Saturday, August 23, 2014

How to Select the Right Music Instructor for Your Family

The post came from some of my babywearing friends asking about how to select a piano teacher. I happen to be a piano teacher, so I had some thoughts. While I am talking about piano here, these thoughts can apply to any instructor.

1. Teaching style. Do you need someone who is strict? Competitive? Who uses a reward system or a punishment system? Who is adaptable? You need to ask about style. I warn every prospective parent that I am not a competitive teacher and I don't do punishment systems, so if they want that, I am not their girl. Several people have not used me for that reason and I am great with that. I prefer to tailor my approach to each student to a degree and I don't care if we cover a certain concept for months if that kid NEEDS it. This means sometimes we work slow and steady, but other times we fly through lessons. This doesn't work for someone overly invested in a certain structure or order or things. If your teacher doesn't know his/her own style, sit through a sample lesson (I allow this all the time because people need to see me in action first in order to know if I am right for them) and even ask to talk to some parents. When you watch a teacher, pay attention to how he/she pays attention. Because I have a lot of students, my eyes get tired, so I tend to have some knitting or cross stitch in my hands if I have a long stretch of lessons. I have found that keeping my hands busy helps me to focus on what my students are doing better and I hear things that I may miss with my eyes. It also helps me see where my student gets "lazy" in a lesson, as they sometimes forget that I am paying attention and try to fudge some notes. I catch bad habits this way more than any other way. Pay attention to things like that and ask if it confuses you. Most teachers use some sort of tool like this to learn more about how a student is doing not just during a lesson, but during the week at home. Style matters.

2. End game. What is your goal here? Where I live, most parents want kids to play hymnals for church. Others want their kids to know how to accompany people. I even have one debating going pro (and she has the skills to do it). Have a clear end game and ask the teacher how long it will take to get there. The answer matters. On average, I can get a kid from nothing to hymnals in about 3 years and in 4 years they are good at it. I have some who will be there in 6 or 7 years and I have had one or two who did it in a year. Your teacher should have a decent average idea for you.

3. What books do they use? I prefer Bastien and try to only use them. They can make a kid dependent on finger numbers, but I have found ways to work with that. I don't like it when parents give me whatever was under their bench and expect me to use it to teach. It rarely works. The teacher should have a set book list.

4. Advertising. How do they get students? I only work through word of mouth of current students at this point. I will not take on a random stranger and even when a friend off fb asks me to teach, I usually talk them out of it unless I think they would be a good fit. I have a fantastic studio and I have found that my parents know who will work well with me and tend to refer those people. I'm never slow because of it.

5. Recitals and competitions. How busy do you want to be and what is the approach you prefer? I don't compete. The end. Parents have asked and I said no. Not my bag. But, I do 2 recitals a year. I am overly fuzzy about them because I want my kids to not be afraid to perform. I bring treats and before each kid plays I tell the audience something neat about my student. I also break my recitals down to 10 students per recital because no one wants to hear that clunky version of "Moonlight Sonata" 4 times in a row.

6. Studio size. How busy is your teacher and how much does that matter to you? I have about 34 on my roster right now. I used to say I would stay under 20 and that didn't really work.  I just kept having people approach me. Now I teach early in the morning, during the day and after school A busy teacher is a good sign, however, there won't be any flexibility if you need to reschedule a lesson. In fact, unless I have a week notice, I won't reschedule. If I can't be there, my mom (who was a piano teacher years ago) subs for me.

7. Price point. Note, this it at the bottom of the list. It is important because we need to balance our budget, but this should NOT be your first reason to select a teacher. When it comes to learning an instrument, you do get what you pay for. A teacher with a degree will charge substantially more than a teacher without one. A teacher living in a larger metropolitan area is going to charge more and differently than a teacher in a rural area. Competitions increase cost. Studios outside a home or travelling to the student can affect cost. Keep these in mind. For me, I have priced based on what I think I could pay if I needed a teacher, what I feel the demand is for a piano teacher and what seems fair based on my abilities compared to other local instructors. Some teachers charge $80 a month here and some charge $20 a month. I land closer to the middle and I adjust when I need to. I understand that cost matters, but when it comes to learning a lifelong skill, do not let cost be the top reason you select a teacher.

Well, there you go! I hope you have success finding a great piano teacher or instructor with any other skill or instrument.

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