Meri’s Musical Musings

Tips for how to inquire about music lessons

Posted on: April 8, 2011

Do:

  • Leave contact information, preferably at least one phone number (better, two or three) and an email address
  • Let them know whether lessons are for a child, teen, or adult (since some teachers do not take adult students)
  • Listen carefully of what the teacher has to offer, especially if the student loves technology or wants to learn to write their own pieces.
  • Listen to the teacher’s recommendation on lesson length appropriate for the student’s level of study
  • Ask about the types of results the teacher produces
  • Ask about performance opportunities the teacher offers
  • Make sure all parties agree on taking lessons, the prospective students, parent(s)/guardian(s) BEFORE calling teachers
  • Ask how many, and which instruments the teacher gives lessons in. The maximum number, in my opinion, should be three, and two is better. There are a number of teachers who claim to be able to teach several instruments, often unrelated ones; there are several teachers who claim to be able to teach all woodwinds for example, but don’t know the special techniques used in various musical contexts that a teacher who specializes on the instrument the student is learning is much more likely to know. And if a teacher teaches three instruments, it’s best if two of them are related, eg: violin/viola, clarinet/saxophone or piano/organ.
  • Ask how many students that teacher teaches, if a teacher teaches more than about 15-20 students, they are likely not  going to have much flexibility in choices of lesson times, be less concerned about the quality of the lessons, and not give each student as much personalized attention than teachers who teach fewer students
  • Ask whether the teacher performs at least a few times a year, many times a teacher who also performs is an inspiration to students to play well and see the teacher in action.
  • Check out their website if they have one
  • Check out any videos or blogs the teacher may have created
  • Ask about the teacher’s piano, whether it’s a grand or an upright, when it was tuned, and the general condition of the piano. (you don’t want the student to be learning on an old, out-of-tune clunker with broken or missing keys)
  • Disclose exceptionalities the student has, such as ADD/ADHD, autism, dyslexia, giftedness, past physical injuries, especially those in direct contact with the instrument
  • Disclose health problems that may affect lesson attendance (eg: asthma, depression)
  • Ask if the teacher does evaluations/exams with a well-recognized examining board
  • If you can’t find a teacher for the instrument you are looking for, ask teachers of other instruments. Many established professional musicians and teachers have a large network of fellow musicians and music teachers; I myself have referrals for teachers for almost every orchestral instrument and a few non-orchestral ones (such as guitar.)  Violin players, especially if they play in a string trio or quartet, will likely know cellists who are able and willing to teach; flute players often seem to know good clarinet teachers, clarinet teachers seem to often know good teachers of the other instruments in a woodwind quintet.
  • Give yourself 15-20 minutes for a phone interview
  • Have a few available options for lesson days/times
  • Respond promptly to emails, especially if you are the one requesting a teacher through a message board, and if the job has been filled, remove it as soon as possible.

Don’t:

  • Ask immediately about price and location
  • Go for the shortest lesson the teacher has available
  • Buy an instrument without the teacher’s advice on quality brands. (unless adding another student to piano lessons where there already is a quality piano, or the student is moving on to a teacher specializing in more advanced students)
  • Negotiate the teacher’s fees
  • Negotiate the payment terms, unless the teacher does not offer smaller payments than quarterly
  • Negotiate out of paying a materials or registration fee
  • Negotiate how lessons are taken, especially for a beginner
  • Negotiate where the lessons are taken (like if you want them at your home, and the teacher only does in-studio lessons)
  • Make references to how much their previous teacher charged for lessons, especially if the previous teacher was charging well under recommended fees (yes, there is a recommended minimum  teaching fee set by music teacher and performing musician associations, usually between $40-$60/h is the recommended minimum set by these associations.
  • Ask for lessons on one instrument, and some dabbling in others, especially if it’s an orchestral instrument and guitar. (two instruments is plenty for most musicians, usually an orchestral instrument and piano, and few teachers of orchestral instruments have any interest in playing or teaching guitar.)
  • Go to a music school for lessons, even if you have multiple children for lessons because the teachers who teach at those places are usually very inexperienced, and many high quality teachers will not teach at those places. And you often are assigned to a teacher who has space available, which is often not the most effective teacher or the teacher you want.
  • Look for a teacher who speaks a particular language. For piano and violin, you may get lucky and find a teacher who speaks Chinese (it is very difficult to find a teacher for other instruments who speak Chinese, and highly unlikely on all instruments in almost all other languages.  A teacher who speaks the family’s native language is also not good for students who are newly immigrated to English-speaking countries, who would benefit from further practice in the language with native speakers.
  • Ask a teacher who does travel to travel to your house to teach if it’s more than a 20-25-minute drive to your home from theirs. (some teachers while they were studying travel MUCH farther to travel with quality teachers, sometimes even 2 hours one way! I personally travelled 1 and a half hours ONE WAY to the first private clarinet teacher I studied with, after a few months, I didn’t care about the distance because he was an AMAZING teacher. While at the same time there was a teach 10 minutes from where I was living at the time, but I heard from a number of people who studied with that nearby teacher that he wasn’t that good.)
  • Go to another teacher of the instrument the student is studying who is a friend or relative after you’ve signed up with a another teacher for that instrument, (in fact, sometimes it’s better to study with someone who’s not connected to you personally), especially if the friend or relative asks to teach them after  you’ve signed up. (I’ve had this happen to me twice, and it causes major hurt feelings on the part of the teacher, especially when trying to build or rebuild a studio!)
  • Ignore the teacher’s recommendation on instruments, books, strings, reeds, and equipment, especially if the student is going to another teacher from previous study.
  • Refuse to buy books and other materials, or limit how much the teacher can spend on books. With piano lessons, most effective teachers will use 4-6 books per level, depending on the series, especially if they use the Piano Adventures Series by Nancy and Randall Faber. In fact, with piano, be careful if the teacher ONLY uses one book per level, unless it’s one of those all-in-one books. (many piano methods for teens and adults are all-in-one books, and a few children’s methods have such an edition available)
  • Complain about the distance to a teacher’s studio, especially if you are dealing with a highly respected teacher. Sometimes a seemingly close place can take a long time to travel to (if roads are frequently congested), and a seemingly far location may be quick to get to if there is typically light traffic on the route from your home to theirs
  • Judge a teacher by a first trial lesson; sometimes it takes at least 3-6 months for a teacher and student to know if they can work with each other. Also many fine teachers are nervous when working with a student the first few weeks, and the words may not flow as easily compared to a student they’ve been working with for several months or years.
  • Judge a teacher by the look of their studio or home. I’ve known great teachers whose homes are quite untidy, and poor-quality teachers whose home environment is totally spruced up!
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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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