Cutting Through The Variety of Choices Out There
As a voice teacher for many years, I have had students come to me from all walks of like who had bad experiences with previous music teachers. Some of the teachers gave the students bad techniques or no technique at all, but didn’t have any problem taking the student’s money.
I’ve seen a lot of terrible teachers out there. How do you find a good teacher that fits your needs without getting scammed or wasting money? I will give you some guidelines on finding and choosing the best teacher for you, no matter what kind of music you play.
The first thing you want to do is figure out what your goals are with your music craft and what skill level you are at.
Are you a complete beginner? Or are you an advanced musician that wants to go pro? This is important to establish because the teacher that you need will be based on your present skill level and where you want to go. Do you need help with learning music theory? Would you like to learn songwriting? Are you having some vocal challenges that you can’t seem to resolve on your own? Do you have an important performance or contest coming up that you want to hit out of the park? These are all great goals to have that a music teacher or coach can help you with. Make a list right now of your personal goals and save it for future reference.
If you are thinking of going pro, you can read my post about it here.
What kind of budget do you have?
If you are considering going pro, you will need to set aside some serious cash for lessons. The coaches or teachers that serve pros or amateur to pro musicians can cost anywhere from $100-$500 an hour and up. If you are a beginner or intermediate musician, it is much less expensive to get quality lessons. You can find someone for around $25 an hour. Some teachers will barter services with you or have a discount for multiple lessons to make it more affordable.
So where do I find these teachers?
The first step is to ask your other music friends for recommendations. I found my piano teacher at my church, which is a good place. Post on Facebook that you’re looking for a teacher. Your local music store, like Guitar Center or Milano’s is a great resource. The local community colleges and universities have a list of classes to take and teachers. Sites like Take Lessons have lots of teachers to choose from. Private teachers you can find with a Google search. Write another list with the list teachers you have found.
Vetting these list of teachers.
Take your time! Don’t pick the first one you find or the cheapest. Do your homework first. This is an important task. You can find out a lot of information on a website, but take these extra steps before deciding:
The phone interview:
Call and talk to each of these teachers on the phone to narrow down the choices. Here are some of the questions to ask:
Are they experienced in teaching the genre of music you want to study?
As for myself, I don’t teach rap music or hip hop because I am not familiar with that genre at all. People come to me for classical music, Christian music, Broadway, and Classic Rock. Make sure the teacher you are talking to has personal experience in the instrument and genre you need. Don’t be fooled by teachers who claim to be the jack of all trades (and master of none). You can’t be good at everything. You want a master of your craft to teach you.
Do they have performance experience in the music genre you are in?
So if you are a blues guitar player, you want someone that has actually played blues music in public venues. This sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised. An accordian teacher hopefully has played in some Octoberfests or Polka Bands.
Also, ask if the teacher has experience with your age group: children, seniors, college students or middle aged. Not everyone has the skill to teach children. Not everyone wants to teach college students. Be sure to ask ahead of time.
How long has the teacher been teaching?
Someone who is just starting out teaching isn’t a deal breaker as long as he can show expertise in what he does. It might be less expensive to give a new teacher a chance. If he have been teaching for many years, you should expect a higher price tag. Does he keep up with his own music skills? Does he keep up with current trends in the music scene? Is he continually increasing his knowledge as a teacher?
What are the teacher’s qualifications?
Some teachers are graduates of a formal university program. Some have Masters Degrees. Some teachers have never had formal degrees. That is not necessarily a requirement to have for a teacher. If you want to go be an orchestra maestro, you probably would benefit from a teacher with a formal music degree. I would say the same if you wanted to be an opera singer with the Met. If you are a stay at home Mom that is wanting to learn the piano for personal enjoyment or entertainment, then you most likely don’t need a teacher with a Master’s degree. Again, what is important is that they have performance experience and that they can communicate the principles well.
Does he have references from previous students? Most teachers have a list of previous clients to give you, unless just starting out. Even in that case, he would still have personal references and examples of his music performances. Some teachers have these already listed on their websites or on sites like Take Lessons.
The next step is the trial lesson.
