Finding a music tutor for your child can be a daunting task. On one hand, it’s exciting for them to begin learning to play an instrument and seeing all the fun it can bring. On the other, it’s incredibly stressful to find a quality music teacher who’s serious about ensuring your child succeeds with their instrument.
Fortunately, I’ve had plenty of experience on both sides of the table as both a parent and a tutor. Based on what I’ve learned over the years, here’s the three key components to ensuring you find the very best music tutor for your child.
1 - Start with lots of research
When you begin looking for a music tutor for your child, the best place to start is by asking everyone you know for recommendations. Aim for at least three recommendations, just as if you were choosing an orthodontist. While collecting names, also ask what they charge per lesson, how long lessons last and what additional support and advice they’ve given.
You can then follow up on these recommendations by conducting a quick web search. When you reach the website of a music teacher, look for student performance videos. Watch them closely to see the mix of talent levels. If you know nothing about music, email the link to your more musically talented friends and ask them whether the students have a good teacher.
After you’ve shortlisted a few candidates, it’s then a really good idea to attend a recital. If all the students play badly, you know to head for the hills, however few struggling beginners in a recital is absolutely normal and appropriate. Note though that there should also be a mix of more talented players.
If the teacher does not have student recitals, that's a potential red flag. The teacher may be hiding something (or even worse, lazy).
2 - Interview the candidates
Once you have a final candidate list you should try to get a short, informal chat booked in with a tutor to ‘interview’ them. Have an in-depth conversation focussing on the key points outline below to ensure you don’t miss any important points:
What’s their availability?
You want a sense of the teacher's' schedule. Teachers who are frequently out of town may not be the best choice. Cancelled lessons equals less practice, which equals hindered progress.
Are they a professional musician?
It would concern me if the teacher isn't in the music world. It’s good to find out if they are part of a band, play at recitals or concerts and their past credentials to qualify them as a great music tutor.
Do their student’s participate in any other musical activities?
A good teacher exposes students to the wider world of music, and is not afraid to send them to outside venues: ensembles, camps, workshops, etc. It's even better if their students have played in top-quality youth orchestras, and won competitions.
What grades / levels do they teach?
You want a good fit between the tutors usual teaching level and your child’s experience with the instrument. If your child is just starting out, look for a teacher with an organised method and a proven track record of teaching inexperienced students. Likewise if you’re looking for a higher level, other teachers may take only advanced students for pre-professional training.
"Many levels" can also be a good answer to this question. I chose my daughter's violin teacher after attending his student recital. He headed the strings department at an excellent school and I was impressed that he taught a wide range of students, from advanced beginners through to highly accomplished violinists.
Do you have a specific approach to teaching?
It's good if they can articulate their methods and ideas. If they can't however, that's not necessarily a reason to cross them off. Musicians tend to be right-brained and 'out of the box' thinkers. Some can't explain, but can 'do'.
What do you expect of your students?
Look for long-term and short-term expectations. Long-term goals might be "Participate in recitals every three months." Short-term goals relate to daily practice.
Do you put assignments in writing?
A teacher who supports goals in writing - with practice charts, notebooks, and entries at every lesson - is a good teacher. They should be ready to help you keep a measurable track of your child’s progress.
What do you expect of parents?
One teacher asked me to be the stenographer during my daughter's lessons, so she could focus on teaching. Consider whether you have time or are willing to do what is asked to support your child during their lessons.
How long have you been teaching?
Some of the best teachers I've worked with are young. A year of teaching experience is not a reason to rule them out. It's safer to take a gamble on a less-experienced teacher if they're part of a larger music school, with a strong director.
3 - Be aware of questions the tutor should be asking you
An interested and responsive teacher will be interested in questioning you as a parent and checking on your commitment to helping your child learn and instrument.
They should be asking questions like 'Does your child express an interest in music?', 'Does she have the ability to focus for 20 minutes straight?', 'How does she do in school?', 'Do the parents or grandparents have a musical background?', 'Is there an instrument available in your home for practice?' or 'Do you (the parents) have the time and energy to help children practice daily?’
Finally, if your child is not an absolute beginner, the tutor may ask to hear them play. This allows them to assess their ability level and adjust their teaching accordingly, however this is normally best reserved for the very first lesson.
Putting it all together
Think about all the factors we've discussed. To recap, ask yourself if the teacher offers:
•Networking with outside musical organisations
•Rapport with your child and you
•The availability of the teacher
You may want to allocate a scoring system to each of these to help you pick your favourite tutor. Similarly, one tutor may stand out as an excellent candidate and sometimes the best way to see if they’re the right fit is to just book a lesson.