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.