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How to Select the Right Music Teacher

January 5, 2012

Alexis Alrich with two students at CrowdenBefore you choose a teacher for your child, you have to know what you want from them. For example, what kind of music would you like your child to learn? Since different musical practices emphasize different things, you might want a teacher who is comfortable with more than one style of music. That way your child would be exposed to a variety of music at a point when his/ her tastes are forming. John McCarthy, director of the Preparatory Division of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music advises you to match a teacher to your child's developmental level:

  • For young beginners, choose a teacher who enjoys a relationship with kids and families.
  • For a talented, ambitious teen, choose a teacher who will challenge the student
  • For the serious pre-professional, a teacher should be able to talk about deep musical values

An interview process can help you discover these sorts of qualities and more. Questions you should ask include those about the teacher’s own musical training and teaching experience. A college degree in music is desirable, and experience with teaching the age level of your child is critical. Practical issues are important as well: What are the fees and make-up policy? Where do the lessons take place (some teachers will come to your home)? It is a good idea to get referrals from other families as well.

Often times, introducing social aspects into musical training can drastically increase chances of success. To these ends, ask the teacher if they organize group workshops, performance opportunities, or perhaps ensembles. There is more to playing music than just mastering the technique of the instrument. Is the teacher providing knowledge of reading music, music theory, and exposure to various musical styles and repertoire? What types of books or materials do they use? How do they set and communicate weekly goals with their students?

McCarthy also points out that a match between parenting style and teaching style is a good idea. He terms the “sculptor” style as more goal-oriented and involved in directing the child’s progress, while the “gardener” style is more philosophical, encouraging natural growth of the child. Ask yourself and the prospective teacher – which one are you?

In the end, the chemistry between the student and teacher is essential. Arrange a paid, trial-lesson to see how they get along. Always respect the teacher as a professional even if they are not the right fit. There might be a time when it is appropriate to change teachers as needs and abilities develop.

Communication is the foundation for a successful relationship between teacher, student and family.

Lisa Petrie is a writer and specialist in marketing and public relations for arts and education organizations. She earned a DMA in flute performance from SUNY, Stony Brook, and is the mother of two musical kids. Lisa was the Content Manager for the Kids and Families section of San Francisco Classical Voice during 2011.