Finding a Qualified Music Instructor

Some time ago, a mother called me to inquire about guitar lessons for her nine year old son. He had already taken a year of lessons at a supposedly prestigious music school that has locations around the USA. Even though this school’s owner once claimed he had the best students in the country, the mother of the nine year old felt he hasn’t learned his fundamentals. I asked her to bring him down and I would evaluate him.

After introducing myself and chatting with him, I found him to be a nice, pleasant boy who was not much different than other students his age. I proceeded to put a sheet of music in front of him that the average nine year old who has taken lessons with me for six to nine months could easily read. He could not read one note. I asked him if he knew any chords. He played a G power chord, but when I asked him what chord it was, he did not know. I showed him a page of 14 chords that all students of mine his age have memorized within six months of playing. He did not know any of them. I then asked if he knew which finger on his left hand is the third finger. This is something that I teach in a student’s first lesson, and he didn’t even know this. I was appalled. To me, this is like having a child spending all of the school year in 1st grade and not knowing the alphabet, let alone being able to read on a 1st grade level.

Unfortunately this is something I see all too often, a parent investing in a child’s music education without knowing enough about the instructor’s credentials, or believing the hype of a particular teacher or music school. Students are not only cheated on their education, but many end up with bad practice and study habits that later on, even a qualified instructor may not be able to save.

For the past several years, more music schools are opening up and hiring teachers who are not qualified to teach music. I also know of online sites that help you locate music teachers without spending enough time screening the teachers’ qualifications. My guess is that these businesses are looking for an easy way to make a quick buck with many of them targeting parents who have never played an instrument and don’t know how to begin finding a qualified teacher. Don’t get me wrong. There are still good teachers and schools out there, but how is one able to choose the right one? I will tell you what to look for.

Better yet, I will tell you the questions that these instructors and music schools don’t want to be asked.

1. What is the prospective teacher’s education and experience on his principle instrument?
There are many teachers out there who have had no formal training on the particular instrument they are teaching. Many can not read music at all, let alone show correct technique. Many teachers devise their own theories and methods with their students that are not adaptable to other performing situations the student may later encounter. These particular students will struggle with, or possibly not be accepted in many public school music programs. When arranging a phone or in person meeting with a prospective teacher, try to discover as much as you can about their background and teaching philosophy, while at the same time, get a feel for their personality and assess how compatible they are with you and your child. Every instructor has his methods of teaching. If it’s a good method, they’ll be able to articulate their ideas and teaching styles and explain their effectiveness.

2. How adaptable is the prospective teacher to each student?
Many teachers are not capable teaching someone much past a certain level. Students of these teachers are left never realizing their potential. Many students have special needs that have to be addressed. A student may be on an advanced level, learning disabled, or gifted. A teacher who has  experience meeting the individual needs of the student, will be able to help the student develop and progress.

3. How does the prospective teacher handle a struggling student?
I once saw a music  teacher yelling obscenities at his students. This is a good example of the student not being at fault, but a teacher not properly instructing him. This leads to the student struggling and the teacher getting frustrated because he doesn‘t know how to handle the situation. A qualified teacher can quickly evaluate and diagnose a problem while positively reinforcing a student’s self esteem. I personally have yet to find a teacher who yells or intimidates students to be a good teacher.

4. How does a prospective teacher keep a students interest?
For a beginner, this can be a challenge because many beginning exercises and songs may not interest a student. As long as a student is showing dedication to practice, a teacher can quickly build a repertoire of music that will  interest the student. Qualified teachers possess skills in performing and teaching many styles of music, that can very easily nurture and entertain a student.

5. What kind of environment is the location of the lessons?
I once talked with a mother who told me she dropped her son off for a rehearsal for his upcoming music school’s show. She mentioned to me that she showed up 20 minutes early to pick him up and saw the majority of the students not performing, and many students walking back and forth in and out of the building. All music schools should have a designated waiting area for parents that is close by their kids who are taking lessons. All lesson rooms should be well lit and free of any distractions. Group rehearsals should be well planned and organized with everyone participating during the time they are there. A music school is for learning, not loitering.

6. Is the prospective teacher a professional musician?
There are many people who have walked into my store, with no resume, and not much music experience except maybe playing in a metal band and asked for a job teaching. After I round off a few questions, it is obvious their teaching skills are less than satisfactory. Unfortunately I have seen these same people get work somewhere else.

These are a few key issues to consider when inquiring about music lessons. If a prospective teacher or school has trouble answering any of these questions, it is best to look elsewhere.

Remember, a good teacher will have a positive impact for the life of a student.

Benefits of Music Education