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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 1

Finding the right music teacher? Not so simple

by Lucie Renaud / September 1, 2001

Version française...

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 that).

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?
    (competition, practice, lesson time)
  • Last teaching diploma obtained and years of experience?
  • 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 regulations?
  • 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 Lebedeff]

Version française...

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