Music Tip #19    From Carol Worthey

How To Choose A Good Music Teacher

Carol Worthey

A very good music teacher has the following qualities:

Patience. First and foremost.

Willingness to control the teaching environment without being dictatorial or cruel, sappy or wimpy.

Willingness to PRAISE what is done well in an understated but effective manner. Over praise can work against the student's progress. Either he or she will feel like there's no need to improve, or will instinctively put the teacher's word in doubt or will introvert or make the student crave admiration. A very good teacher knows when to praise without sticking the student's attention. A very good teacher refuses to lie. When one has lost one's integrity, one has lost everything.

Willingness to correct what needs correcting without making the student feel incapable.

Ability to inspire.

Perception of what is really going on with the student, what his or her barriers or misunderstood areas really are. Knowledge of good handlings for these incapacities or the imagination to come up with a new solution to help.

Willingness to research if the teacher does not know the answer to a question the student has posed. Resourcefulness in knowing where to get the needed data.

Basic and perhaps profound knowledge at a theoretical and practical level. Simply put, the very good teacher knows his "chops."

The teacher should be able to do. But do not assume that just because a teacher is able to do something that that teacher can teach someone else HOW to do it. Knowing something and knowing HOW to teach it are two different things. When the two areas meet in the same person, you have a "find." Someone with a fancy degree and great credentials may not be as effective a teacher as someone with less impressive PR. You are the judge. Are you learning? Are you really understanding or going through the motions? Does this teacher make you feel uncomfortable in some way? Before you dump him or her, take the chance to open up. The very good teacher may be able to adjust methods and approach and make it tailor- made for you. But you have to let him or her know what's up. If the teacher is insulted or defensive or tells you it's "your fault", dump this loser right away. You deserve better.

The really good teacher also has the:

Ability to put into uncomplicated words anything that needs to be explained or clarified with the student.

Honesty and fairness. Firmness where required, without scolding or embarrassing or manipulating the student.

Trustworthiness. Teaching without undue flirting is an aspect of the ethical behavior of someone you can trust. This does not mean someone's a prude or stuffy, but they are not sullied with such inappropriate fixations. To put it in a New Age way, their space is "clean."

Fair price for lessons but one that reflects the experience, skill level and background of the teacher AND his or her EFFECTIVENESS as a teacher. You are paying someone to improve the learning curve of the student. You are paying a teacher, not a scholar or a babysitter.

A very good teacher also exhibits:

Flexibility and forgiveness as needed, when schedules change or lessons are skipped. The best teachers have created firm and workable policy about a student's giving the teacher sufficient advanced notice about having to skip a lesson, except in the case of a real emergency.

A basic respect for his or her students. Perhaps for lack of a better word, this sums up to a certain humility in the teacher, for he or she knows that it wasn't always easy to learn for himself or herself. Such a teacher recognizes the potential in a student and is able to look past the limitations and difficulties of the moment.

A passion for teaching. A genuine love of people and of music. Enthusiasm and strong interest in having the student really "get" what the excitement is all about.

Know-how. Professional attitude. A very good teacher does not live in an ivory tower away from the practicalities of being a working musician. Such a teacher can advise the student on bringing his or her talents into the marketplace. The teacher has tips on promotion, career goals, advanced studies, gives good advice on how to get (or drop) managers and agents, has understanding of the basic legal matters that make the music "biz" a business--and such a teacher knows how to judge when the student is READY for each career step. Such a teacher will know when it's time to advise the student to move on to a more advanced teacher, IF that is in the best interest of the student. Haydn knew when he had taught Mozart all he could teach. This is where art and science join hands in the act of teaching music.

Yes, these are some of the qualities of the very good teachers. Now what about the GREAT Teachers?

My greatest teachers have been, first and foremost, GREAT BEINGS. This quality of being very "alive" and being perceptive and wise but not stuffy is over and above the scope of this discussion, but why NOT include the magic possibility of finding a GREAT TEACHER, not just a very good one. Great Teachers are treasures. When you find one, take the gift of knowledge and put it into practice. Literally. A great teacher has the ability to bring out what could be great in YOU. Go for it!

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