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Choosing a Music Teacher

One cannot stress enough the importance of finding the correct music teacher for one's child. This person will be the individual who can "make or break" the youngster's experience with music. Be sure, therefore, to do the appropriate research before enrolling your child in a music lesson program.

What to Look for in a Teacher

A well-qualified music teacher has the following attributes:

  • A love of teaching
  • A degree in music (minimum: bachelor's)
  • Experience in performing
  • Experience in teaching
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Diagnostic skills
  • Knowledge of learning theory and varied learning styles.
  • A well-equipped studio.
  • An acquaintance with a wide variety of music literature
  • Membership in local or national professional societies
  • Possible certification by a professional society
  • Possible additional training in pedagogy (the art of teaching), or a combination of performance/pedagogy degree.
  • Possible training in specialties to prepare for work with preschoolers, the gifted, or those with special needs.
  • Possible affiliation with a community arts school.(1)

It is very important that you find a teacher whose personality and style match your child's needs. Do you want someone who is nurturing and relaxed or someone who will make considerable demands? Teachers also vary widely in what they require of their students in the way of practice and performance.

Where Can I Find a Teacher?

Word of mouth is a good way to find a teacher. Ask the parents of children who are already studying music, the school music teacher or perhaps someone at the local youth symphony or regular symphony for recommendations.

Your community may have a neighborhood music school that has already done some of the footwork for you with regard to checking credentials. Music stores also often have studios where private lessons are given.

Some school music teachers give private lessons in your child's school building. Expect to pay a fee for this added instruction.

Beginners may be able to study at first with an experienced high school or college student. Bear in mind that while the cost of these lessons will be less than what is charged by a "professional," the instruction will also not be on the same level.

If your child is just starting out, investigate the possibility of group lessons.

The Music Teacher National Association maintains a roster over 3,500 teachers nationwide whom the organization has certified as having demonstrated competence in teaching music. Visit their website at www.mtna.org, then select "Find a Music Teacher."

Questions to Ask a Potential Teacher

Before hiring a teacher, it is appropriate to ask if you can attend a lesson or class as an observer. A successful, competent instructor will not object to such a visit. If she does, this is probably not the person with whom your child should study.

As you observe a lesson, look for the following:

  • Does the teacher give frequent, specific, and honest praise?
  • Does the teacher make positive corrections?
  • Does the teacher have a sense of humor?
  • Are activities varied and appropriate to the child's age?
    • For the young student, a mixture of songs, movement and so on.
    • For the older student, a blend of technical and musical skills.
  • Are new pieces carefully prepared at the lesson?
  • Is the child encouraged to ask questions?
  • Is more than one way used to explain, if the student doesn't understand?
  • Are visual aids used?
  • Is the room large enough? Is it attractive?
  • Does the teacher tailor instruction to fit the child's needs?
  • Does the teacher provide specific, attractive practice assignments?
  • For all instruments, is there emphasis on proper hand and body placement?
  • For instruments other than piano, is there instruction in breathing (for winds and brass), intonation, tuning?
  • For voice students, does the teacher take time to warm up the voice?
  • Is the repertoire varied to include songs in different languages?
  • Are sight-singing, vocal technique, breathing, and intonation part of the structure?
  • Do materials seem appropriate for the age of the student?
  • Is there mention of care of the instrument?
  • Does the teacher allow phone calls or other interruptions during a lesson?
  • Is there good rapport between teacher and student? (2)

It is also important to know the details of your contract with a teacher.

  • How long are the lessons?
  • How many lessons are there per year? Does the teacher require study during the summer?
  • What are the practice expectations?
  • What about student recitals?
  • What is the payment procedure? If appropriate, ask about scholarships.
  • Where is the lesson to take place? If you work, selecting a teacher in another town may cause problems. Some instructors will come to the house, but most require that you come to them. Weekend lessons are a possibility in some cases.
  • What about missed lessons? Will these be made up? What sort of notification must be given? Will you be charged for such absences?

Cost

The cost of music lessons can be an important priority when selecting a teacher. However, the quality of training should be more important than cost. If necessary, you can apply for a scholarship. Remember that you will get what you pay for. If a teacher is charging a low rate, she may not have the training necessary to teach your child properly.

It is possible sometimes to cut the cost of lessons by enrolling your child in a group instead of as an individual.

One can also sometimes schedule lessons for every other week instead of every week to help keep the cost of lessons down.

1. Wilma Machover and Marienne Uszler, Sound Choices: Guiding Your Child's Musical Experiences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 209.

2. Machover and Uszler, p. 235.

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