“Your music teachers should have high expectations for you, and you for them.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 295
Few things have greater impacts on our musical development than our choices of teachers.
How can aspiring performers single out teachers who can not only provide crucial training but also inspire them and help unlock their potential?
Here are six basic strategies, adapted from Chapter 14 of The Musician’s Way.
6 Ways to Identify High-Quality Music Teachers
1. Observe Teachers
Along with researching a teacher’s background and exploring online or print materials, sit in on lessons or classes; watch any available online lessons. Note whether a teacher is, among other things, compassionate, articulate, encouraging, and purposeful. (Update: see 4 Attributes of Effective Teachers.)
2. Watch and Listen to Student Performances
Take in streamed, in-person, or recorded performances and notice whether a teacher’s students characteristically project self-assurance and expressiveness from the stage or unfavorable tendencies such as awkwardness and jitters.
3. Confer with Students
Reach out to current and past students and ask whether they’re motivated and positively challenged by their teacher along with how well they’re prepared to pursue their musical goals.
4. Take Trial Lessons
Sign up for a trial lesson or participate in a festival or workshop. Is the teacher interested in you and able to elicit meaningful improvements? Do you sense a positive connection?
“Your teachers should have high expectations for you, and you for them.”
5. Ask Strategic Questions
If you schedule a lesson or an audition with a prospective teacher, whether online or in person, record your session, perform thoroughly prepared material, and ask questions such as the following. Suitable educators will exhibit thoughtful and refined teaching methods that are in harmony with your aims:
- “What would you say my current strengths and weaknesses are?”
- “If I were to study with you, what might be some of our goals during the first few months?”
- “How do you advise students to learn new material?”
- “How do you help students become secure in performance?”
- “What are some ways that you guide students to grow their interpretive and other artistic abilities?”
- “What strategies do you recommend for building technical proficiency?”
- “In what ways do you help students prepare for professional careers?”
6. Probe Student Outcomes
If you aspire to a music career, search the Web for info about the professional activities of a teacher’s students; you might also ask a teacher for examples of past students who have become successful.
For comprehensive guidelines to attain high-level music skills, see The Musician’s Way.
Communicating with Teachers
The Growth Mindset
Making the Most of Music Lessons
The Master-Apprentice Model Is Dead
© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Smileus, licensed from Shutterstock.com
Well, I’m as “jittery and awkward” as ever, but it has no bearing whatsoever on my teacher. She’s a wonderful, compassionate, and encouraging teacher, and my nerves are entirely self-inflicted. I would take it easy on that criterion! 🙂
Hi Emily – Thanks for the good-natured comment. I agree that we can’t draw conclusions about a teacher based on one student. I appreciate you emphasizing that. But if most or many of a teacher’s students exhibit a lack of security on stage, then that implies that the teacher isn’t effectively teaching performance skills and therefore a prospective student would do well to consider other possible instructors.