One of the most important decisions that is made when learning a musical instrument is the choice that is made of where and from whom to take music lessons. Selecting a poor or mediocre instructor can have long term detrimental effects on all aspects of a young musician. So…how do you choose a good music teacher?
The problem of “too many choices” is relatively recent when it comes to the service industry. We used to have to rely on word of mouth when calling a plumber or a handyman. We would choose a doctor or a lawyer who is simply close to our home and all your neighbors would do the same. There was a sense of community where everyone in the service industry would be a familiar face to you and would have earned their reputation by doing a good job for you and the people you know.
Nowadays, with cities of all sizes and also with remote services worldwide, our choices have multiplied nearly infinitely. Instead of hearing a political opinion from three of your good friends back in the day, you hear the opinion of 600 people you have never met! Now, we see dozens and dozens of search results on google, if not hundreds.
Say you search for “piano lessons near me.” Thousands of listings show up if you are in a large metropolitan area like New York City! Many of these listings will only allow you to see the information that can be extracted from their listing, ad, or website. From there, it can be difficult to determine if they have a good or bad reputation!
In every profession, there are always people who are better or worse than others. This rings true for private music teachers as much as it does for every other service profession. Needless to say, you can make a mistake in choosing your teacher. I would even say you could majorly mess it up!
A quick non-musical example: A few years ago we were developing a musical phone/tablet application for children. It was super fun to create the ideas, game design and mechanics (luckily we had a personal connection with a great graphic designer), and then it was the time to find a programmer. This is where all of us nerdy musicians didn’t have any connections or recommendations. So we went on one of the large job posting platforms and started our search: reviews, successful jobs, satisfied clients. Weeks later we found our guy – he sounded extremely confident and very professional. We started our work. Week after week new parts of the app were slowly coming to life and we were all in good spirits.
A few months after the coding began, I started working with a new adult student who, it turned out, was a professional programmer for a very big tech company. We made a little barter deal for him to check the code of our ongoing project. After looking at the existing code, my new tech student said, “I have good news and I have bad news: The good news is that it took me less than an hour to check it, the bad news is that this all has to be thrown away and redone completely.”He then added “it looks like this was done by someone who took a beginner course in programming and presented themselves as a professional.”
We threw away the code and with the help of my new tech student, hired another programmer who wrote a super clean code and our app never had any bugs in it. In the end, the first unfortunate hire cost us months of delay and thousands of dollars wasted.
Unfortunately, when you choose a music teacher you have the potential to make a similar mistake. It’s different from programming an app, because instead of just starting over, you have to fix the damage to your technique, the way you read the music, and many other things that may be detrimental by that point. This can take years of extra hard work, that could have been avoided by choosing a great music teacher the first time around.
It helps a LOT to have a “middle man” when you choose a music teacher. In a world where so much content goes straight from creator to user (YouTube videos, Twitter, FB, Instagram, etc.), it is beneficial to have a knowledgeable person or business who separates important and valuable information from the made up, influencing, and the generally useless information.
With music lessons, this “middle man” is a music school where the teachers are selected based on their professional skills. A smart music school owner will deeply invest in recruiting the best teachers who will then drive good business to the school. Real music schools also have longer history and reputations. This means that they are easier to trace and to trust. By a real school, we mean an actual brick and mortar school, by the way.
There are many online referral services which are not actually music schools. They are directories where you scroll through hundreds of teachers. These online music lesson referral services are NOT music schools They present all of these teachers as worthy instructors, but in reality, they don’t do background checks or verify that the so-called music teachers have any musical abilities at all!
Online-only music referral services generally concentrate on the volume of teachers and students rather than quality. Students and teachers come and go but as long as the overall numbers stay high, it works for the referral business model. Anyone can sign up as a provider and attempt to sell their services.
If, instead of a school, you decide to go with a private independent music teacher, then please do your due diligence and get as much information as possible:
I will stress the last one one more time – education.
It is a myth that it is enough to be a nice and friendly person to teach you or your child how to play piano or guitar. It is not. Just like in any other profession, a music teacher needs to know how to teach you. Where do they learn that? In college or university while receiving an advanced music degree. It is true that once in a while someone can become a successful musician without having formal music education (very very rarely!) but it is impossible to be a successful educator if you didn’t go to college for that. So read the CV closely: the more education the better!
It is also important to ask about their teaching experience. A great musician doesn’t always make a great teacher. When you are going through the process to choose an instructor, ask candidates for as many references as possible and actually DO call or email them. Ask for an honest opinion. Just reading the reviews on personal websites is not enough. Very often, unfortunately, these reviews are not real.
And finally, ask to start with just an introductory lesson. If, after all the research you have made, you meet and work with the teacher and it clicks for you, then chances are that you found a good match for yourself or your family member.
Please don’t feel lazy or shy about the process as you choose a music teacher. You owe it to yourself! Ask us, we can help.