Seven Questions to Ask When Choosing a Music Instructor
By Leslie Bazzano
Choosing the right teacher for music lessons is a process, whether the student is your child or yourself. As a music teacher and a parent, a number of important questions jump out at me. These questions are not intended for the instructor, but for the prospective student or parent. I hope that, as you pursue your musical education, these questions will help you find the best teacher for your needs.
1. What are the student’s goals?
It's essential to evaluate what you want out of your music lessons. If they are for yourself, will the lessons be geared toward a particular performance goal, part of your continuing education, or just to help you learn a new instrument? If the lessons are for your child, are they for fun, for improved performance in a school orchestra or band or for some other purpose? Do you visualize your child performing on his/her instrument professionally one day? Asking questions like these will help choose the right instructor. Some teachers are more comfortable teaching only professional-track students, while others prefer hobbyists. And if the lessons are only going to be short-term, you should let the teacher know that. Verbalizing your goals for your instrument lessons is an essential step in choosing a perfect match and planning a proper course of study.
2. Where will the lessons be held?
Private lessons may take place at an instructor's home or in your own home. Some teachers will charge less for lessons taught in their own homes or studio, but then you will have to factor in the cost of your own time and transportation. Some children are lucky enough to have music lessons available at their school as part of an afterschool program or even during the school day. These lessons are convenient and are guaranteed to include instruction on their school-assigned orchestra or band music. You might also want to consider weekly group lessons. Group lessons are great if you or your child does not relish playing of playing one-on-one. They are also generally more affordable. If the lessons take place at a music store, purchasing books, reeds and supplies is going to be more convenient for you. But be aware that the cost of in-store lessons may be inflated if the teacher is renting the space from the store. Investigate what you are willing to do in terms of time and financial commitment, and what your child is comfortable doing. Once again, knowing the student's goals beforehand will help you answer these questions.
3. What kind of flexibility does the instructor have in his/her schedule?
As an instructor, one of the most upsetting aspects of giving music lessons is dealing with cancelations. Please make sure that you are willing to commit to the lessons before hiring a teacher. Some teachers will charge you for last-minute cancelations, and rightly so. Speak to the instructor about his/her flexibility regarding cancelations, tardiness (if traffic is a reoccurring issue) and any other issues you might have with the lessons.
4. What is the teacher’s educational background and how is that reflected in the cost?
Asking to see an instructor’s resume is a good idea because you will be able to read about the teacher’s past and present performances, memberships in groups, and where the instructor went to school. However, hiring a Music PhD for your child's weekly violin lessons is not always necessary. Sometimes an instructor with a post-graduate degree is suitable, if your goals are for your own education or if you have a musically-gifted child who is becoming more serious about performing. Teachers with higher degrees may also be able to instruct the student in music theory and composition. But if the goal is to take basic instrument or voice lessons, an instructor with a music certificate may be all you need. A college-level music student who is taking lessons and performing regularly may also be a great fit, and possibly more economical.
5. Is the instrument the instructor's primary instrument or a doubling instrument?
If you would like your child to learn the saxophone, is it necessary to hire a professional sax player or is a flutist who doubles on the sax adequate for your goals? This is a great question to ask in order to help you evaluate your goals. Perhaps the music teacher at your child's school is adequate on the band instruments. On the other hand, maybe you are an oboist and need to study with a professional oboist who can show you how to scrape or make reeds correctly. Teachers who double on more than one instrument may even charge less when teaching a secondary instrument. It’s all about finding the instructor that suits you best.
6. Is the instructor able to effectively teach the age group of the student?
An instructor must be able to teach the age of the student. This may seem obvious, but doing research and asking the instructor a few questions can be eye-opening. If your child is very young, an instructor with an abrupt personality may not be ideal. If you are taking lessons yourself, you may not appreciate someone who is too sweet to properly critique your technique. Some teachers are great with any age group, which demonstrates experience and expertise. Find out what you can about the teacher’s experience teaching students in your or your child’s age group.
7. What materials will be required for the lessons?
Always ask what will be required for the lessons. If the student is playing a reed instrument, will the teacher expect you to buy reeds from him/her? What books/methods are recommended by the instructor? Is the instructor willing to go over the band/orchestra materials that your child is using at school? If the lessons take place at a music store, is there a student discount for shopping there?
Properly evaluating your needs and goals in advance will save you time and money. When both instructor and student know what to expect from each other, they will both be happier. In the end, nurturing a love of music is what it’s all about.
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