Often, beginning instrumental music teachers are picked based on their location, their fee, and their availability. Indeed, I suspect most of us had our first teachers picked based on pragmatic issues rather than teaching philosophies. But don’t forget, that first teacher can make or break a child’s relationship with music.
I decided to ask parents, students, and teachers what qualities they thought a good pedagogue should possess. Among the qualifications folks listed were sensitivity, enthusiasm, preparedness, flexibility, and the ability to motivate the student. One colleague in particular stressed that a good teacher was like a good therapist, in that you felt they were always “on your side,” even when you were being challenged or questioned or criticized in a lesson.
When I think back on my early lessons, the one thing that every good teacher did was make the learning process fun. Their techniques and styles varied widely as far as how they managed to do this, but in every case they made sure to take the time to get to know me as a person, not just as a music student. By doing so, they were able to create an effective learning environment for me that was challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable.
So, how do you find a good teacher? It takes research, soul searching, and trust in yourself. First, start asking around for referrals. Talk to friends, parents of your child’s friends, the school music teacher (if your school has one). Search local music associations for listings. Also use the teacher databases of such organizations as the Music Teachers National Association and Suzuki Association of the Americas. There are now also websites such as musicaladvantage.com and clickforlessons.com which list teachers that sign up for the sites’ posting services.
Once you’ve gotten a list of names, call these people and ask them questions pertaining to you and your child’s desires for music lessons. If you feel good about the answers you get, then ask the teacher if you could schedule an in-person interview or a sample lesson. (Be prepared to pay for the lesson.) Once you meet the teacher, observe how well they interact with your child during the meeting. With a great teacher, you will see almost immediately if he/she knows how to connect with your child. Afterwards, ask your child for their honest opinion, keeping in mind that kids sometimes color their true opinions if they are tired or hungry or having a bad day (hey, I do that).
After you have met with three or four teachers, hopefully you should have enough information to make a choice. In doing so, try to make sure you are picking a teacher based on the needs of your child, not you. Especially with parents who are musicians, I have noticed that sometimes they select a teacher who would be a better fit for them rather than their child. Finally, when making a decision, trust your instincts. Especially for first-time parents, this can be scary, but hey, you do know your kid better than anyone giving you advice. The kid does not give a damn if the teacher has a degree from Juilliard or from the community college. And neither should you. If the person is right for your child, the person is right for you.