Finding the Right Teacher
You have decided that you want to offer your child the gift of music…and now you need to find a teacher.
There are lots of good teachers, and lots of bad ones. As a parent, however, your goal should be to find the right teacher – the one who will work effectively with your child, and whose vision for your child’s musical future is one that you share. Below are some issues that you need to consider in determining whether or not a particular teacher is the right teacher for your child.
What are the teacher’s priorities: is music to be a fun activity, or is the goal to learn to play beautifully?
No teacher wants the study of music to be an unrelentingly unhappy experience for their students.
Nor do they aspire to make music 100% fun but for their students not to learn to play the instrument. Although lots of games make things fun and easy for beginning students, the truth is that learning to play an instrument – particularly a string instrument – is challenging.
In the medium term, students are successful only if the teacher and the parent are persistent in pursuing well-defined goals and put in the effort needed to develop their technical skills. For making music to truly be fun, the child needs to feel confident about their playing skills. Very, very few children have the potential to become musical prodigies…but, with the right teaching, and the right home learning environment, all children can be encouraged to achieve personal excellence and can learn to play well.
How can I tell whether a teacher is effective?
Ask to attend a recital where the teacher’s students are performing. Are most of the students able to perform their pieces without obvious difficulties, or are there many students who hesitate or stop playing? Does it sound as though they are playing in tune? Is the sound pleasing to the ear, or is it unattractive? Do some of the students look like professionals? Do they look happy to be performing?
Ask to observe some lessons – preferably of children near in age to your child. Watch the relationship between the teacher and the different students: to what extent does the teacher adjust their approach to reflect the differences between the students? Is the teacher able to explain what is expected in a way that the child can understand? Is the child engaged in the lesson? Would this approach suit your child?
Ask if students in the teacher’s studio participate in local music festivals, or take exams. Teachers whose students participate in music festivals typically use these events as an opportunity to encourage their young protégés to reach for the very highest standard of playing they can achieve. It is highly motivating for some students to discover just how well they can perform their repertoire, and the feedback from the adjudicator is always very helpful.
Are there any special things that I should look for with a Suzuki teacher?
A key part of the Suzuki approach to learning is the emphasis on listening to reference recordings, review, and the involvement of parents. If you are studying with a ‘Suzuki’ teacher, and you are not expected to be listening to the recordings of your current , future and past repertoire…then there is something wrong. If you are not – particularly until you get to the Book 6 level – expected to regularly review your past repertoire, then your child is not going to achieve the same level of mastery as will the students of other Suzuki teachers. If your teacher does not expect you to attend all of your child’s lessons, to take notes, and to practice daily with your child, then your child is studying with a traditional teacher who uses Suzuki repertoire. A Suzuki teacher will expect you to work with them, as their partner, and will take the time during the lesson to make sure that you understand the practicing assignments, and will make sure that you have the time to ask questions. A good Suzuki teacher will will be happy to discuss strategies for dealing with problems you encounter on your musical journey.
Why shouldn’t I just go to the teacher who is closest to me?
Music lessons are expensive, both in terms of time and of money. In addition to lessons you have to buy/rent an instrument, and music books. You are going to be practicing every day with your child, probably for half an hour per day (with younger students). And you have to attend private and group lessons.
You want to make sure that you get the best possible return on this investment. That means choosing a teacher who will work effectively with your child. You might save 20 minutes a week in travel time if you study with the teacher closest to you…but in the overall scheme of things, that’s not much of a savings.
Make the effort to take your child to a lesson at a time of day when your child is best able to learn. Young children do not learn best in the evenings, or after a full day of school. If your child is an early riser, then you should move mountains to schedule a day-time lesson…preferably in the morning. If your child likes to sleep in, then schedule a day-time lesson…in the afternoon. Although it can be difficult to organize work schedules to accommodate a day-time lesson, there are huge payoffs: going to the lesson is a special time that you spend each week with your child, and your child will be able to fully engage with the teacher in the lesson, ensuring that the learning experience is successful, and that they make more rapid progress in learning how to play the instrument.
If there is absolutely no way that you can get accommodation from your office to enable you to take your young child to a day-time lesson, then make sure that your child gets a proper snack before the lesson, and try to create a calm, positive atmosphere on the trip to the lesson. You will have to accept the fact that, some weeks, your child will simply be too tired to really do their best, and when that happens it may be best to cut the lesson short. As you wait for your child’s stamina to increase, you may want to consider sharing the lesson time with your child, and learning how to play the instrument yourself: this will help you to appreciate how difficult it is to learn to do what is required, and what an amazing learner your child is.