"Mommy, mommy! I wanna play the violin!!!" You innocently taking 4 year old Timmy to the free orchestra concert has now resulted in him harassing your life for 37 days.... (Or maybe you forsee grand things for Timmy and you want him to have a head start. That's okay too.) As the superb parent that you are, you make the decision to find a teacher. There are lots of choices. But who to choose?
This is where most parents often go wrong. In the age of Google, it is very easy to get on the web and find someone through a list service style website. Convenient and affordable are often the thrusts of the teachers listing on these servers. It's a cattle call for any and all kinds of instruction. I would not go solely with the information from one of those sites. Instead, I would find a teacher based on these three suggestions:
1. Expertise over experience
A lot of parents choose a teacher because they have tag lines such as "over 25 years of experience." But that is really not saying much. There are many teachers who have taught for extended periods of time and have not produced quality students. Sad, but true. I am sure they are very nice people, but if I am going to spend my hard earned money on something, I want to make sure I am getting the best I can.
Who is the best student in your child's school? Who won that local competition? You may have to do some homework, but chances are that someone in your network will know a top teacher. Go with results, not with claims.
--Don't look at degrees. While those can seemingly provide a certain level of credibility, they often don't mean squat. Some of the best teachers in Seattle do not have multiple degrees from fancy schools. It sometimes doesn't matter. What matters is that their students have noteworthy
accomplishments and that they have been able to produce that same result time and time again. (Younger teachers may not have this yet, so keep this in mind.) Again, go with results. Those papers only prove that that person was capable of completing a number of tasks to get it. Nothing more.
2. They should have a good "system" in place
Notice I did not say methodology. There are all kinds of methodologies, including the Suzuki Method, which are immensely popular. I mean a system. Something the teacher has worked on to refine the learning process. The teacher should be able to, very succinctly, give you an estimated plan for instruction. Maybe they have a written plan, or use a benchmark system. Whatever they do, it should be well articulated and defined in some way.
Accolades and awards are another great way to measure a teaching studio. Chances are, if the students are placing and winning at local, state, and national events, this is someone who is an expert and is worth every penny. I realize that not everyone wants to be in such a serious studio, and that's fine. Even a studio that encourages learning for fun (ours encourages both) should have rigorous standards. Fun should not mean poor results. Enjoyment comes with being able to play beautifully with great technical facility at will. It's not fun to lack ability after years of study and know it. This segues into the last point:
What happens when you choose the wrong teacher?
The wrong teacher or not having a teacher can have dire results. My husband and I have heard students who have played for several years and not be able to play a simple melody in tune or in rhythm. To me this is criminal. There are usually two scenarios that yield this result:
1. They started with a poor teacher.
This I have already discussed but cheap and convenient are not usually the way to go. Yes, Seattle traffic sucks. Yes, the teacher may want more of a commitment from you in terms of time and energy. In the end though, you will have wasted both entirely if your child is not learning properly. My single mom drove me and my brother 45 minutes each way twice a week to our music school in Houston. This was between 1989-1996. Then I began to drive and took some of the burden off of her. She was making $29,000 annually at her salary peak and my dad was not consistently paying child support. My husband's father has students that travel from other neighboring countries in Europe to take lessons with him in Slovenia. The right teacher is more than worth it.
2. They started in school orchestra without further instruction.
I have the highest respect for our school orchestra directors and what they do daily to keep music in the classrooms. It is no small feat. However, the director cannot be everywhere at once, and the journey of the group is of greater precedent than that of the individual. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to give the individualized attention necessary to ensure continued success. Each instrument is not the same in terms of setup (even the violin and viola at times), and certainly not the same in terms of technique, though there are some fundamentals common to all string instruments. Orchestra, ideally, should come after a student has some basic proficiency on their instrument. If that is not possible, then starting them in private instruction with a reputable teacher as soon as they join their orchestra program will get them going on the right foot.
Ultimately, this is why choosing the right teacher at the right time means the difference between a child that potentially flourishes and excels... Or flounders and quits. So really give it some thought. Whatever level of learning you choose to engage for your child, make sure that the value can be felt well after the lessons have ended.