“In my 20 years of teaching guitar, I have often been asked what to look for in a music teacher. Selecting an excellent music teacher for your child can be one of the most daunting tasks there is for a parent. And though finding a great teacher can be tough, I find that many people treat this important decision with less care than they would in finding a babysitter.”
A Great music teacher should:
- Make a personal connection with the student
- Help the student fall in love with music and the instrument
- Have a plan that effectively builds technique, a great ear and musical skills such as reading notes and chords
- Provide consistency through reliable, regularly scheduled lessons
- Give the student the learning habits necessary for success
Each teacher accomplishes these things in different ways, and a good teacher brings many other valuable skills to the music lesson experience. If you don’t take the time to seek out a professional music teacher, you may still get lucky. (I started lessons with a neighbor down the street who succeeded in the first two areas well enough that I was motivated to overcome deficiencies in the latter areas.) Unfortunately, it is much more common to start lessons joyfully and stop after a few months from lack of progress or connection.
Watch out for these five mistakes, and you will be much more likely to give your child the joy of a lifetime of music:
Prioritize Convenience Over Excellence
We are all busy, and driving across the state to get beginning guitar lessons is neither wise nor practical. However, just because someone lives down the street from you, meets your scheduling needs or comes into your child’s school, does not necessarily mean they have training, have a plan or are good with kids.
Take Free Lessons From a Friend or Relative
I’ve heard it before: “We’ve known Gary for years, and my son really admires his playing, so it’s perfect!” Friends are great for inspiration or showing you a few things on the instrument, but they will rarely provide the foundations of a good music education.
Ask yourself: Do they give performance opportunities? Do they have a plan for building reading skills? Do they know what to do if your child’s wrist starts to hurt? Most importantly, what happens when they get busy and can’t offer lessons anymore?
Find the Best Musician Around
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the parent who seeks out the best musician in town—the one they (or their child) have seen perform live and everyone loves. While it is possible that this great performer is also a great teacher, it is certainly no guarantee. Great performers without teacher training can make mistakes that hold the student back, such as assigning music that is too difficult for the student’s ability, using lesson time to practice or scolding beginners for ineptitude.
He’s Really Nice…
To be a great teacher (especially for young beginners) requires immense patience and understanding, no question. However, being nice in and of itself is not a qualification for teaching. In fact in the long run, the “nice guy” teacher may turn off more students than the “tough love” teacher, because he fails to help the student build skills that the student can be genuinely proud of. Maybe the student is happy for a while because she enjoys coming to lessons, but sooner or later she is going to notice that she can’t play very well.
Your Friend’s Kid Loves the Guy!
While the referral of a friend is actually a good first step, you must evaluate the teacher for yourself. Being able to make a connection is the number one asset of any good music teacher, but by itself it’s not enough. If the student has a great time and loves her teacher but learns nothing (or worse—learns bad habits), she will likely quit because she has no skills and therefore no ability to express herself musically. So what can you do? A referral from someone who loves his teacher is a good start. So are online reviews. Then ask about the teacher’s plan for success: regular recitals, fun songs, a good practice routine and so forth. Finally, see if you can attend a recital or observe a lesson.
The results of excellence will always show: a great music teacher will have many great music students.
Klondike Steadman is a guitar instructor and music academy director. He and his wife, Wendy Kuo, work to bring together teachers who are dedicated to teaching excellence.