Finding the Right Music Teacher

finding the right music teacher

Anyone considering a degree in music faces a litany of concerns. Beyond soaring tuition and housing costs and limited financial aid, there are the issues of finding the right music teacher and school, getting enough performance opportunities, and balancing studio, rehearsals, and auditions with required coursework.

Getting informed and being strategic about your higher-ed investment is the best guarantee for having a rewarding educational experience.

by Angela Myles Beeching –

For most musicians, finding the right music teacher they will study with is the most important factor in choosing an undergrad or grad program. So, don’t choose a teacher or a school simply on its reputation. It’s about finding the right fit for YOU! Having the right teacher, especially in the formative stages of a career, is the most important factor in becoming the professional you aspire to be. In terms of developing your musical voice as a performer or composer, the time spent with your studio teacher one on one is the most intensive part of your education.

So, don’t pick a teacher based on his or her reputation or “likeability.” The key is to find the teacher who’s inspiring and challenge: who can both “diagnose” and help you work through any technical and musical difficulties, and help you reach your full potential.

You need the right teacher at the right time in your development as a performer. Naturally, this means something different for each individual. For instance, if you need a teacher to help with the basics of tone production, technique and musicianship, it would be a mistake to study with someone whose overwhelming focus is on advanced interpretation. Likewise, if you want help producing a great sound, it would be a mistake to study with a teacher who does not have one (or doesn’t have the sound you want to emulate). And if you are interested in an orchestral career, it would make sense both to study with a teacher with a successful orchestral background, and to study at a school with an excellent orchestral program.

Many experienced teachers with excellent reputations are available, but the best studio teaching comes down to how a particular teacher connects and communicates with an individual student, and her or his learning style. That’s why choosing teachers based on reputation, on how they sound in concert or on recordings, or on what you observed in their master class isn’t enough. You need to know how a specific teacher will work with you, by having a lesson or playing for this teacher in a master class.

To find the right match for you, start by making a list of potential teachers. Talk to friends, colleagues, current and former teachers, conductors, coaches, and directors. Ask what teachers they think might be good matches for you, and find out why—how do they teach, what are they like?

Listen to recordings, watch as many master classes as you can, and whenever possible, go to summer festivals or workshops—they’re a great way to find your next teacher. You can also get a sense of how a teacher might work with you in master class and summer festival contexts.

With your list of potential teachers, find out which schools and summer programs employ these teachers, and look for contact information. If you can’t find an e-mail address for the teacher on a school’s website, email the school’s Admissions office and ask how to reach the teacher. The idea is to request to have an introductory lesson well before you come for the formal audition, ideally, the spring or the summer before. Some teachers do not make a habit of offering these, some simply don’t have time, but there’s no harm in asking.

By arranging to have a lesson before you come to the school for the formal audition, you give yourself the chance to find the best teacher for your needs and get important feedback about your abilities. Although more teachers are starting to teach online these days, I’d still try to make the in-person connection if possible. Yes, this can get expensive, as you’ll probably have to travel and pay for the lesson, but it is worth it. You’re doing the necessary research on a much bigger investment: the tuition dollars and years in a degree program! The teacher you like and who likes your work may then have a chance to make a strong case for your acceptance and financial support. Don’t gamble on a bad fit between you and your studio instructor.

A few last minute tips: many faculty teach part-time at more than one school, so if you’re interested in studying with one particular teacher, weigh the pros and cons of each school to make sure you choose wisely.

Also, don’t assume that the school that accepts you will give you the teacher of your choice — they may not be able to. And conversely, don’t assume that because a teacher has verbally accepted you in her/his studio that you will be accepted by the school. Make sure you get the Admissions department’s official acceptance, and you need to know from the teacher that you have been accepted into her or his studio.

Finally, whomever you choose in terms of music studies, the proof of the value of the education you receive lies in what you do with it. As Charles Stier writes in his book, What happens after graduation? The Classical Musician and the Music Business: “The first and most important step in becoming a professional musician is to seek out and remain with the best teacher. The second step is to know when to leave. The third step is to take what you have been taught and redefine those values in your own terms.”


