Monday, May 9, 2022 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized
Hello musicians and families,
There's a lot of info in this newsletter! Important details about the upcoming recital and summer lessons are included, so please read through the entire document and save it to refer back as needed.
I will also publish this newsletter on my website (www.monacomusicstudio.com), so you can always find it later if you need to.
*Verify lesson times with me THIS WEEK AND NEXT. I am traveling!!
*Recital preparation THIS WEEK:
1. Write a paragraph about the piece you are performing and/or the composer,
2. Record video of recital piece and
3. Attend studio classes online
*Recital help on 5/22/22:
1. help with moving chairs
2. help with lifting harpsichord.
3. Lunch will be provided!
LESSONS ONLINE weeks of 5/9/22 and 5/16/22
STUDIO CLASS: Wednesday, 5/11/22 at 6:00-6:30 (ages 10 and under), 6:30-7:30 (ages 10 and up)
STUDIO CLASS: Wednesday, 5/18/22 at 6:00-6:30 (ages 10 and under), 6:30-7:30 (ages 10 and up)
SPRING RECITAL: BRILLIANTLY BAROQUE Sunday 5/22/2022 at 4:00 pm 11190 Hagemann Rd.; Lebanon
MIDWEST FLUTE INSTITUTE: 6/13/22-6/16/22 SIUE NO LESSONS (but come to the Institute!)
FIELD TRIP: St. Louis Wind Symphony + Dinner out 6/25/22; meet at Casa Monaco at 4:00pm
COSTUME KARAOKE Saturday 7/16/22 4:00 pm 11190 Hagemann Rd.; Lebanon
AMERICAN SUZUKI INSTITUTE 7/25/22-7/29/22 NO LESSONS
NATIONAL FLUTE ASSOCIATION CONVENTION 8/11/22-8/14//22 in Chicago. NO LESSONS
LESSON UPDATES AND UPCOMING GROUP CLASSES
I left today (Monday, 5/9/22) for a family trip and will return on Saturday, May 21st. Normally I would just give us all a vacation from lessons, but with a recital looming, let's continue to work together over the next two weeks to prepare. I will be scheduling online lessons to coordinate with our travel schedule this week and next. I will be available all day tomorrow (Tuesday 5/10), all day Thursday (5/12), and Wednesday evening. I know that online lessons don't always work for every family, but it would be helpful even if we could schedule several smaller sessions throughout the next two weeks to "check-in," or even send performance/feedback videos back and forth.
The recital is scheduled for Sunday, May 22nd at 4:00 pm. We will have a rehearsal the same day from 1:00-3:00, and I will send out a tentative rehearsal schedule in the next few days.
One of my goals this term was for students to understand more about Baroque music and its characteristics. I asked every student to write a paragraph of information about the piece and the composer they studied this term so that I can compile the information in the recital program. It doesn't have to be amazingly polished, I can help with editing, but at least 5-10 sentences would be great. Please get this to me no later than May 16th so that I can finish formatting the program and send the file off to get printed.
I need every student to record themselves performing their recital piece with a backing track (if applicable). Not everyone has prioritized this task, but this truly is a crucial performance preparation technique. Often, making a video can be a harsh wake-up call that your piece isn't quite performance-ready. BUT, recording a successful video goes a long way toward building confidence for recital day.
We will have two ONLINE studio classes in the next two weeks:
Wednesday, May 11th at 6:00-6:30 (ages 10 and under), 6:30-7:30 (ages 10 and up)
Wednesday, May 18th at 6:00-6:30 (ages 10 and under), 6:30-7:30 (ages 10 and up)
You are welcome to attend whichever time works best, the pieces that the older students are playing are a bit longer, so they might take a bit longer. PLEASE make it a priority to come to both classes. Stay tuned for the zoom link to this event!
On 5/11, I will play the videos the students submitted of their recital piece to the entire group. On 5/18, students will perform their pieces in real time for each other. I will also ask the students to share what they've learned about their piece and the composer with the rest of the group. :)
Y'all, I'm not trying to create extra work for myself (and you all) by asking for these assignments and scheduling group classes. Public performances can be stressful to navigate for anyone at any age. If your child has done everything possible to mentally and musically prepare for their performance, they are more likely to have a positive recital experience. Over time, several positive recital experiences can have a tremendous impact on relieving stress and anxiety associated with being in the spotlight, and becoming comfortable in the spotlight can help a child in so many ways: meeting new people, interviewing for jobs, giving public presentations, or assuming leadership rolls in school, career, or community.
