How to Choose a Private Music Teacher

Whether you are considering a teacher for yourself or your child, a music teacher needs to have the right balance of likeability and strictness. This is crucial. Friendly teachers without firmness or insistence lack the ability to push students in the right direction with the benevolent detachment that is required. And stern teachers with no ability to show a friendly side can make the learning experience too intimidating. If the instructor you are searching for is intended for your son or daughter, you need to be aware of how your child works with different types of personalities. While adults can often respect a person they don't care much for, some children find it hard to make that distinction. They respect whom they like, and they like whom they respect. If they find a tutor to be unlikable as a person, they will have difficulty learning from that individual. I have witnessed over the years many students who have struggled with their private teacher. And with children, the results of a bad student-teacher relationship can be disastrous. I know students, some with promising careers ahead of them, who gave up their instrument because they didn't like their teacher. They didn't just give up the teacher - they gave up everything to do with music! So it is very important to choose a private teacher wisely. Private instructors who are accepting students usually make their availability known through bulletin boards in malls and at local schools, by word of mouth, or by advertisement in a newspaper. In larger towns or cities, the choices are numerous. How can you filter through all of the ads to find the right teacher? There are some guidelines: * References - Never choose a teacher without getting a list of references. If a teacher does not offer to provide references, avoid that one. Be sure to call at least two references. - Ask the reference about the teacher's rapport with their son or daughter, strictness (strictness is good, but must be tempered with kindness) and reliability (does the teacher make a habit of canceling lessons, etc.) * Program - Ask the teacher about the program of study. It is important that a teacher be at least somewhat interested in the student's interests. But at the same time, a good teacher will insist that certain techniques will need to be mastered no matter what style the student eventually specializes in. (Rock & roll pianists need to learn their scales as much as classical pianists.) Teachers who are too accommodating ("Oh, I'll teach whatever you want me to teach...") should be avoided. - An instructor should show interest, and have some expertise, in a student's particular stylistic concentration. If you are interested in jazz, but your teacher knows nothing about it, look for a different teacher. * Policy regarding missed lessons. - If the TEACHER misses a lesson: Most teachers who miss lessons will offer to make them up at a later date. A good teacher will minimize this circumstance. If the teacher is a busy performer/ clinician, they need to be upfront regarding the possibility of missed lessons. This is something you can discuss with the teacher and ask references about as well. - If the STUDENT misses a lesson: You need to expect that a good teacher will be (and should be) intolerant of habitual absenteeism. If you are finding a teacher for yourself, ensure that you have made these lessons a priority, and that you have set aside the agreed lesson time. If your child is the student, a good teacher will guard that lesson time jealously. It is not usually acceptable to cancel lessons because of a birthday party, sporting event or other social activity. Hiring a private instructor means devoting time to that weekly lesson and keeping absenteeism to a bare minimum. Some other bits of advice: While it is possible to "interview" a potential teacher over the phone, I would recommend arranging to meet if possible. You will get a better handle on their personality and demeanor, and this is so important. You will need to discuss price. There tends to be a "going rate" for private instructors, and this will vary from one area to another. Perhaps you know of others who are studying privately; you might be able to contact them to get a ballpark figure. Teachers will usually offer half hour, forty-five minute, or full hour lessons. For very young children a half hour is sufficient. Forty-five minutes is great for middle school-aged children (12 - 15 years of age), and hour-long lessons are a good choice for older students. Some teachers will request payment in advance while others will accept payment per lesson. Though most have developed a payment policy over the years, some can be somewhat flexible, so don't be afraid to discuss it with them openly. There are many instructors who have been "burned" in the past by students who have forgotten to pay, so you can expect such teachers to have fairly exacting payment terms. People hire private instructors because they want to go further than they might go in a class situation. If you aren't ready to commit to the time to practice (at least forty-five minutes per day, or more for some instruments), private lessons may be a waste of time and money. Students preparing for university study in music should certainly be considering private instruction for at least the year prior to the audition. The private teacher can ensure that students know what is expected of them on a university-level playing test, and can suggest appropriate repertoire for the audition. And you will love the advancement that comes with private instruction.