. If you think that way, you’ll be mighty disappointed when you find out that you’re not amazing after a few lessons. You’ll probably end up quitting, and you may even blame it on the teacher. “I couldn’t play anything well after having 5 whole lessons!” It’s not your teachers fault. It’s just the way it is.
The Need to Practice
Maybe you understand it’s going to take a while to learn music, but maybe you don’t quite understand how much work you need to put in. The best teacher in the world can’t help a student that doesn’t practice. The only way to get better is to practice. Your teacher is more of a guide than anything. Your teacher will let you know how to practice, they’ll correct mistakes, and explain concepts. In the end, though, progressing is up to you. Music lessons aren’t like going to a history lecture. It’s not just about memorizing facts. It’s about applying what you’ve learned in practice and developing an actual motor skill.
If you go to lesson after lesson and you aren’t practicing, you will not get any better. There is no way around it. If you aren’t planning on practicing, don’t even begin lessons. It will be a complete waste of money.
A great teacher/student relationship is symbiotic an evolutionary. It develops after months and years of working together. Teachers come to understand their student’s needs better, and students come to understand their teachers better. After a while, progression starts to speed of dramatically. In order for this to happen, though, teachers need to be thinking. They need to be consistently striving for better ways to improve their teaching.
Is the student struggling with reading notes? If they are, a good teacher will find new ways to teach them. Maybe the student is having a technical issue, or maybe the student just isn’t listening during lessons. A good teacher would adjust each time they see a need.
If your teacher isn’t perfect right when you start, at least make sure that they have a desire and are seeking to improve. If they’re doing that, they’ll figure it out and the student will benefit.
Understanding Teacher Policies
Every teacher is going to have different policies on how they handle make-up lessons and lesson cancellations. Some teachers just require 24 hours notice of a cancellation or reschedule. Some teachers will make up a missed lesson, but they won’t give refunds. Some teachers won’t make up lessons and won’t offer refunds. How in the world can a teacher think it’s ok to take your money and not give you a lesson?!
It’s actually pretty simple. For most private teachers, teaching music is their only job. Let’s use a clothing store employee as an example. Let’s say you worked in a clothing store and you were scheduled to work from 9am to 5pm. You come into work at 9am, but there were no customers. You only actually “work” sporadically because there’s just nothing to do. Your employer then tells you you’re only going to get paid for 4 hours of work because you didn’t work for a full 8 hours. Would you be happy about that? Probably not. But why not? It makes sense! You didn’t work for four hours.
The problem is you set that time aside. You came to work and you couldn’t take any other job during that scheduled time or do anything else because you had to be there. This is what it’s like when students cancel lessons. When students cancel lessons teachers lose income. The teacher couldn’t schedule any other students during the time that you canceled. This is their livelihood, so it actually makes sense that regardless of whether or not you come to the lesson time, you’ll get charged because you’re reserving the teacher’s time.
Not all teachers have strict policies like this, but students should try to be as understanding as possible. A strict policy like this shouldn’t be a reason for not taking lessons from a particular teacher.
If you are looking for a music teacher and you can’t quite find the right fit, make sure you’re actually giving the teacher a chance! Music lessons are important. Don’t give up on them.
What has your experience been with finding a music teacher? Have you given them a chance? Let us know in the comments!