One of the most important factors to consider when deciding on a music school is who will be your musical mentor. Who will you study with and how will that person serve your musical needs?
Once you start school and for the next several years, you will interact with your private instructor in weekly one-on-one lessons. With so much personal attention given to you by your teacher, their influence cannot be understated. At minimum, they are entrusted to help you improve on your principal instrument. I believe, however, that your private instructor has the potential to do so much more. They are in a position to guide you to greater musical understanding and personal growth, and serve as your musical mentor.
The importance of mentors
Good mentors will work with you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and assess strategies to get you closer to your goals. They will provide honest and constructive feedback, help you develop self-awareness, and inspire you to reach beyond your own perceived limitations. In addition, mentors also often have the clout and connections to guide you in your career pursuits. Their job is to pass on their knowledge to you but it is also your responsibility to take action and implement the information they offer.
Where to start
In this day and age, you have many resources at your disposal to help in the search for a music mentor. To get started, visit the websites of music schools that interest you to find their private instrument or voice instructors. Search online for performers on your instrument that you admire, to learn where they are currently teaching. Use journals and publications to explore. Most instrument-specific associations publish their own magazines. These are good resources for finding professionals who are active in the field. Of course, speak to your friends, parents, and current teachers for advice.
Once you identify someone who you admire and respect, contact them. Ideally, you should form some type of relationship with this person ahead of your audition date. Try to schedule a private lesson, if possible. This will help you to determine whether you have chemistry with this person. You should have a good sense after a few meetings as to whether the rapport is right. Think about the qualities you are looking for in a mentor, and remember: not all private instructors view the act of teaching lessons to students as a mentorship relationship.
What to look for in a mentor
- Availability – Your mentor needs to be available for interaction. At times, you may need to meet with them outside of your scheduled lesson, just to talk. Instructors who hold full-time positions at universities tend to be more accessible to students.
- Flexibility – Good musical mentors are able to teach and guide in a manner that works for you. They strike a healthy balance between adhering to standard practice and adapting to your needs.
- Similarities – Look for a mentor who has a similar attitude and values and goals as you do. It can only help your chances of success if your mentor understands you and is familiar with the road that lies ahead.
- Character – Your mentor should be someone who you respect and admire. They should exhibit personal integrity and be honest with you.
- Confidant – A good mentor is someone you can trust. There are times when you may need to be open and vulnerable with your mentor.
- Caring – A mentor needs to care about your success just as much as you do.
- Inspiring – A mentor should inspire you to want to reach a higher level.
- Positive – Your mentor needs to be positive. Your path to success will not always be smooth. It is important to have someone to help you along when you are feeling down.
- Challenging – Mentors are not afraid to criticize constructively. It is important for private instructors to have you experiment and work on ideas and techniques that are outside of your comfort zone. They should challenge you to think differently, and have you reach for heights that you did not think were possible. All of this will allow you to grow to become a better person and musician.
- Belief in you – A mentor needs to believe in your potential. If they do not, then they may not put all of their effort into the relationship with you.
I was once advised that while finding the right music school is certainly important, finding the right teacher is even more important. The relationship between a music student and their private instructor is a special one. When that relationship is a mentorship, it can be reap benefits even beyond the formal years of study.