On the other hand, several negative recital experiences in a row (or even just one!) can turn someone off to public performance FOREVER, and no one deserves to carry around that kind of anxiety. I really want your child to understand that they CAN do hard things and that hard things will eventually get easier if they keep trying.
OTHER RECITAL PREP ADVICE:
At this point in the preparation process, students should find opportunities to perform their pieces for as many people as possible before the big day. Friends, neighbors, grandparents, etc. can be a bit help to musicians who are trying to work through their nerves. Live performances are best, but performing over FaceTime for Grandma is great, too.
RECITAL HELP NEEDED:
I would be eternally grateful for any assistance you can give me on recital day. The two items I am especially concerned about are:
1. The rental chairs aren't available for pickup until noon the day of the recital. I'm going to pick them up in my van, but I will be busy coordinating a mini-rehearsal in the hours before the recital, so I would appreciate it if you all could grab a few chairs to help set up. My husband will be on hand to direct traffic and answer questions.
2. Our recital theme is "Brilliantly Baroque." I bought a very cool harpsichord (a keyboard instrument used in the Baroque era before pianos were invented) to provide accompaniment. This instrument is HEAVY, and I could use 4 or 5 laborers to help me move it. It will only take about 10 seconds of effort to lift the harpsichord off its legs onto a dolly, then 10 seconds to put it back on its legs once it's up the hill. And then, reversing the process after the recital.
3. All helpers will be fed!
MIDWEST FLUTE INSTITUTE:
This summer, I'll be on staff at the Midwest Flute Institute from June 13-16 at SIUE. This is a terrific program open to flutists aged 12-18. Every single one of my middle school and high school flutists would be an excellent fit for this program, so I encourage you to consider registering. There will be no regular lessons this week! Register here: https://www.siue.edu/summer/camps/flute-camp.shtml
On June 25th, students are invited to a special musical event! We will meet at my house at 4:00, drive across the river in my enormous van to get dinner, and then attend an outdoor performance of the St. Louis Wind Symphony. The concert is free, but please send $ with your child to cover dinner (you can send cash with your child or just Venmo me). This event is geared toward students who are 10+. Please RSVP in lessons or by texting me at 843-814-3397
Our summer term is 14 weeks long, beginning May 30th and ending September 1st. I plan to teach ten weeks of lessons during June, July, and August to accommodate my travel and teaching schedule. During those ten weeks, students can keep their same lesson time or request an earlier slot. I input several potential lesson slots into the calendar on my website. Students will also have the option of booking additional lessons over the summer at no additional charge. Think of these lessons as makeups from lessons missed in the spring, anticipated fall absences, or just extra lessons for enrichment.
I will charge summer tuition in June, July, and August at a rate equal to 75% the typical monthly rate (i.e., if you pay $100/mo during the school year, you'll pay $75). Since you'll be able to book extra lessons each week, it will be up to you whether you take 4 lessons, 10 lessons, or even 20 over the summer.
I'll send out a printable schedule for you all to tape to your refrigerators, so watch your inboxes!
Last summer, I hosted daily online "scale aerobics" for students. We met every day and practiced scales and scale exercises for 45-60 minutes each day. The concept is the same as having a gym buddy. People make better choices in life if they have accountability partners! The students who showed up every day made tremendous musical progress during the summer.
This summer, we'll meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1:00 pm in June, July, and August (except for the days and weeks when I am engaged elsewhere). The online format will allow students of all instruments and abilities to participate.
Beginning flutists (who have taken less than two years of lessons) will need to purchase the book "I Love Scales." Flutists who have taken lessons for more than two years will need to purchase Trevor Wye's "Complete Daily Exercises for the Flute." Pianists will use the Hal Leonard Series of scales and scale patterns.
