What do you think of first when you hear a talented artist perform? Do you think, Wow, I bet they really put a lot of time into their Hanon exercises when they were in 5th grade? Probably not (unless you’re a teacher!). But you can bet that somewhere along the line, someone required that artist to practice technique – maybe even when they hated it and wanted to quit.

The truth is, we don’t think about all the behind-the-scenes work when we go to a concert. We just sit back and enjoy the result. But along the way, a whole lot of people put in a whole lot of effort to produce the music you’re hearing up on that stage.  I recently came across a Facebook post where Amanda Barrett, a veteran music teacher who owns a flute studio in upstate SC, compared teaching to baking a cake:

When an artist plays so beautifully, we admire their ability and often credit the work of the teacher or teachers who have put “the icing on the cake.” Yet someone stirred the batter, put the cake in the oven and took it out at just the right time. Sometimes we teachers have the joy of both baking and applying much of the icing (though frequently we send them on to have someone else add even more intricate design–as happens when a student graduates high school and moves on to college or conservatory), but sometime we bake the cake and someone else ices it entirely.”

Every student comes to his or her first lesson with a different set of raw ingredients. These might include natural talent, exposure to music at home or school, past musical experiences, parents with a musical background, or other things. But none of those ingredients alone can guarantee a good outcome. Someone has to bake the cake.

That’s why finding the right teacher is so important. At TBMA, we believe great teachers are more than the sum of their talent. So let’s take a look at a few of the qualifications you should look for when you’re choosing a teacher – whether your child is just starting out or you’re ready for someone who can take him or her to the next level:

  • A teacher’s heart – Your child needs someone who knows how to communicate new ideas in a memorable, understandable way. A good teacher will make lessons fun, while at the same time requiring hard work. While no teacher’s style will be exactly the same as another’s, all really great teachers share a love for their students and a love for learning that flows over into their teaching style, whether they are problem solving through a difficult piece, introducing a new concept, or offering encouragement.
  • Experience in the musical style your child wants to learn – Every teacher has a style they love and excel in, whether that’s classical, pop, or jazz. Most teachers also have a broad range of experience in various styles, so that they can help students reach a variety of musical goals. However, it’s important to talk to the teacher about what your goals for your child are, including the styles of music they want to learn, so that you can choose someone who knows how to help your child reach their goals. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ask your child to explore different styles, but it does mean that they should provide opportunities to do what your child loves as well.
  • Creative teaching methods – Not every child learns the same way. Some will instantly pick up a concept and run with it, while others will take more time. Some will need to have a new skill demonstrated and explained in a variety of ways before they master it. Look for a teacher who can think outside the box to help your child learn, even if they don’t get it the first time through the method book.
  • A contagious love for music –Almost every talented musician can look back and point out a specific teacher who first sparked their love for music. That person may not have been the most talented, but they were passionate, and they had a contagious excitement that their students naturally picked up. If you find a teacher like this, you have found a true gem.

Finding the right teacher is an important part of baking your child’s musical cake so that it turns out just right, but there’s one more ingredient that can’t be overlooked: parental involvement. As teachers, we know that parents are the ones who make sure practice happens, encourage students to work hard and reach their goals, and celebrate the big wins.

Our job is made so much easier when parents are committed to the process.  If you’re a parent of one of our TBMA students – thank you! And if you’re considering music lessons for your child, remember that your support is just as important to your child’s success as what happens in the weekly lesson.