How To Pick The Right Music Teacher For YOU

While the benefits of studying music under the care of an instructor may be quite obvious, it is just as important that each student find their perfect match in an instructor to maximize the potential for learning.

But with countless instructors out there, and each assuring you that they are the best in the county, this search may seem a long and tedious process of trial and error, taking lots of time and costing lots of money.

Furthermore, while many teachers will tell you that they “can” teach you whatever it is you wish to learn, others may insist on what you “need” to learn, when in fact the only thing a student “needs” to learn is what they WANT to learn.

This being said, all instructors DO specialize in an area of study, and there is NO such thing as an “all-in-one” or “one-size-fits-all” music teacher.  Some may have a broader field of expertise while some may have a more in depth niche to their studies.  The right instructor for the student is the one who has the experience relevant to the student’s desires.

Therefore, the first step in finding our perfect match in an instructor comes from the student simply determining what exactly it is THEY wish to gain from a musical mentorship.

Is the student looking to pursue formal music theory in preparation for a higher musical academia?  Or are they someone looking to build their chops in search of inspiration and an instructor who will push them?  Or maybe, someone just looking to become a casual player in the backyard on weekends?

Instructor Classification

Next, all instructors seem to be classified as one of only three categories, and while maybe not definitively or quintessentially representing one category alone, most instructors do tend to favor one approach over another.

Our first category is the “Working Musician”. The working musician will typically approach instruction from a performance standpoint and specialize in a handful of genres. While not necessarily coming from a musically collegiate or scholarly background the Working Musician will have a practical application to their methods when it comes to studied techniques.  These types of instructors generally work well for those looking to become casual players on the weekends, or those looking to incorporate the instructors “chop-building” into their repertoire.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “Contemporary Scholar”.  Generally an instructor of merit or possessing an academic degree from a known university, these types of instructors have meticulously studied music from an institutional background.  Whereas these types of instructors favor the theoretical aspects surrounding subjects such as music theory, the Contemporary Scholar makes for an excellent mentor for those looking to conceptually pursue musicology of the higher education and not specifically one genre or style.

Our third category of instructor can be thought of as the “Middle of the Road Instructor”.  While having somewhat of a musically academic background Middle of the Road Instructors also come from some level of performance background too, making them a good choice for students interested in studying music as a whole.  But while generally having split their time between performing and the formal study of music academia Middle of the Road Instructors tend to only touch upon what they see as the most applicable performance techniques or theoretical concepts in their lesson plans.  These types of instructors DO generally tend to engage the largest bodies of students as they work well for students aspiring to become casual players, students looking to build their chops, or those looking to transition into a collegiate study of music.

Class Size, and Lesson Type

With regards to determining our desired type of instruction comes our class size/lesson type.  Most simply put, there are three types and the justifying factors being needs of the student versus cost.

Oftentimes, community colleges or high schools will host an introduction to guitar course at low cost or as an elective.  While generally serving their purpose well as an introductory course, a class spanning three or so months featuring a generalized curriculum will benefit beginning students through affordability and a lowered demand of commitment than our following two class structures.  However, most of the time these classes will have a high student to teacher ratio (30:1) that can slow the progress of students that require more individualized instruction from an instructor.

For smaller groups, yielding a lower student to teacher ratio, look to your local parks and recreation department.  If they don’t currently have their own, most city recreation departments will partner with local businesses to deliver cost effective programs for which the department may not have the space for.  In these types of classes instructors form groups of ten students or less based upon ability and experience.  While still typically using a generalized curriculum for the entire group, the lowered student to teacher ratio allows for more teacher student interaction, and thus faster comprehension of studied techniques.  The downside to this when compared to a larger groups is almost always with inflated tuition when compared to the large group format.

Finally, for the eager student wishing to eat, drink, breath, and sleep music, the most effective and most expensive option is private one-on-one instruction.  Where a single 1 hour lesson, roughly $50, may cost as much as an entire semester at your local community college, the obvious benefits with private lessons come with an equal student to teacher ratio (1:1), a custom tailored lesson plan, and the ability to request songs and genres to study; which is hardly ever a considerable option offered in a group setting.

Music Schools vs Independent Instructors

Before the internet, the only real ways to study an instrument was either by going to the local music store and signing up for lessons, if you were lucky enough to have a program in your high school, or if you knew someone who could teach you how to play.

However, since the emerging of the internet, things like YouTube, Skype/Zoom/FaceTime, and online classifieds have only exponentially impacted the ability to learn an instrument.  Today one can easily take a couple online lessons and off they go to Youtube without ever leaving the comfort of their home!  But with regards to the methods in which an instructor conducts business and reaches students, there are really only two types of instructors: those who are employees of music schools, and those whom work for themselves.

For those of us whom have pretty strict schedules, the local music store/school is an excellent option.  Once signed up you get your time slot and easy once a month billing.  Often times there are even annual or quarterly recitals for the students of these institutions.  However, if you do need to reschedule lessons or require a more flexible schedule, it may present challenge coordinating with the instructor, room availability, and billing persons, to which clients that require flexible accommodations on a weekly basis may present challenge for a busy music school.

One should also note that for a brick and mortar type schools to effectively stay in business they must service as large a student body as possible, but at a rate which remains constant amongst the competition.

To do this, these schools are often forced to cut into labor cost to yield a profit, which affects the student’s overall experience in several ways.  The quality, experience, and credentials of the instructor may vary widely, unbeknownst to the client.  The combination of being over worked, due to being under paid, may also simply leave the instructor too exhausted for necessary out of class lesson plan preparation.  And finally, the back to back assembly-line scheduling of lessons may impact the student by incomplete lessons due to a student arriving late.

As mentioned above, thanks to the internet independent instructors have been popping up everywhere on Youtube, Zoom, Craigslist, and daily deal sites, etc.  While most people’s first inclination may be to steer clear of those “who are not good enough to work at a music school”, I have found the worst-case scenario to be someone who instructs as a second job or a student making their way through college with what little time they have to spare.  But I have also found many independent instructors to also be working professionals in the music industry, some of which possess high-ranking music degrees, have published works in circulation, and even own their own music programs.

There are however many benefits to studying with an independent instructor.  The obvious first benefit is that by directly communicating with your instructor you can be sure of their credentials, and that they have the experience to help you achieve your desires.  Also, by dealing with one person, no billing personal etc, an independent instructor has the ability to single handedly accommodate any and all changes to scheduling; Heck, some will even come to you!  And finally, as the independent instructor relies solely on referrals and repeat business, the student can rest assure that the instructor will be committed to the student on an individual basis and achieving excellence.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have found this article helpful!

As a reminder, when considering any instructor for yourself or child please be safe, ALWAYS ask for references ahead of time, ALWAYS have a child accompanied by an adult, and ALWAYS meet in a safe environment.

Here’s to the Future of Rock n Roll!

~ Mr Greg