HOWEVER, please see me before ordering books. Your playing level might differ from the general guidelines above. Also, I order sheet music at least once a month, so I would be happy to place a big order for everyone so we can all split shipping costs.
All are welcome! Invite your friends to attend! My students participate free of charge. The fee is $10/week for other musicians.
Costume karaoke will be held Saturday, July 16th at 4:00 pm. We will assign pieces after the recital, but start thinking about whether there's a movie, TV, theater, or pop song you enjoy that you'd like to learn and perform.
NATIONAL FLUTE ASSOCIATION CONVENTION
The annual NFA convention is in Chicago this year, August 11-14. This is an enormous event where thousands of flutists and hundreds of vendors converge come together to learn and celebrate all things FLUTE. You can hear the latest in newly published music, try every brand of flute known to mankind, buy sheet music and gifts, hear speakers discuss topics related to music, performance, or business, and watch incredible performances by world-class flutists. I encourage you all to go if you get the opportunity! I'll be there, and I'll be looking for you!
I will be performing a recital on Saturday, August 6th, at 1:00 pm, at our home. The program will feature the music of female composers: Chaminade, Uebayashi, Harberg, and Larson. You are all invited!
HIGHLAND MUNICIPAL BAND
I play with the Highland Municipal Band during their summer series, Friday evenings, June 17-August 12, at 8:00pm under the stars on the square. Search for the "Lory Theater" in your GPS, and it will bring you to the right general area. The HMB is comprised of terrific professional musicians, so the music is high-quality. This event is free! Bring lawn chairs or a picnic blanket.
LISTENING TO MUSIC AT HOME:
When I was growing up, my dad used to listen to music from the 50s and 60s all the time. It was annoying at the time, but now I can sing the lyrics of dozens and dozens of "oldies" (which impresses absolutely no one ever). But my mom played classical music every day in the afternoons, so I was exposed to a rich variety of music on a regular basis.
I'm not here to condemn your family or personal music preferences (all music choices are valid...to an extent), but I do want to encourage you to make classical music part of your family's everyday listening experience. You can start with something easy like a curated Spotify, Youtube, or Apple Music playlist. Or just pick a composer, any composer, and listen to him/her every day for a week or a month, then pick another composer. Commit to playing this music at the same time each day (while you're getting ready in the morning, during study time in the afternoon, while you're eating dinner together, or around bedtime when the house is quiet but everyone is transitioning between wakefulness and sleep).
Classical music might not be your favorite (or your child's favorite), but it will grow on you with regular exposure! Just like The Drifters and The Platters grew on me. :)
Did you know?
*An "Opus" is a method of cataloging a composer's published works. The first published work would be Op. 1, and the second Op. 2 etc. Composers who lived before this convention was accepted had their works cataloged by scholars after their deaths, so you'll see other abbreviations attached to their music. For example, Mozart’s music is cataloged with a K. (Köchel-Verzeichnis), and Bach’s with a BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis). Interestingly enough, "opus" is a singular term, and the plural is "opera."
Did you know?
*Most lay people call any musical work a "song," but in music, SONGS are performed by vocalists, and PIECES are performed by instrumentalists. There's another vocabulary entirely when it comes to jazz music, and the CHARTS they perform. Still, these three terms will enlighten you enough to converse with musicians across all genres and sound like you know what you're talking about. :)
Sunday, September 19, 2021 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized
SPRING RECITAL: BRILLIANTLY BAROQUE Sunday 5/22/2022 at 4:00 pm 11190 Hagemann Rd.; Lebanon
MIDWEST FLUTE INSTITUTE: 6/13/22-6/16/22 SIUE
COSTUME KARAOKE Saturday 7/16/22 4:00 pm 11190 Hagemann Rd.; Lebanon
FIELD TRIP: St. Louis Wind Symphony + Dinner out 6/25/22; meet at Casa Monaco at 4:00pm
Monday, August 17, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized
One phrase I hear a lot from parents about music lessons is that they are not sure whether their children are going to “stick” with music lessons. Parents often don’t want to invest money in a nice instrument or commit to lessons long-term because they know their kid can be pretty fickle with their interests.
