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By Julie Tompkins-Wagner, www.Julie-music.com

As the start of a new school year approaches, many parents are looking to enroll their children in music lessons. This is a wonderful opportunity for the students but the experience can quickly turn sour if the situation isn’t right.
So how to you guarantee a positive experience? There are no guarantees. We are all human and go about learning in different ways. But here are few things that will help you find your way to a fun, positive learning experience for your children.

First, don’t leave the decisions to someone else. So many times parents think that because they are enrolling their children in an established music school or conservatoire, or having the lessons at the child’s academic school, that things will be fine. While a school or conservatoire will normally hire only qualified teachers that meet their standards, this doesn’t mean that the teacher you get may actually work out. It is the teacher/student relationship that makes the lessons a success. And a teacher who works well and has much success with some students might not necessarily work out well with a different kind of student.   But there is normally a pool of teachers there to choose from, so it can be a good place to start.

Asking other parents is always a great way to get a recommendation but remember, many parents aren’t musicians themselves. While the students might be having a great, fun time, are they really learning anything of value? There needs to be a balance between fun and education, otherwise there can be no progress, and it is the progress and the learning process that gives the results and enhances the self-confidence of your children.

Of course, you may well start online, ask at your child’s school, speak with neighbors, and other teachers. Getting a recommendation from another music teacher can be quite useful.  Always try to speak to several of a teacher’s parents to get an overall viewpoint if possible.

When you first contact a teacher, ask if your child can have a trial lesson. You shouldn’t have to sign up for a term or a year’s worth of lessons without having a chance to meet the teacher yourself and to see how the teacher interacts with your child.  You should feel welcome yourself as well. It is impossible to tell everything from a trial lesson but at least it should establish a comfort level. Don’t ask your child what he or she thought in front of the teacher, wait until you are on your own so the child is free to express him/herself. (A specific note here—if you are trying out a new piano teacher and that teacher has long fingernails then run, don’t walk away.  Those fingernails should not be longer than the length of the fingers themselves. It is impossible to teach a proper hand and finger position with long nails.)

Find out about the teacher’s qualifications, teaching and performance experience.  Many concert musicians are wonderful teachers with so much to offer but you may need to be more flexible regarding lesson schedules as they have rehearsals and concert tours to juggle. If your child is a young beginner, make sure that the teacher has large amounts of patience and experience teaching younger children. Some teachers specialize in teaching young beginners and then will suggest that the students move up to another teacher at a certain age or when they reach a certain level. This is wise but be certain, if your child has already studied for some years and needs a higher level teacher that you find a teacher who is competent at the higher level.

Many teachers and schools require that you commit to a term or even a year of lessons and require payment whether or not your child will finish out or miss lessons. Read the Terms and Conditions carefully before signing up or you may be in for an unpleasant surprise! While you should, once you decide to go ahead, be ready to commit to putting in the best effort for at least a term in order to give the teacher a chance to establish a good rapport with your child, you also don’t want your child to be miserable for a year or they will never want to take music lessons again.  

If the student happily bounces in and out of lessons, and can’t wait to get home to practice, and you see that progress is being made, then you have found the right teacher! But remember, progress is commensurate with the amount of effort put into practicing. The best teacher in the world can’t help your child progress if the student doesn’t put in the practice at home. Be ready to support this and build it into the daily schedule and your child will find the joy in music making that you hoped for when you started out to find the right teacher.

Author's bio

Julie portrait 2 copy

Julie Tompkins-Wagner is an active concert pianist, music educator and administrator with over 40 years of experience, 27 of them in the International environment. She is currently the Head of the Music Academy at GEMS World Academy-Etoy as well as the Director of Pianoforte Productions, the Summer Music Program, and the Artistic Director of the Geneva Youth Ensemble.

Julie holds a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music and English from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a qualified I.G.C.S.E. examiner and is active in the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music examination program. She is passionate about the benefits of making music, bringing young musicians together and working with young people of all ages in order to help them gain the life skills that they will need for their future.

Other interests include photography, writing, travel, gardening, Scouting and the Kosovo Musical Project. Julie has participated in several photography exhibitions and is a published author. She has numerous recordings available under the pianoforte productions label.