Finding Your Ideal Music Teacher: 6 Steps to Success [GUEST POST]

music teacher

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online schools. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Whether you’re just starting to learn an instrument or you’re an experienced musician and need to find a new teacher, finding the right instructor is an important part of making consistent progress. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of things you should think about, the logistics of finding potential teachers, what it’s like to interview them, and how to get a clear picture of each studio. Fortunately, the Music Teachers’ National Association (MTNA) is full of experts who have put their heads together to provide some professional recommendations. The following is a compilation of those recommendations, divided into six easy steps, to help guide you through the process of finding the right music teacher.

1. Consult people around you

Check with friends, family members, and anyone else you know who takes music lessons. Even if your friends play different instruments than you do, you can ask if their teachers instruct on multiple instruments. Often, a successful teaching style translates well to different instruments if the skill and experience are there, so asking about general teaching characteristics can give you a significantly accurate impression. From there, you can decide whether or not it’s worth it to find out if a teacher instructs on your instrument.

2. Request recommendations

If you’re familiar with any music stores, local organizations, or even churches, you can ask around at these locations to see if you can get some good recommendations. Music stores often have multiple employees, so be sure you ask everyone who might have experience with the kind of instruction you’re looking for.

3. Interview prospective teachers

It may seem excessive to interview teachers, but it’s well worth your time and will show them that you’re serious about your lessons. You can choose some questions from the following list, make up your own, or use a combination:

  • Can you tell me about your professional and educational experience in music? (Ex. What is your degree, where did you go to school, which instrument was your concentration, etc.)
  • What is your teaching experience? (Ex. How long have you been teaching, which age groups, which instruments, do you teach group lessons, etc.)
  • How do you stay updated in professional development? (Ex. Do you go to conferences, participate in specific organizations, etc.)
  • Do you have a written studio policy and, if so, can you explain it to me?
  • Which instructional methods do you use?
  • What kinds of music do you teach?
  • Do you regularly evaluate student progress? If so, how and when?
  • Do you require recital and/or competition performances from all students? How many?
  • If I join your studio, will you provide me with any other performance opportunities? Do you use technology in your studio? (Ex. Do you have keyboards, computers, composition software, etc.)
  • What are your expectations in terms of practice time and dedication?

4. Request permission to attend recitals/performances

As you whittle down your list of potential teachers, ask the last few candidates if you can attend any upcoming studio recitals or other performances. This will give you an opportunity to observe the relative success of students, their ability to perform well (this reflects strongly on a teacher’s attention to preparation strategies), and even interaction between teacher and students. You may also be able to pick the brains of some of the students to see what it’s like to be part of the studio.

5. Request references

Ask potential teachers if they can provide you with contacts for references. These can be previous students, current students, colleagues, or anyone else who has a direct and accurate perspective on a teacher’s experience, abilities, and success.

6. Ask about MTNA certification

It’s a good idea to make sure that the teacher you choose is MTNA certified. You can simply ask (it’s a common question) or you can find a local certified teacher here. If you’d like to learn more about MTNA certification and what’s required of teachers who have these credentials, you can read about performance competency, repertoire, experience, exams, portfolio, and more requirements here.

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  • Jon Ostrow

    Great post Maria! I struggled with this for quite some time. I’ve been playing the bass now for almost 11 years, though I still to this day struggle to read even the simplest of sheet music. For me, my greatest asset as a musician was always my ear. I can pick up on things that most people wouldn’t get, even if they were trained :-) It was a big problem though, because all of my teachers wanted to go straight to the books, teaching me theory, rather than focusing on my strengths by furthering the training of my ear. I must have gone through 5 or 6 different teachers by the time I found the right one, who truly ended up becoming a mentor to me. In only a few weeks I became infinitely better at my instrument.

    So I would say it is definitely important to make sure that you understand where your own strengths and weaknesses lie as a musician, and find the right teacher who is ready, willing and able to advance you as a player in the proper direction.

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