Choosing a music teacher for your child can be a daunting task. Should I look for someone who has a PhD in music? Or someone who has studied at Juilliard? What about the college student who is offering discount lessons? Years ago when my daughter was 4 years old, I was looking for a piano teacher but I had no clue how to choose one. I ended up finding a teacher who was not a good fit and we quit lessons after a few months. I then began taking piano teacher training courses so that I could become a better teacher. These courses and my experiences since then have taught me much more about finding a great music teacher.
Why is it important to find a great teacher? Why not just someone who is mediocre or simply good enough? It is because music lessons with a great teacher means you have found someone who will support and nurture your child on their musical journey. Making music is an activity that can be enriching and fulfilling for the rest of their lives. If you find the right teacher, your child could develop a love for music that propels them to keep making music. Finding a great teacher ensures the foundation for what could be a lifelong passion that brings creativity, comfort, and joy.
Here are the steps to finding a great teacher:
1) Figure out why you want your child to learn an instrument. Is it because you want your child to become a professional musician? Do you want your child to develop a love for music? Or do you want your child to be able to write this on their college application? Whatever the reason, you must be clear about it. This is immensely important because the goals you have for music lessons will shape your search for the right teacher. If your goal is to have your child play at Carnegie Hall one day, your definition of a great teacher could be very different from somebody who wants their child to be able to play an instrument merely for personal enjoyment.
2) Look for a teacher who works well with children. This may seem counterintuitive to most people. Isn’t it more important to find someone who is highly skilled on their instrument or have several music degrees? It is not that skill and pedigree are not important. Of course they are. It’s just that a child’s first music teacher sets the tone for music-making and can help develop your child’s passion for music. Having a teacher who understands children and inspires your child to play their instrument can set a strong foundation for your child’s music-making. In Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s book “Developing Talent in Young People,” he surveyed concert pianists and asked them about their childhood experiences with music. Most of them were not prodigies and did not showed any particular special talent on the piano. Rather, the thing they all had in common was that their first piano teacher really understood children and made playing the piano a positive experience.
3) Search for teachers. Gather up a list of names from friends, community listings, and online resources like the Suzuki Association or Music Teacher Association of California (if you’re in California). Ask around at your child’s school or call a local music school or college. Before you contact that teacher, figure out what you will ask them, which is the next step.
4) Interview the teacher. Because you know what you want out of music lessons (see #1), you can ask the teacher appropriate questions to begin to determine whether you all will be a good fit. Here are some questions to ask:
– What are the musical goals for your students?
– What do you cover during lessons? Some teachers focus mainly on the repertoire (the songs). Others also teach music theory, composition, improvisation, ear training, and ensemble-playing. It is a complicated issue as to which aspects a music teacher should be covering in lessons, so I will cover this in another post.
– Do you teach by ear or with reading music or both?
– Do you teach using a particular method? (If they reply “yes,” then ask for details about that method.)
– Do you have recitals? If so, how often?
– Do you teach private or group lessons?
– Do you want a parent to sit in on the lesson?
– How much do you expect the child to practice at home?
– Do you enter your students in competitions, festivals, or evaluations?
– What do you see as the parent’s responsibility during lessons and at home?
– What do you see as the child’s responsibility during lessons and at home?
– How do you communicate with parents? Email? Text? During the lesson?
– How much do you charge?
– Do you offer scholarships? (for those who need financial assistance)
5) See it for yourself. Ask to observe a lesson (or 2 or 4!). Bring your child to the teacher’s space so that you and your child can see what lessons entail. Watching a someone teach a lesson can reveal so much more than a conversation you have with that teacher. You will get to see how the teacher corrects the student, what the teacher focuses on, how practicing is established, the pace of the lesson, facial expressions, body language, and much more. If you can sit in on a recital or talk to parents in the teacher’s studio, that can be helpful as well. Use your intuition to figure out which teacher will work well with your child and your family. Remember, just because a friend raves about a particular teacher does not mean that teacher will necessarily be a good fit for your child and your family.
6) Choose a teacher. You’ve done the work, put in the time, and figured out the best fit for your child. Now is the time to choose a teacher and commit.
Five years after my daughter began and quit those piano lessons, she wanted to play the cello so I searched for a teacher. This time, I knew what to look for and how to proceed. I interviewed several teachers and I brought my daughter to watch 3 recitals and observe 4 lessons. In the end, I chose the teacher with a kind, gentle demeanor who is warm and caring to her students. This teacher was also able to correct her students in a positive way and effectively engage her students to play with beautiful tone and technique. Now, seeing the smiles on my daughter’s and her teacher’s faces during their weekly lesson I am reminded of a quote by Shinichi Suzuki: “Children learn to smile from their parents.” In this case, however, I believe that children also learn to smile from their teachers.
Music lessons are a wonderful investment for your child. Finding a great teacher will ensure a journey that is filled with delight, creativity, and lifelong joy.