 Music career strategist Angela Myles Beeching is author of Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music and has advised hundreds of musicians on a full range of career-related issues. This article has been excerpted and adapted from a piece she originally wrote for New England Conservatory’s Career Services Center where she was director from 1993-2010. She has also worked as a consultant to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. She currently directs the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at Manhattan School of Music and maintains a thriving consulting practice, Beyond Talent Consulting.

Copyright, Angela Beeching, July 13, 2011
(Reproduction granted with credit to the author and MajoringInMusic.com.)

Comments

  1. Having taught music for 16 years I agree completely with what you said, “…studio teaching comes down to how a particular teacher connects and communicates with an individual student, and her or his learning style.” Great teachers know when to gracefully recommend a student to someone else. I believe it’s a good idea after having adapted your method and approach, and still not ignited the spark of inspiration. I go into more detail in an article I wrote about finding a good music teacher. http://www.dungenessmusic.com/music-lessons/choose-music-teacher/

  2. LAP

    As someone who has had the unbelievable good fortune of having found an amazing studio teacher, I wanted to share my experience for any others looking for a wonderful harp teacher. Franziska Huhn is an amazing teacher and mentor and is an incredible asset to the Longy School of Music of Bard College where I studied with her in the process of getting my master’s degree (she also teaches at several other Boston conservatories as well as maintaining a private studio). During the course of my private studio instruction she has helped me to grow both technically and artistically. As a pedagogue, she’s able to support my musical interests while encouraging me to continue exploring new avenues of harp repertoire and technique. Franziska has also helped me enormously in injury-prevention and in my own technical thinking by giving me tools and problem-solving techniques for exploring pain and tension in my playing and then taking steps to remove that tension so that I’ll be able to enjoy a long and healthy life as a harpist.
    When I first began studying with Franziska I was on the verge of developing tendonitis and had extreme pain even after playing for 10 minutes and she has coached and guided me to the point where I could present and hour-long recital with strength, confidence and very little tension or pain. I feel incredibly lucky to have found her and had the privilege of working with her.
    As an artist Franziska embodies true musicianship in her own thinking and music and in her performances. She encourages her students to really climb inside the pieces they are studying – analyze the harmony, solfege and sing the melodies, explore parts of the piece one day as technical etudes and the next day as opera arias. She has taught me how to turn my daily practice into much more than the preparation of each individual piece – rather, the time I spend behind the harp has become part of my daily growth and experience of being an artist.
    Franziska’s attention to musical detail is absolutely stunning. One of her favorite teaching stories is to tell about the Emerson Quartet onstage performing a Beethoven quartet when suddenly the violist realizes he can’t remember his solo which is coming up in the music (the Quartet is playing from memory). As the music approaches the moment when the solo happens and the violist is getting more and more nervous, he suddenly hears the cello enter playing his solo and is able to recover and finish the performance. Afterwards he asked the cellist how he knew that he’d forgotten the solo and the cellist responded, “Your finger was in the wrong place.” As a chamber coach and performer, and as a studio teacher, Franziska brings this level of musical passion to everything she does. She is clearly a born teacher – someone who loves supporting, encouraging and problem-solving in tandem with the student.
    Educator Grant Wiggins writes that “great teachers get more from us than we thought possible to give.” Franziska sees what isn’t yet there in a way that only a special kind of teacher can. I had never dreamed of being able to continue my harp studies in a conservatory setting, and hadn’t even realized that harp performance was what I really wanted to do with my life, but Franziska saw something in me and helped me grow into the harpist that I have become today. Her mentorship and support go far beyond the hour she spends in harp lessons with her students – she sees each student as an individual and tailors her approach as a teacher to ensure that each student finds what they need from their harp studies, be it a career, a hobby, a second career, a respite from other stresses or an outlet for emotional stress. Franziska is an amazing artist and incredible teacher and working with her is a wonderful experience.

  3. S.V.M.

    This is a first-rate article. Finding the right teacher is probably the most important consideration for someone who intends to pursue a degree in music performance. Studying music in many ways follows an apprenticeship model– much more than undergraduate studies in business or the sciences. It is ideal to find someone who can successfully mold your sound as a performer, and who also has plenty to teach about navigating the music world as a whole.

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