Look, I’m the mom of 8 kids. I get it. Families are busier than they’ve ever been. Finances are tight, and some children are less compliant than others. But in our house, music lessons are non-negotiable.
First of all, studies have shown that children who take music lessons outperform their peers academically, especially in science, math, and languages. Not only that, but music develops focus and grit, which are skills all of us could stand to hone a little bit. And studies show that students who played an instrument were better team players in their careers than those who didn’t. And even if my children don’t become professional musicians, music is a skill that will bring joy to them into adulthood. Imagine after a tough day at work, going to your instrument, sitting down at the piano, or picking up a violin, and just spending time getting lost in the music. And FYI, studies show that music has a dramatic, measurable impact on stress reduction.
Now, if I had a child in music lessons who was really giving me some push back, which has happened before, I admit, I would do some trouble-shooting:
Lack of personal discipline- If I’m getting resistance from my kids about lessons, the most likely culprit is that my children are frustrated with the amount of time and energy it takes to maintain good musical progress and lack the motivation to practice. This might come as a surprise to you, but children aren’t always magically inspired to work hard, so sometimes you have to apply a little external motivation to get them to cooperate. At our house, we print out a weekly checklist with chores, homework, reading, exercise, and instrument practice listed daily, then they earn so much computer time once everything is completed. If they want MORE computer time than they are allotted, I give them sort of an arbitrary secondary checklist. I usually make them practice and read again, and sometimes I make them spend an hour outside if it’s a nice day, or run the vacuum or something. This works well since my kids are so motivated to play the computer.
Your kids might have other things that motivate them, and that’s great! Do what works for you. We’ve also offered incentives to them-for example if they learn all their major scales and can perform them all at once, then they get paid $5/scale, which is a total of $60 that they can spend at a local educational supply toy that has neat puzzles, games, and science kits. I’ve also found that buying fun sheet music helps with motivation because when they’re done with their music lesson assignments, they can spend time working on learning the Star Wars theme or a piece by Lindsey Stirling. I’ve heard of parents who pay their kids to practice. They pay them so much money for each minute. Their children have to pay for their own private lessons out of this fund, BUT THEN, they get to keep any money that’s leftover as spending cash. The only thing I would caution you about here, is sometimes it’s easy to mindlessly put time in on an instrument, but you really are wanting them to focus on quality practicing, with terrific form, and a beautiful sound.
Lack of routine- I’ve found that getting into a good practice routine is eliminates about 90% of the friction caused by not wanting to practice. The key is to schedule a TIME and a PLACE. If my child knows he will practice in the kitchen in the morning while I make breakfast or right after school in the afternoon in the living room, then it just becomes second nature and not really up for discussion.
We bought a set of canvas tote bags on Amazon, let the kids decorate them with fabric paint, and each child keeps their music books and supplies inside the bag near their own practice corner in the house. Then when it’s time to go to lessons, everything is already in one place.
It might be helpful to make copies of music, like one set of band music for their school backpacks and one set for their practice corner, so they don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting music, and they don’t have to take time to pack and unpack their school bags.
I personally just keep my instrument out throughout the course of the day and don’t put it back in its case until bedtime. If you’re able to find a safe place to keep your child’s instrument, I find that having it out makes it more likely that I’ll spend 10 minutes here and there working on a tough passage or scales IN ADDITION to my regular practice sessions.
Teacher/student personality clash-I’ve had the opportunity to take lessons from several amazing teachers, and I’ve had the opportunity to observe my children take lessons from numerous instructors as well. Even though a teacher might be a fabulous musician and a fabulous person...NOT EVERY TEACHER IS RIGHT FOR EVERY STUDENT. Maybe your child has stopped progressing with a teacher. Maybe your teacher’s personality is a little strong and your child feels overwhelmed. Maybe the student and the teacher have different musical expectations. Maybe the teacher doesn’t always explain things in a way that the student can easily understand.
My first suggestion would be to have a nice, grown-up conversation with the teacher. Share your observations but stick to the facts. If the teacher dismisses you, becomes defensive, intimidates you a little, or the issue doesn’t resolve after talking, then ask yourself if this is someone you really want to be around your child? Your child’s comfort and well-being is vitally important, and you want to know that she’ll be surrounded by safe, nurturing adults who will value her voice.
