A love of music and an interest in a particular instrument is a good start, but finding the right music teacher for yourself or your child is essential to cultivating a positive, lifelong relationship with the musician’s journey. A music teacher should be more than just the dictator of technical finesse and playing strategies, s/he should also connect on a personal level with the students – creating a safe, trusting and inspiring instructional environment in which the student can thrive.
Here are some of the ways you can ensure the teacher you hire is the best fit for the student.
Online searches are a good place to start, but word of mouth is even better. Begin asking neighbors, friends, teachers or coaches and see if they have any recommendations (or warnings). Online reviews don't always tell the full story so having personal recommendations and the ability to ask specific questions of people you trust is indicative of the bigger picture.
It's always a good idea to get three to five names on your list so you can begin interviewing the candidates, verifying credentials, and learning more about each one.
Don't be afraid to ask questions
It's just as important for the teacher to select the right student, as it is for the student to select the right teacher. This is the best way to ensure the rapport is beneficial for both parties. While a single "trial" lesson will give you a good idea about a teacher's energy, student interest, and teaching ability, it's wise to treat this process as an interview and have a handful of questions available for them to answer.
Our post, How to Choose a Great Cello Teacher, includes a list of 10 questions that can serve as a guide as you move forward in your "Teacher Search," and they’re relevant to any string instrument in the orchestra.
Attend local recitals
Most music schools and instructors host recitals, often taking place twice a year - around the holidays and then again in spring. In addition to supporting your local student musicians, you will learn much about your teachers of interest – listening to them speak and their introductions, seeing the spectrum of students they teach, and getting a feel for their music school's culture – which varies from place to place.
After the recital, speak with your child about his/her feelings, experience and thoughts about the different teachers and students you've listened to, keeping these impressions at the forefront when you interview prospective teachers.
Take advantage of free introductory lessons
Most great music teachers offer one, 30-minute introductory lesson that's completely free of charge. It is an opportunity for the instructor to get to know the student a bit better, and vice versa, to see if it's a good fit. Taking advantage of these lessons is a smart way to narrow your list to the top two instructors. Or, you may experience such a strong, positive resonance with one of them that you know you've found just the right teacher.
Is the teacher able to teach more than one instrument?
As a beginner, the student may think he wants to play violin, only to learn that it's the cello he longs for. Or, your child may begin playing her uncle's old cello because it was available, to find later that the viola is the instrument that speaks to her heart. This isn't uncommon at all. In fact, famous bassist Charnett Moffett played both drums and trumpet before picking up the bass.
If your child wants to play a string instrument, but isn’t 100% sure of his/her first choice, rent the one s/he’s most interested in starting, and seek out a music teacher that is willing to work with students across the string instrument spectrum until they find their perfect fit.
Choose a teacher who specializes at your level
Most teachers have their own favorite "student niche." For some, it's the beginner crowd. Others do best working with advanced players on honing higher-level techniques and tackling challenging pieces. If your child’s a beginner and you enlist someone whose preference is the advanced crowd, it can end in high-pressure disaster. If the student is an intermediate player, resistant to change teachers due to familiarity, s/he’s being held back.
Don't be afraid to ask instructors what their preferred level is and find one who enjoys teaching students at the child’s current level – and at least a couple of levels up from that – so they can enjoy a longer window of time together.
Choosing the right teacher for your child is an important part of creating a supportive atmosphere as s/he begins the musical journey. A knowledgeable, experienced, and supportive teacher will keep your student motivated for years to come.