By: Edward Droscher
The best way to learn an instrument is to find a music teacher. In fact the best way to learn anything in life is to find a tutor of your chosen subject and to take on the task head on - to learn from actually doing.
People say that you learn from your mistakes – partly true due to the fact you end up knowing what NOT to do. But I believe there is a key point missed here – at least you are actually DOING something.
A teacher is someone to show you the path, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. At the end of the day they know what they are doing and talking about – you probably don’t – and it’s because of this, the fact that you put all of your trust into your teacher, that you should be very careful about ensuring the one you choose is up for the job.
Here is some advice on choosing your teacher and what to look out for.
Advice 1 - Previous Experience.
It is essential that your teacher has experience in two specific areas – performing music and teaching music. It is important that your music teacher is actually a musician – the best example I can give is this – imagine that instead of learning an instrument you want to learn how to scuba dive. Would you let yourself be taught by someone who has studied diving from a book but who has never actually been under the water?
If your teacher shows that he has performed music it gives you some guarantee that they are of a high enough standard musically – chances are they wouldn't have been hired if they couldn’t play their instrument.
The second is teaching experience. After discussing how it is important for your teacher to have actually been, or still is involved in music it is also important that the have experience in teaching music. Teaching is a completely different art to performing. Most musicians tell me that they learn more through teaching than they do from any other source - when you teach you instantly reveal your own weak points.
The opposite of this is true as well actually – how many times have you heard someone who recently passed their driving test say you don’t learn how to drive until your out on the road on your own – after your lessons and test (This carries over to a future article – Why performing is critical to your progress as a musician.)
So – make sure your teacher is both a musician and a teacher.
Advice 2 - Attitude and Personality.
It is fairly common for people to ask for character references – estate agents, employers – most people looking to hire someone - this is also true for finding a music teacher as at the end of the day you are hiring them to teach you.
Learning is much easier in a friendly environment – did you ever notice that the teachers at school that had a laugh and were fun often taught you the most each lesson? In human nature it is common to be stubborn and resilient and it is a teacher’s personality and character that helps connect with you, therefore making the experience enjoyable and thus increasing the productivity of your lessons.
It is not generally going to be possible to get a character reference from a teacher but try and use your first lesson as a trial - Get to know your teacher a bit and get a general feel for the lesson – if you have fun and enjoyed every minute then you’ve probably found a teacher with a good teaching attitude rather than if it was drab and boring.
If you can try and talk to some of your prospective teachers regular students. See if they enjoy their lessons and what the overall comments are about the quality and attitude of the teacher.
Advice 3 - Teacher Flexibility
Again this covers more than one topic – flexibility as a musician, and as a teacher.
In the long term you will eventually begin expanding your musicality. For example – woodwind players generally begin learning one instrument, maybe the clarinet or saxophone. Eventually, and if they want to pursue music, they will begin learning other woodwind instruments as it is common for, say for instance a saxophone player, to play clarinet, flute and even through to oboe and bassoon.
Because of this you are going to want a teacher that can provide this in the long term. After months and years of lessons with your teacher you won’t want to find that in order to progress further you need to find a new instructor and have to create the bond that you would have developed with your current teacher all over again.
Positive things to look out for are:
• If your teacher still has lessons and practices (even the most professional musicians still have lessons – see the beginning of my article – Practicing music – what to do outside of your private music lessons to see how it is impossible to learn and master every aspect of music)
• If your teacher teaches more than one instrument (however be wary of teachers that teach, for instance, trumpet and flute. Whilst musicians do end up playing completely irrelevant instruments they generally will stick to teaching their primary instrument.)
• If your teacher is still an active musician – this is a gray area because where it is easy to assume that your teacher, not an active musician maybe is not good enough to perform music and therefore teaches music, it is possible that your teacher prefers teaching than performing. The benefit if they are still an active musician is again they will be learning constantly and they will still be an active teacher during this period.
The other flexibility to look out for is their organisation in regards to lessons. It is positively advised that regular lessons – or regular anything – is good for you. Regular exercise keeps you healthy, regular sleep keeps you alert and regular lessons help improve your musical playing.
If your teacher will constantly phone up to re-arrange your lesson, often misses lessons or is often late for your lesson it will have a negative effect on you. Psychologically the fact that you haven’t got into a routine with your lessons and the fact that you keep getting let down will make you less enthusiastic towards your music lessons.
So find a teacher that offers many years of tuition rather than a limited number of months, and someone who will keep regular dates and who holds his promises of this dates and times.
Hopefully this article will give you some food for thought if you decide to find a music teacher and just remember that unless you are enjoying and learning your instrument – maybe you need a new teacher.