My other suggestion would be to try having private lessons with another teacher for a bit, the summer would be a great time, especially if you can find a camp or enrichment program where your child has the opportunity to work with more than one teacher. If your child is blossoming under new instruction, then that’s a big clue right there. If your child still faces the same issues, then maybe it isn’t the teacher who’s the problem, but the child.
My own attitude-sometimes I’ve been guilty of approaching my child’s practice session as a chore to be endured before we can move on and do more fun things in our day. I’ve tried to change my mindset and approach it as a fun activity in itself. Use the practice session as a special bonding time with your child. Talk to them about music and how much you enjoy hearing them play. Invite them to play for you while you are busy folding laundry or cooking, invite them to play for grandma over Skype.
But even beyond that, really let them know that you as a parent value music, and that your family is one who supports the arts. What kind of music do you listen to in your home or car? Beyond Mozart and Beethoven (and those are important!), there are some fabulous newer composers who have written some stunning melodic pieces for your child’s instrument. Your child’s private teacher could recommend a few to you. If you have a local library, you might be able to use your account to get access to NAXOS on your home computer, which is a HUGE database of music albums. You could also use Youtube, Apple Music, and Spotify to stream music.
I also recommend taking your child to see live concerts, whether it be the city’s symphony, the local university band or orchestra. Make it special by taking them out to dinner AND DESSERT before or after the performance.
I also want to suggest that you try your best to support your child’s private teacher at home by maintaining expectations, enforcing practice and other assignments, and speaking well of her. Remind him how lucky he is to have such a fantastic teacher.
Is your child playing the wrong instrument? Many parents sign their children up for piano lessons at some point in their childhood. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; two of my own children have studied the piano lessons for over a decade, but two others started in piano and then changed to strings because they just weren’t feeling the piano. Many parents put their children in piano because they don’t realize there are other options out there or they feel like other instruments belong just in band or orchestra when they are lovely solo instruments in their own right. Children are more likely to enjoy lessons and practicing if they are playing an instrument they are inspired to play, so introduce them to multiple instruments on YouTube, or through trials at a music store and let them make a decision for themselves. Although most children will choose a traditional band or orchestra instrument, don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little, either! What about the bagpipes, harp, or mandolin? If you aren’t sure whether this is true love, instruments can be rented from many music stores for a reasonable price, or alternatively, you could buy a solid used instrument, which can be sold later for nearly the same price if your child decides to change or upgrade. But please don’t purchase an instrument without professional guidance, or you could end up with a lemon! The thing you want to keep an eye out for is if your child is hopping between instruments every year or so. There comes a time after switching 3 or 4 times where you just might have to make them commit.
If any of you have any questions or observations of your own you’d like to share, let’s talk about it! Let me know what you think.
Monday, August 10, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized
Do you have an energetic child that you always have to re-direct? “Don’t touch that!” “Pay attention when I am talking, please.” “Leave your sister alone!”
Is your child struggling academically? Is your child academically gifted? Is your child struggling with strong emotions, such as anxiety or perfectionism?
I have a scientifically-backed solution for you!
Have you considered putting your child in music lessons?
Suzuki study results: Four groups of students were compared: Children who were at home, children who were at school, children who received weekly group lessons in music, and children who received private music lessons. The results showed that children in private lessons focussed longer, worked more accurately, and received fewer corrective instructions from the teachers, when children were observed in a traditional classroom environment. (corrective instructions: “Johnny, sit down!” “Susie, walking feet, please!” “Michael, keep your hands to yourself.”)
Scott, Laurie. “Attention and Perseverance Behaviors of Preschool Children Enrolled in Suzuki Violin Lessons and Other Activities.” Journal of Research in Music Education, vol. 40, no. 3, 1992, pp. 225–235. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3345684. Accessed 3 Aug. 2020.
Radiological Society of North America published a recent study showing improved brain fiber connections in children who regularly take music lessons, particularly in the frontal cortex, which is an area that is underdeveloped in children with ADHD.
