Finding the right music teacher? Not so simpleby Lucie Renaud
/ September 1, 2001
It’s the beginning of
September, which means back-to-school time, busier schedules, and the selection
of extracurricular activities for the kids. Perhaps you are considering music
lessons? Before picking up the phone, it is important to think about the amount
of time that will have to be spent playing the instrument. It is not enough to
simply book lessons in the agenda of an otherwise busy schedule. To make
significant progress in playing an instrument you will have to invest a minimum
amount of time in practice. Most teachers have quotas for their students,
generally ranging from 20 minutes to an hour a day. This may seem like a lot at
first, but if you add up the number of hours a week that a child spends doing
even lightly competitive sport (including transportation and waiting for the
next game), playing an instrument does not seem that time-consuming after all.
But in order to avoid unnecessary stress and frustration, be sure that your or
your child’s schedule is not already crammed with organized activities every
evening of the week.
You are now ready to begin the selection
process that will land you on the doorstep of the ideal teacher. Check the
yellow pages or your town-activities roster, and, as more music teachers now
have web sites, the Internet. Any of the major music schools in your city will
also be happy to provide a list of music teachers. Ask your friends, as well, to
recommend someone—there is nothing more convincing than a satisfied customer—but
make sure that you and your friend have similar expectations in this area. For
example, some teachers strongly insist that all their students take part in
competitions. If the child enters a state of cataleptic shock on hearing the
word “performance” or “adrenaline”, such a teacher may not be the right one for
him/her. Other teachers might expect the student to spend two hours a day
playing their instrument. If you are only looking for a bit of artistic
relaxation, you will quickly be shown the studio door.
Take the time to ask whatever questions you
have (a few of them are suggested at the end) and do not hesitate to ask to
attend the first lesson. This will enable you to appreciate the physical
environment (ideally the lesson should take place in a calm and well-lit area),
the rules that apply in the studio (most serious teachers will have a sheet
describing these details), the teacher’s capacity to teach (a BA in music is
more credible than three incomplete DEC’s), and also whether you and your child
hit it off with her (most teachers are women excepting those of non-traditional
instruments such as brass). Take your time, and if anything makes you feel
uncomfortable (such as the words, “pay for the first 10 lessons in advance, see
you next week”), be very careful.
Teaching should be a vocation and not just
a professional occupation. Naturally, the world of music being what it is, a
musician has to find ways of making ends meet by taking on a few pupils. But
look for a musician who is also actively pursuing a musical career (even when it
is not on a professional level). Beware of those who claim that they chose to
teach rather than become interpreters. In the artistic domain, where intuition,
emotion and reason are the driving forces, such a level of experience will not
go far enough.
Choosing a teacher just because her rates
appear to be reasonable could turn out to be a big mistake. Though some
passionate musicians might give lessons for much less than they should, consider
the other variables in the equation. Teachers who are a little more expensive
may offer the students the possibility of attending concerts free of charge.
They may not hesitate to lend their scores and recordings. A number of teachers
will also work on reinforcing the knowledge base (especially theory) using
appropriate software. It is also helpful to know how much time the teacher
invests in preparing the material before and after the lesson. Whatever you do,
don’t go with a teacher who is “not that good” because the child is just
starting and you mean to change when the pupil has surpassed the teacher. A poor
teacher does more harm to a beginning musician than to an intermediate. The
foundations will be precarious and will handicap the student throughout his
studies (if the process itself doesn’t discourage him long before
If you successfully negotiate this first
crucial choice, you can count on hours of fun in the years to come. If you
aren’t comfortable with the teacher, no need to quit the instrument, you’re
better off trying another teacher. The ideal teacher is out there somewhere,
just keep looking. Even if most young musicians will not embark on international
careers, music will always be there to fulfil their expectations during their
troubled teenage years, as well as in supposedly more reasonable adulthood.
Happy musical year!
A few essential questions
What are the teacher’s expectations?
practice, lesson time)
- Last teaching diploma obtained and years of
- Does he/she still play on a regular basis?
- What type of music does he/she teach? If your child is
anxious to learn the latest pop song, and the professor only teaches Bach,
there are problems ahead!
- Number of students? If the teacher has 75 students, chances
are that he/she won’t be able to give full attention to everyone.
- Does the teacher provide a summary of studio rules and
- Selected method. The best teachers know how to adapt the
numerous existing methods to the student’s personality. Beware of the teachers
who swear by only one method.
May I attend the lessons? Some teachers forbid the parents
from entering the studio, while others encourage them to attend, if only
occasionally. It is often desirable for the parents of very young children to
attend the lesson, to make it easier for them to guide the home practices.
Most parents, even those who claim they
understand nothing, are able to appreciate the progress if they are attentive to
their child by following lessons and listening to the daily practice. If you
want to convince your child that musical education is important, start by being
convinced of it yourself.
[Translated by Alexandre