Where do I find a suitable instructor for my child? Once parents decide that they want their offspring to learn a stringed instrument, they are immediately faced with this often challenging question. For most parents, it’s very difficult to know where to start because most are not active participants in the world of stringed instruments and have no idea who to talk to or what kinds of questions to ask. Instinctively, most parents realize that starting off on the right foot is very important for future development, so they do their best to find a teacher who will not only show them proper technique but also instill a joy for music that will last for the rest of their lives.
These days, most people will go to the computer and do a Google search in their local area. Several results will inevitably pop up on their computer screen. After perusing the bios of teachers that have their own studios or work out of a large music store, one trait becomes clear. Everybody is an expert and they all have an abundance of awards and testimonials concerning their education, performance history and love of teaching. So if everybody is so great, how do you know who’s good and who’s not? How do you pick from one or the other? Which teacher’s self documented accolade is more trust worthy?
Personally, I’ve been playing the viola for over 30 years and 16 of those as an instructor. I have several gold lettered pieces of paper (in a closet somewhere) that list my performance pedigree and pedagogical certification, but do they really prove anything? To believe that everybody that graduates from a certain school or has played in many differing performance venues is going to have an equal ability to engage your child in a meaningful way is of course, ludicrous. So how do you know that I or anybody else with the same background is going to be worth all the money that you’ll be shelling out?
Most Kennedy Violins customers, know that we are comprised of string players and that the majority of us are violin instructors, so they ask us fairly often how to find a good teacher for their child who is just beginning. Because of the amount of times I’ve fielded this question, I’ve been able to distill the filtration process, into 2 basic criteria that you can use to weed out the less desirable instructors.
1. Does the instructor currently play professionally or is retired from playing professionally? Chances are, if nobody is willing to pay to hear a person play their instrument, you don’t want to pay them to teach your child. The reason this is a good question to ask, is that there are many people taking money to teach the violin who are a “jack of all trades and masters of none”. They love music and teaching and play just about every instrument that you can think of. This may be indicative of a certain level of passion or talent, but not having the stringed instrument as their primary professional focus, creates the situation where their technical knowledge of the instrument is diluted and blase. However, many teachers have performed with a variety of groups and they are quick to mention them on their bios but you need to do your homework. Are the groups they’ve played in on the same professional level as your local quilting club? Was the bulk of their performance experience in high school or college? This is not to say, that if they haven’t played in a major symphony orchestra they are bad teachers, or that all teachers that play in highly regarded symphony orchestras are all fantastic but usually this simple question can take about 85% of the instructors out of the running. This will not only save you a lot of wasted time and money on unhelpful lessons but also years of frustrated effort on the part of your child, who will be taught mind numbingly bad technique and flawed posture.
2. How successful are the students of the teachers? This is probably the most important question to ask because this is really where the rubber meets the road. Regardless of professional performance experience or certified pedigree, an excellent teacher will consistently produce well respected students. Once you have cut your list of potential teachers down to a few, ask them about their students participation in the local youth orchestras. Most cities of decent size have 1 or 2 youth orchestras that are pretty good. The only way to get into the higher level youth orchestras is by auditioning. Therefore, only the better playing students of that geographic location are going to be accepted into the orchestra. The better students get in and the others don’t. Consistently, the more effective teachers not only have many students participating in a good orchestra, but the same teachers are represented year after year. You can call up a local youth orchestra and ask for a recommendation or a list of the instructors that are represented by the students. Chances are, there will be a person working in the office that will be more than happy to assist you in narrowing down your search.
After you have found a teacher that you think may work, you will want to have a preliminary lesson, to find out if the teacher is a good fit. Often the better teachers will not only be more expensive and have a waiting list, but will want to “audition” YOU and your child as well. They will not accept certain students who may display an obvious disdain for learning or have parents who simply want a hour of alone time at the local mall while their child is babysat. If your child is progressing well after 10 lessons or so, you have probably found a suitable match. If your child is stuck on the same primary piece for several weeks or is locking themselves in their rooms to prevent themselves from going to a lesson, then it may not be a good fit.
The majority of parents do not start music lessons with the idea that they want their children to become professional players. Most, just want to expose their children to the world of music and gain all of the cognitive benefits that learning an instrument like the violin have to offer. Whatever your goals are for your child, one thing is for certain. It’s not possible for you to know the future and to what extent your child may want to pursue music. The best thing you can do, is find a teacher that will ultimately assist your child into reaching their full potential with proper technique and efficient practice habits. If your child develops a deep love of music and the ability to express it, then you have done your part in giving a gift to your child that is truly priceless. It’s been said that nobody regrets being a good person on their death bed. Well, nobody regrets being a great violinist either!