Kodaly study results: Zoltan Kodaly was a hungarian composer and musicologist. He began advocating for higher standards for music education in the 1940s. The government implemented his ideas in an experimental preschool, then performed studies in subsequent years comparing the children in the new school to children in traditional schools. The researchers controlled for socio-economic status, age, gender, etc.. Children who were exposed to one hour of formal music training per day, taught by a TRAINED MUSIC TEACHER, were compared to children in a typical school, who were exposed to about 20 minutes of music in the context of classroom activities, led by the classroom teacher. The results were astounding. The children in the experimental group scored significantly higher not only in academics and cognitive processes, but in psychological we-being as well.
Barkóczi Ilona, and Pléh Csaba. Music Makes a Difference: the Effect of Kodálys Musical Training on the Psychological Development of Elementary School Children. Kecskemét: Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music, 1982.
A study from the University of Vermont, showed that children who play an instrument have less anxiety, better overall feelings of wellbeing, and showed higher attention to detail than those who didn’t. AND THE LONGER THE STUDENT STUDIED ON an instrument, the more profound the effect.
Children with formal music training were more behaviorally and emotionally mature than their non-musical peers, and showed superior motor skills. https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(14)00578-4/abstract
COGNITIVE AND ACADEMIC BENEFITS:
A study by the University of Maryland showed that children age 6-11 who took private lessons for a year or more scored significantly higher on IQ tests than those who didn’t. Researchers controlled for parents’ income and level of education, as well as children’s other activities. Other notable differences included:
*Increase in IQ scores
*Promotes intellectual development
*Achieve higher test scores on standardized tests and other proficiency exams
*More cooperative with teachers and peers
*Better able to express their ideas verbally
*Improvements in hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory development, listening skills and the overall process of learning
*Enhanced self-esteem and confidence as they perform in front of a teacher on a weekly basis and participate regularly in recitals or other performances
Schellenberg, E. G. (2006). Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(2), 457–468. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0618.104.22.1687
Multiple studies show that students with music training have higher GPAs than children with none. The College Board showed that musical students had higher overall standarized test scores.
The university of Michigan showed that 93% of STEM graduates had musical training as children, vs. only 34% of average adults.
Trained musicians scored higher in language and math and had lower drop-out rates.
Northwestern University: “Music programs can literally remodel children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which can lead to better learning and language skills.
Music improves both cognitive and non-cognitive skills at twice the rate of sports, dance, or theatre.
A recent study found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.
Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.
Research by Dr. Frances Rauscher, Endowed Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, suggests that the study of music dramatically enhances children's ability to reason abstractly.
Trained musicians are more effective at switching from one task to another.
Music training shows a protective effect against Alzheimer’s.
Music can make us feel nostalgic, melancholy, or energized. It also promotes empathy! https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0305735612440609
Music improves immunological response.
Saturday, August 1, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Uncategorized
Transcript (more or less):
I’m the mother of 8 children who all take music lessons, except for my 4-year-old who probably will start next summer, and one child with special needs who will start with the band program at school, so I want to share with you a little bit about my process for selecting a music teacher for my children.
Often, if parents find a private music teacher for their child who is a nice person and knows vaguely more about music than they do, they’ll be thrilled with the arrangement. “I just want my child to love music,” is the excuse that I hear, and that’s great! That’s what we all want. But, making music is more than just reading the notes on the page. It’s important to have a fabulous set of eyes and ears on your child to make sure he isn’t developing bad habits (which we all do!), like throat tension or misplacing his tongue in his mouth, or squeezing his embouchure too tight, or poor breath support, or posture issues. Eventually, students will get discouraged because their own body mechanics will prevent them from playing difficult technical passages, and they’ll get stuck. This is when students start dropping out of music. It gets “hard” or “boring.” In reality, students are frustrated because they haven’t been properly nurtured in their musical journey. Playing with correct habits from the beginning means progressing at the fastest possible rate because no physical impediments will be blocking the momentum, which also means developing musically with joy and enthusiasm.
We’ve moved a few times over the years, some of my children have changed instruments, and a few of them play more than one instrument, so I’ve had the opportunity to observe literally dozens of instructors with my children. I feel like it’s safe to say at this point in my life that I have the process of selecting a music teacher down to a science.
