What to look for when searching for the ideal music teacher? Music lessons are clearly different from many other services: Beyond the professional competence, the personal relationship between student and teacher plays a decisive role. As a rule, the aim is to work together for a longer period of time, so at best it should not only be a musical fit, but also a human one. There is not THE one way to learn an instrument, but just as many as there are students. Every person has individual goals, priorities, ambitions, capacities of time and energy etc.. – Factors that decisively determine the relationship between student and teacher. An important prerequisite for choosing the right teacher is, of course, a certain degree of choice. In a metropolis, this will undoubtedly be given, in rural structures, however, it quickly becomes somewhat more complicated. However, for some years now there has also been the increasingly important alternative of online music lessons – so most of the points raised in this article apply equally here!
Good music lessons: motivation and a sense of achievement are important
You have lasting fun with something if you are motivated again and again by a regular sense of achievement. In our case, this means that progress on the instrument becomes visible and audible. This not only pleases us, but also the teacher!
Conversely, we lose the fun in things through negative experiences, such as failure, pressure, frustration, etc.. The goal of both sides should logically be to have fun with music permanently. This sounds simple and logical, but in the field of music lessons it can quickly go wrong for various reasons, as we will see in a moment.
Music lessons are always a cooperation in which the teacher is a companion who helps the students to help themselves. If we are looking for lessons, it therefore makes sense (as with many important questions in life) to start with ourselves and clarify the following questions in advance:
- What kind of student am I?
- What do I expect from the lessons?
- What are my personal goals?
- How much time and energy can and do I want to invest in music?
If you can answer these and similar questions, it will be easier to find the right teacher for you. And if you can communicate the answers to these questions right from the start, many misunderstandings can be prevented.
Fixed or flexible concept for music lessons?
There are teachers who “drive” a relatively rigid teaching concept. Others keep the course of instruction as flexible as possible in order to optimally adapt to the individual sitting in front of them. Now you might think that the second option is always the better choice, but that is only half the truth: There is always a large proportion of students who want very precise guidelines and concepts, or even need them, and tend to groan when their own efforts are required!
Here you should ask yourself what type of learner you actually are and what you specifically hope to get out of the lessons:
- Does one already know where one wants to get on the instrument and can communicate these goals on one’s own authority?
- Do you possibly only want to get certain impulses in order to then become creative yourself?
- Does one rather want to be “only” inspired and motivated by the teacher, without receiving binding guidelines?
- Or would you rather learn according to a polished, concrete concept with clear tasks, because your own everyday life is stressful enough and you don’t want to worry about lesson content as well?
- Or maybe you don’t really know what you want and where you want to go. In this case, it is certainly better to be given clear tasks whose learning objective is clearly formulated. This requires decidedly less personal effort.
Of course, there are numerous gray areas between these two areas, but one will certainly tend toward one of the two archetypes. Once again, there is no “better” or “worse” here – it is simply a decision dependent on the type!
Demand music student vs. demand music teacher
On this point, things often drift far apart and frustration can arise on both sides. Let’s pick out just three of many possible constellations: Some simply want to have a good time with their hobby in lessons and also like to chat casually on the side.
The balance to everyday life and the social aspect play at least as important a role here as learning the instrument. Work and family may make it difficult to prepare regularly, and then you don’t want to have a guilty conscience about it in class or even be put under pressure.
But let’s also look at the other side, because music teachers also have a right to professional success and fun at work! This means the positive feedback through regular progress with the student. The music teacher’s perceived inadequate demand of the student and the “on the spot” can lead to frustration, which is then of course also reflected in the lessons.
There is also the case that the teacher imposes his/her personal demands on the student. This demand is often much too high for people who simply want to practice their hobby as a balance and whose private and professional situation does not allow the time and energy that the teacher expects. The teacher’s frustration grows slowly but steadily, and the student may feel a certain pressure and the feeling that he or she simply cannot do the job justice.
Here, too, there are numerous gray areas between the extremes, but the same applies to all of them: You should always clearly define for yourself what you expect of yourself and the pace of your personal progress and then clearly communicate this to the teacher if necessary.
The music teacher – your friend and helper?
A very good basis for a successful lesson is to have a good personal and trusting relationship. However, a certain professional distance on both sides (at least during the lesson) can’t hurt, because otherwise it can quickly lead to a loss of authority and/or overstepping of boundaries.
This does not have to be intentional, because everyone has a completely different definition of this term. However, it can have a lasting effect on the relationship if these boundaries have to be re-established. This is especially true when teaching takes place in the private space of one of the two parties.
An elementary task of teachers is to criticize – after all, that’s what they are paid for! Actually, this sounds like a matter of course, but often it is not. Criticism should of course be expressed in a productive, respectful and considerate manner, but this must also be wanted, allowed and correctly located. In this case, the teacher wants to help and not attack someone personally. Being able to allow productive criticism is therefore a very important prerequisite for fruitful cooperation!
On the other hand, there are also students who deliberately ask for the proverbial “kick in the butt”, because they know that otherwise they will not get their “four letters” up by themselves – similar to sports activities. A good teacher should also sense this and/or communicate openly that a certain amount of pressure is expected and needed to make progress.
Music lessons and practicing at home
In the best case, lessons are fun for both participants! Unfortunately, the teacher cannot work magic, but can only be a companion, corrective and inspiration. However, all this does not make the student much better, because progress is only made through regular practice and internalization at home.
A classic from the classroom: “My son has been going to their lessons for three years now and still can’t do anything, even though it’s so expensive!” The bitter truth is this, dear parents: If your son is a lazy sack, he can come to class for ten years and still not progress!
Ergo: If things don’t go quite as you would like, it can’t hurt to include your own practice discipline in the analysis before you suspect the teacher!
Finding a music teacher: Virtuoso vs. pedagogue
What is true for all skills is of course also true for playing an instrument: masters of their craft do not equal good pedagogues! To reduce the skills and knowledge didactically and to break them down into small, easily understandable and comprehensible morsels is a completely different world.
Of course I would like to have lessons with someone who inspires me when I listen to him or her. Ideally, he or she is also a good teacher. But if not, the better teacher is without question the wiser choice for one’s own progress!