Any reputable teacher will give you a free sample lesson. It may be shortened (A half hour instead of an hour), but it should give you enough time to get to know the teacher and gauge if they are right for you. Here’s what to look for during your trial lesson:
Arrive to the lesson on time. Come prepared with something specific you want to work on, like a complicated guitar riff you have trouble with. Bring your list of goals you wrote out.
Is the location where the lesson is taken place clean, organized and free from distractions?
A lot of teachers use their home studios, which is fine. Just observe if there is a dedicated space for lessons. You shouldn’t have pets or children running through the space during your lesson. The TV should be off. Cell phones put away. It’s time for you to get undivided attention. A commercial music space to meet in is also common, like a school, rented rehearsal space, or retail music store.
A very popular trend is to have video lessons on Skype or Zoom. This can be a great option if you live far from any teachers locally. You can also record your lessons and refer back to them later. Just be mindful that there are limitations to video lessons. There are sometimes technical issues with Skype or Zoom that you have no control over. Your teacher can’t physically move your fingers to a proper position on an instrument if needed. A teacher cannot feel your stomach or rib cage to insure that you are properly breathing in singing, so I wouldn’t recommend video lessons for beginning singers until you’ve gotten some basic knowledge under your belt. Make sure you have a good camera, good microphone, and a good internet connection.
Does his communication style fit with yours?
Is he patient with you? Are your questions answered thoroughly? Do your personalities go well together? Do you feel nervous or at ease? There aren’t any right or wrong answers in this area. Sometimes the teacher is very skilled and knowledgeable, but you just don’t gel. That’s OK. Move on to the next one in the list until you find someone you feel comfortable with.
He also needs to be able to demonstrate and explain in a clear way the techniques he is teaching.
Teachers need to be able to sing those high notes, play those complicated riffs, write those heart stirring songs AND instruct you how to do the same. Some musicians are great performers, but aren’t suited for teaching. Not everyone has the patience to teach. You have to weed through those kind of teachers.
What kind of promises is he making?
Beware of anyone who claims to be able to teach you whatever instrument in an unrealistic amount of time. You see a lot of this sort of thing online with vocal coaches. “You’ll be able to sing these insane high notes in two weeks!” or other such nonsense. Don’t take the bait. There are no “secrets” to being successful with any musical instrument. It is consistent hard work, diligent practice, and TIME. A beginner singer doesn’t become Pavarotti overnight.
But your teacher needs to reasonably deliver on what he says he can do for you. During your lesson, is he providing valuable information that helps you? Do you feel like you are getting your money’s worth for your time? Is he holding you accountable for practicing in between lessons?
Keep in mind, you get out of lessons what you put into them. If you are not doing your homework or practicing the techniques that the teacher gives you everyday, then you are wasting everyone’s time. You aren’t going to improve by being lazy. Do your piano scales, your vocal exercises, and finger exercises.
Is the teacher pressuring you to buy lessons or courses right now before you’ve had time to make an informed decision?
Are he’s saying, “This offer is only for today!” crap? That is typical sales technique 101. Any teacher worth his salt isn’t going to pressure you into anything.
Does the teacher’s schedule fit yours?
In order to improve, you have to show up to the lessons. So if he only teaches on the weekdays and you are only free Saturdays, then obviously it isn’t going to work. Find someone that can be flexible with your work schedule or school schedule. You have a life. Things come up. You also have to schedule time for yourself to practice between lessons. Plan accordingly.
Is the price of lessons within your budget?
Is there a long term contract, or pay as you go? Again, contracts usually get you a discount, but be sure you really like the teacher before you sign a contract. Don’t forget to read it and get a copy!
Look for cancellation policies. If you miss a lesson, are you allowed to reschedule? If you decide the tuba isn’t for you anymore, do you get your money refunded for unused lessons? Don’t gloss over those key points. It happens all the time.
I had a student that paid me a month in advance for lessons. She did a no show, no call on me. I did not refund her lessons. Nor did I allow a make-up lesson. Be considerate of people’s time.
Have you chosen the right teacher for you?
Feel free to ask any questions about finding a teacher in the comments. Let me know if you found a great one!
I am also have a few spots open on my schedule for new vocal students. You can check out my page here for more information.