When I started learning violin, I went through two teachers before I finally found “THE ONE.” The first “teacher” was a retired minster who hadn’t played the violin since high school. The second teacher was a professional violinist who mainly taught young children. Neither was a good fit for me. If I knew then what I know now, I could have avoided months of frustration. Ask these five questions to help you pick the best music teacher right away!
1. Can they meet your musical goal?
First, what is your musical goal? Determining this will help you find the best match for you. Do you want to learn fiddle, jazz, classical? Do you want to learn music to play for your friends and family or do you want to play in Carnegie Hall one day? If you are looking for a teacher for your child, does the teacher accept students your child’s age? A college professor might not be the best match for a six year old (unless they specialize in that age group). Likewise, some teachers are experts with children but not high schoolers. Be upfront about your goals with your potential teacher. They might tell you they’re not the right teacher and save you the hassle of figuring it out for yourself!
2. Do they have a degree in music?
This isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s definitely something to consider. There are fiddle players with out degrees that can out-play me any day of the week. If they don’t have a degree, make sure they have good chops. Do they perform regularly? Or is music just a personal hobby? My retired minister “teacher” didn’t have a degree which should have at least made me cautious. If your teacher says things like, “This is how the professionals do it” or “Violinists in orchestras can tune by playing two strings at once,” BEWARE!
Remember your musical goals. Someone wanting to learn to fiddle might not need a teacher with a doctorate from Juilliard. But if you want to join an orchestra or use your instrument to audition for scholarships, find a teacher who’s been there, done that.
3. Can they play violin?
Do they sound good? If you haven’t heard your teacher play before, ask them to play something for you on the first lesson. Any competent player won’t mind. You don’t have to be a professional to tell if someone’s good. Do they sound like they haven’t played since high school? Do they struggle with simple songs?
On the flip side, just because someone can play doesn’t mean they’re a good teacher. I once had a teacher who had been playing since she was two! She was a phenomenal player but couldn’t teach. Why? Probably because she learned to play violin before she was potty trained. Violin is a very complicated instrument to play. To teach it, you have to be able to break down complex tasks into simple ones that students can understand. Knowing how to teach comes from experience, either by teaching other students or from learning the technique yourself. Could my teacher even remember the frustrations of learning to play in tune? I doubt it. By the time she could form memories, she was already a great player. I’ve found that the best teachers are the ones that can sympathize with your struggles. They know how to make you better because they’ve been there too!
4. Do they act professionally?
Are they munching on potato chips while you’re performing your solo? Are they constantly checking their phone or answering calls? If they are, do they make up for the time they were busy at the end of your lesson? Are they prepared for your lesson? Do they have to go out to the car to get a pencil? Everyone has their days, but consistent behavior like this is a red flag.
5. Do you actually get along?
Not all personalities can handle each other. You want to be able to build a relationship with your teacher. If you can’t stand them, that will be pretty hard to do. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should be compatible on some level. Keep in mind that just because your teacher makes you play scales or gets on to you for not practicing does not mean you are not compatible! In fact, if a teacher does do those things, I would say you probably found a keeper!
Hopefully this helps you find the perfect music teacher for you! Happy practicing.