So, you have decided to study with a private teacher. Fantastic!!! In my opinion, players that recognize study is important in their development put them ahead of 50% of their peers. Moreover, those that actually DO study are 95% ahead of their peers. This applies to the beginner through the veteran player of any instrument.
Deciding you want to study and finding the right person to study WITH are two separate issues. The latter takes some thought and homework. The right teacher can set you up to a fun, rewarding and fruitful musical experience, while the wrong one can lead to discouragement, bad habits and wasted effort. For example, as a young musician, I once studied with a “celebrity” player/teacher for 6 months. He was AWFUL. His lessons were filled with nothing but attitude and he had absolutely NO patience. Consequently, my playing suffered and it took me over a year to correct the damage he did.
But, where should you look for a teacher?
Many areas have music stores and music centers that offer lessons. You can also find teachers through online classifieds and social media sites. Contact local High Schools, Colleges and Universities. Many have a Music department and some of the faculty may offer private lessons. Don’t be afraid to try out a few teachers. This is not like regular school. YOU are in control. You ultimately decide who you study with. If one isn’t right, for any reason, move on and try another. Remember you beginners—make sure you ask the “teacher candidate” if they teach beginners as some do not.
Ok, you found a few teachers you want to check out.
Now it’s time to see if any of them are right for you. Set up a “pre-lesson interview” over the phone or in person or even a first lesson trial. An important note: you younger players should ALWAYS do this with the help of a parent or guardian. Here are a few areas you may want to explore with them:
Though not an absolute necessity, a degree in music is always a plus. Ultimately, you want someone who plays the instrument correctly and has REAL experience playing it. Ask their background and experience. Any player/teacher will gladly give you his resume verbally or provide a written bio. Celebrity players and “local heroes” are OK, but understand lessons may cost more and just because someone is well known that doesn’t mean they can teach better than anyone else. They should be under the same scrutiny as any other candidate. Furthermore, I suggest you should study with a teacher whose main instrument is the one you are interested in. My experience with students that have come from “Jack-of-All-Trades” teachers is they are usually lacking key elements that only a PLAYER of the instrument knows.
To me, this is EXTREMELY important. This is your way to find out about what he/she is REALLY like. When you talk to the “teacher candidate”, ask for a few references. Any good teacher will have a list already prepared. Ask if you can contact them. Believe me, this is your first and best tool in finding the right teacher. When you contact the references ask their opinion of the teacher, why they like him/her and if they enjoyed the lessons.
PATIENCE is the big one here. Not every student will progress at the same rate or the same way. The teacher should be aware of this, always be supportive and be willing to explain and demonstrate concepts until you understand them, no matter how many times it takes. Finally, you want to be comfortable studying with the teacher. You should feel free to ask questions and not feel as if you are being scolded if you make mistakes. The lesson should always be positive, constructive and be an experience that is fun and rewarding.
The teacher’s ultimate task is to have you progress and meet your musical goals and to yield a rounded, knowledgeable musician. He/She should have a definite plan of study for your age, level and requirements. It should be laid out to you in the first lesson. If not….ASK!!!! The plan should include a strong foundation in rudiments, theory and application, technique and posture, ear training, stylistic study (if you desire) and instruction on how to practice. There is a reason why certain conventions exist in music and the teacher should show why they exist and how they developed. Teachers that just show you licks, riffs and teach you tunes (except as specific stylistic examples) are not teaching you how to play the instrument—to me this is glorified babysitting and NOT teaching. I liken it to trying to learn a language with a phrase book…it will only get you so far and then your progression stops. I remember watching a “Celebrated Vocalist” (that was what he was called) give a lesson to a young girl in a music school where I taught some years ago. It consisted of them singing together along with a recording. I am sorry, that is not vocal instruction….the student learns nothing about music or the physical needs and requirements of being a vocalist.
Furthermore, there should be some specific texts and/or reference material to compliment the lessons. Examples and homework should be clearly laid out and written down so you know what is expected of you. The lesson should take place in a neat and quiet environment away from other distractions. You are paying for the teacher’s time; all of his/her attention (within reason) should be on you.
Be wary of teachers that have stylistic agendas. A teacher should not try to make you into solely a jazz, a rock, or classical musician unless that is your personal goal. They should expose you to all styles equally and let you decide. The teacher should keep their opinion of various music styles out of the lesson. Their likes and dislikes, unless you ask specifically, should be kept to themselves.
Lastly, avoid teachers with a “sales pitch”. Instruction should not be contingent upon purchasing study materials or instruments from them, or the place where they teach. Instrument upgrades can be suggested by the teacher, but it’s ultimately your decision. It will not make you a better student.
Lesson cost varies depending on location, but it should obviously fit into your budget. Ask about payment plans. Some teachers require monthly payment while others allow payment by the lesson. Ask if you can come bi-weekly or monthly. Your progress will be slower, but it may better fit your schedule and/or your budget. Ask about cancellation policies and if there is a make-up schedule. Also, ask if the teacher is willing to answer some questions between lessons via phone, email, text, Skype, etc. While it is not realistic to contact a teacher regularly in this manner, it makes no sense to lose a week or more of progress over something that may be clarified in a few minutes. This is especially helpful with my students as I tend to have horrific handwriting.
Remember, just like “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”, only proper instruction leads to better progress.
Lots of luck and keep practicing!