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April 11, 2017

How to Find the Right Music Teacher

First, the Golden Rule: Amazing musicians don’t necessarily make amazing teachers.

Some incredible pianists make lackluster teachers, while some less-than-amazing pianists make incredible teachers. I have hired for talent and been let down, and I have hired for personality and attitude and been absolutely delighted.

So, if you only remember one piece of advice when choosing a music teacher, remember this: More than degrees, titles, or awards, a teacher’s level of emotional intelligence(EQ) — the awareness of their own emotions and the emotions of others–will determine their effectiveness as a teacher.

Is your candidate responsive to your messages, questions, and input? Are they flexible and spontaneous? Can they balance structure and fun, and do they seem to genuinely love what they do? These are the characteristics that truly matter, and that keep a student engaged, challenged, and committed to music lessons.

You’ll sense the level of a potential teacher’s EQ in a phone or in-person meeting, which I recommend setting up if you’re not working with a studio (like mine) that finds a teacher match for you.

At the initial meeting, here are some important questions to ask:

  • Do you have recitals? If not, are there goals for myself or my kid to work towards? Without goals — even if music lessons are meant purely for enjoyment — a student won’t reach their full potential.
  • What is your method of tracking weekly practice? An organized teacher will stay on top of student progress by helping them keep track of their own practicing.
  • What is your method of presenting an assignment and ensuring it’s carried out? Accountability is massively important for learning in general, so make sure your teacher has a plan.
  • Do you have experience incorporating student song requests into lessons, whether through arranging the piece yourself or sourcing arrangements through other means? One of the best things a teacher can do to keep their student engaged is to teach them to play songs they love. Before finding a teacher, ask yourself or your kid what type of music or specific songs they want to play.
  • Do you have experience helping a student develop an original composition? If you don’t consider songwriting an important facet of your or your kid’s music education, here is my plea to reconsider.
  • How has your teaching style evolved since you started, or, what’s one mistake you made when you started that you’ve learned from? Your candidate’s answer will reveal their capacity for self-reflection and improvement.
  • What makes this job rewarding for you? It goes without saying that a teacher must have passion for their leadership to be effective.

You’ve asked all the right questions, liked what you’ve heard, and decided to work with a teacher.

Is there a way to test for chemistry before signing on the dotted line?

Many teachers will offer a no-strings-attached “trial lesson” or introductory meeting.

No matter what you call the first session, it should be okay for both parties to walk away afterward. An in-person meeting, incorporating conversation and instruction, will reveal much more than thousands of vetting questions.

If you’re a parent, avoid being in the same room, which could make both teacher and student nervous or disingenuous. Follow along from an adjacent room instead.

Feeling insecure about interviewing a teacher because you have no musical background or experience?

It doesn’t matter.

Everything I’ve listed above requires no musical background to assess.

Your goal in finding a teacher is to understand their pedagogical strategy, learn how they will use it to make their students excited about setting and reaching goals, and determine if that strategy will work for you and your family.

Don’t worry about sounding like you know anything about music. Any teacher who devalues your opinion because you don’t know musical terminology isn’t a good fit for you, and certainly won’t be a good match for your kid.

If you’ve had past lesson experience.

In this situation, tell the new teacher all about your last teacher, the progress you did or didn’t make, what worked and didn’t work for you. Listen closely to their response. Do you believe they could genuinely correct the course, or will they offer more of the same?

Trust your instincts!

When it’s time to find a new teacher.

Students who stick with music lessons over the course of many years change in more ways than just their age. When I was in seventh grade, I quit the piano lessons I’d been taking since first grade. Not because I didn’t love playing, but because I needed to find a new perspective as musician.

I really liked my teacher, but she was traditional. She couldn’t relate to my request to learn the pop and rock songs I loved. It took a year of musical soul-searching, and finding a new teacher– who not only played in a gigging jazz band, but knew I needed to learn jazz piano to reach my performing and songwriting goals– before I found my stride.

The journey of music education is full of equal parts challenge and reward. Teachers are guideposts. Spending some time thinking about what kind of teacher you want and need– and asking lots of well-thought-out questions– makes all the difference in finding the right one.

Want to learn about teacher EQ and why it’s important? Find out what I look for in a music teacher.

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