You’ve seen it before, a crumpled flyer hanging askew on the local coffee shop bullentin board, covered 3-ply deep in flyers dating back to when Sonic Youth was still popular.  You pause at the condiment counter, stirring whatever alternative milk your partner has you hooked on.  You remember your child has been running around singing the beatles at the top of their lungs, dressed in all sorts of tule, glitter, and oversized sunglasses.  And they have been begging you for lessons. 

Hmmm…maybe now is the time to start lessons? You absent-mindly tear off a tab and shove it into your wallet. 

This is the beginning of most student’s introduction to music.  An errant thought + over-priced americano + sleep-deprived parent = life-long interest in music?

Music education, like any other education, has a wide variety of approaches and methods.  Taking the time to consider some of those approaches, along with your own expectations and values, can have a tremendous impact on whether or not your child will enjoy lessons and build a life-long relationship with music.

This guide is two-fold: what to consider before looking for a teacher and what to look for in a teacher’s website/offerings, as well as general questions to ask.  As always, trust your intuition. This is an overview and meant to help get your started on your search.

PART 1: REFLECTIONS

Here are a few considerations to reflect on before calling a teacher to inquire about lessons:

What are you personal expectations and beliefs around music.  I‘m going to get into this in future posts, but essentially as yourself what you hope your child would get out of the experience of taking lessons.  is it a life-long love and appreciation of music? Is it a deep connection to an instrument, where they feel empowered to express themselves? Is it a general knowledge and ability, so that they might have the skills to read music and play other instruments? Is it an outlet for emotional energy and ideas?  Whatever your expectations are, know what you want first before seeking a teacher out.

-Ask yourself what your personal relationship with music is and how that might impact your expectations of lessons. This is a hard one for all of us with experience playing an instrument, even if you played for a short period of time, but if you play an instrument, chances are you have all sorts of beliefs about practice, best ways to learn, what kinds of music should be taught, etc.  All those opinions are fine, but just remember that your child might have a completely different relationship with music than you do.  And it would be good to know your own personal relationship with the instrument, so you can keep that separate from your child’s needs. 

-Consider your child’s learning needs and which learning environments they thrive in.  Does your child excell in independent work and projects? Maybe they blossom under the careful, patient help of a teacher? Do they work well with more scheduled activities and lists? Do they need to talk things out in order to understand?  Knowing your child’s learning needs and what systems/environments are most helpful will go a long way in the process of finding the right teaching approach and teacher.

-What is your child interested in? What kind of music do they like? What is their musical connection?  Much of traditional music education has taught us that we are supposed to learn scales, supposed to learn to read, supposed to learn these classical pieces.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There’s no ‘supposed to’ in art and that’s a crucial difference between learning math and learning to creatively express yourself on an instrument.  Lessons that are based in a student’s interest have an infinitely greater chance of success.  This is not to say that learning to read music or playing scales are bad.  Instead, it means there are limitless things to learn when making art and it’s important to prioritize the student’s interest.  Once you have an idea of child’s musical interest, you can begin to look for a teacher who appeals to those interests.

-Consider your bandwidth. How much time your schedule allows for lessons, commuting to and fro, practice, etc  all this is good to keep in mind. Some teaching methods require parents to sit in on each lesson, take notes, and be present to some extent for practice. So knowing your bandwidth can help refine your search.

-Lastly, personality and rapport.  Perhaps the single most important ingredient in a successful learning experience.  How often have you heard of someone saying they loved or hated a subject in school because of the teacher.  ‘Oh, I hated math because of Mr. Howard, he was the worst. But I loved english, Ms. Brown always brought in these great cartoons each morning.’  With the right teacher, any subject can turn from downright boring to something to look forward to.  So when looking for a teacher, ask yourself, ‘Can I imagine my child getting along with this person and their approach?’

PART 2: RESEARCH

Once you’ve had sometime to get a little deeper with your own relationship to music and your child’s needs, you can start to check out teacher websites. 

Here are some things to look for on the website:

-What are their core teaching values? Sometimes this might show up on a mission statement or an about us page.  Just take a look and see if it aligns with your own values and expectations. 

-What styles of music or methods do they teach? Are they aligned with your child’s interests and/or needs? This is a pretty important consideration and often goes overlooked, but a lot of struggle in lessons comes from misalignment between what the student wants and what the teacher teaches, so be on the look out for that.

-If your child has any specific learning needs or disabilities, be sure that the teacher is mentioning some of the related rhetoric in their website and offerings. You can always ask too. Don’t be shy about asking for specifics on how they handle teaching and addressing those needs. 

-Price. Lessons have to be sustainable for your family, otherwise the long-term journey is not possible, and the ultimate goal of lessons is for kids to keep playing.  A word of caution, many of us come with certain expectations about what lessons should or shouldn’t cost.  If the price seems high, but not out of your budget, then don’t let that be the only deciding factor. You may find what you’re looking for and if the price is a little above what you expected, but is doable, then the benefits can outweigh the price easily.

SUMMARY

It can be tempting to just take a tab from a flyer and hope for the best, but just like a google search, the more specific your intentions, the more likely you won’t be wasting time and once you have a good idea of what you want, you are more likely to find it.  So when choosing a teacher, consider you and your child first.  Then check out their website and ask deeper questions. Also if you can, setup a trial lesson to see how things go before enrolling.

Remember, all the hardwork you’re doing now will the pay off hearing your child’s music and watching their life-long creative journey.