An Important Decision

Most students are ready to begin music training at about the same time they begin formal schooling. Before the music lessons can begin, you have the responsibility of choosing an instructor who has well-developed knowledge of music and teaching skills as well as having demonstrated the ability to work effectively with young students. Typically young music students start with piano lessons and progress to wind or string instruments during the fourth or fifth grade as their size, strength, and dexterity increase enough for the child to hold an instrument and play it at the same time..

Recognize that the right music teacher can positively affect your child's life and encourage a lifelong love of music just as much as a poor selection can have a negative effect. One of the best accolades for a private music teacher is the success of their students. Find out what students of the teachers you are considering have gone on to do.

Sources for finding a good instructor include the internet, concerts, the Yellow Pages, music or band teachers in local schools, and especially referrals from people you know. Another great source of recommendations of potential instructors are the music department of a fine arts college or a university close to you. You may get excellent referrals to a graduate student, lecturer, or a strictly private teacher through these inquiries.

Qualified music instructors will all possess essentially the same knowledge—much like qualified doctors—but your job is to find one who gives you confidence that they will work well with your child. To accomplish this, it is useful to ask for a teacher's resume, references, and other demonstrations of musical accomplishments.

Other things to consider are the instructor's willingness to help your child learn:
• Technique
• Music theory
• How to read music
• How to play by ear
• How to perform for others or in a group
• Mastery over a body of work

You and your child will find it helpful to have interviews with a few prospective teachers before you make a commitment. The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) has published a list of questions you may wish to ask a prospective music instructor during this interview:

According to MTNA, appropriate questions to ask a prospective instructor include:
• What is your professional and educational experience in music?
• What is your teaching experience?
• What age groups do you teach?
• Do you have teaching certification?
• Do you offer performance opportunities for your students, such as festivals and competitions?
• How much practice time do you require each day?
• Do you regularly evaluate student progress?
• What do you expect of your students and their parents?

Knowing your child, would he prefer a male or a female instructor? You probably know also if your child would respond better to an older and more experienced music teacher as opposed to a younger person who may have fresh ideas. Having a good feeling about her instructor can help your young pupil overcome the jitters of her new experience.

Be prepared to discuss your child's initial impressions of the music teacher. Consider a trial period before making a long-term commitment so that the instructor and your child are sure they are comfortable working together.

Consider also if you want a specialist on the instrument that interests your child as opposed to a generalist on that family of instruments. Such a choice could change your child's view of music, as could taking a lesson from someone who doesn't play your child's favored instrument. This is a great way to get a fresh perspective, especially if your child has already been studying music for a while.

Depending on where you live, you may find that the instructor you prefer is not necessarily an active performer. That may not be an issue if you are seeking an instructor who truly has a passion for teaching. An instructor whose pupil's can validate her teaching effectiveness may be preferable to one with more impressive credentials. Although fancy college degrees don't necessarily make a great teacher, they can help lend a candidate credibility.

As far as where the lessons will be given, usually some type of professional setting is preferred: a school, university, or lesson studio as opposed to a private home. On the other hand, some top teachers may only be available at their home.

Be sure once you have chosen an instructor that all parties are clear on what commitments you are making: how many lessons, how much time, and how much you will be paying. Be prepared to pay the music instructor promptly. The music teacher is a professional, and deserves the courtesy and treatment accorded any other professional.

Make sure your child shows up for lessons prepared, warmed up, and ready to listen and learn. Consider a digital recorder as a gift for your young pupil. Recording their lessons is a great way for them to review and it will assist their progress between lessons.

Remember, you are never too old—or too young—to learn to play a musical instrument. As you search for the right instructor for your child, you may just discover the right instructor for you as well.