There’s a Trifecta of qualifications I look for. The first is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful musician. The second is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful person. The third is that the instructor needs to be a wonderful teacher. Sometimes people conflate the ideas of being a good teacher and a good person, but in reality a good teacher will be able to explain ideas to your child in a way that makes them successful, which a nice person can’t necessarily do. Here are my hints for finding a great one:
1. Are they nice? Of course, you want your child to be in the hands of someone who truly cares about them. Private lessons mean spending a lot of 1:1 time, so you really need to think of this person as a potential long-term mentor for your child, beyond teaching musical fundamentals. I always think to myself, “would I be thrilled if my child started picking up their instructor’s habits or attitude?” The answer should be an enthusiastic “Yes!” but the only way to find out is to meet the teacher in person. If the instructor you’re considering doesn’t offer the chance to come by for an “audition,” “interview,” or “trial lesson,” I would pass, because it’s THAT important.
2. Local recommendations-Don’t ask your friends for recommendation-they don’t know. They will just be thrilled to find a nice teacher who knows vaguely more about music than they do. Caveat: unless your friend happens to be formally trained as a musician. Music departments at local universities tend to have their pulse on the local music scene and are a good resource for finding teachers, so I wouldn’t hesitate to send an email. Most music professors are big believers in the arts and would love to advise you given the opportunity.
3. Chemistry- Each of my children does well with a different personality type. My middle daughter loves teachers who are affectionate and gush over her. My oldest son is quiet and thoughtful, and does beautifully with instructors who are the same. My youngest son in lessons right now is a little silly, but easy to reign in, so he enjoys silly teachers and will still work hard when the lessons get rowdy. My youngest daughter, though, once things start getting silly, she’ll totally lose focus and start rolling on the floor, so she needs someone who can really keep things moving and shift focus back to the work at hand.
Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of choosing from an assortment of instructors. If there’s only one bassoon teacher in town and you play the bassoon, then the decision is out of your hands. But if you have the opportunity to talk to a few different teachers, it might help you to see if there’s one in particular who works especially well with your child.
4. Finances-Sometimes cheaper isn’t always better. Sometimes the most expensive isn’t always the best. Often, people charge a lot because they are amazing instructors and their skills absolutely merit that sort of fee. Sometimes people charge a lot just because they want to make a lot, but they really don’t deserve it, so it’s important to do your research.
5. Interview- I always ask questions of a potential music teacher if this information isn’t readily available on their website where I can access it easily. Use the questions below to find out about potential music teacher's background and philosophy:
A) What is your musical background?
I once asked a potential piano teacher this question, and her answer was, “Well, I’ve been teaching piano for 25 years.” But...were they 25 good years or 25 bad years? Teaching many years doesn’t necessarily make you a better teacher. It can, if the teacher is devoted to the art of pedagogy and is actively working to be a better musician and instructor. HOWEVER, the majority of private music teachers out there are just teaching lessons to make a few bucks and really aren’t spectacular.
What you are looking for here is someone who can play at a very advanced level, and who is an excellent instructor as well. Music degrees (especially advanced degrees) are great. Certifications from organizations such as Music Teachers National Association or Suzuki Association of the Americas show that this person is really dedicated to being a great teacher.
It goes without saying that your child will progress faster and be less frustrated with a more qualified teacher.
ALSO: I’m always a little leery of teachers who claim to be experts in more than one discipline. It’s one thing to be qualified to teach similar instruments like the clarinet and saxophone, but another when I see people advertising to teach piano, flute, and violin. Y’all, it takes years and years of dedicated time to master just a single performance area, much less two or three. Occasionally a very rare talented person can do it, but that is the exception.
B) Are you currently doing anything to improve your own musicianship or teaching skills?
Look for answers like:
Attending workshops with local music teachers associations
Attending pedagogy conferences
This is an important question to ask because often “music teachers” aren’t really committed pedagogues. You want to send your child to someone who sees music as a vocation. You want them to go to conferences that inspire them to be the best teacher they can and be actively honing their craft, because your child is the one who ultimately benefits.
I once took lessons from an instructor with a DMA in flute who talked about what she learned in her lesson with her teacher that week. It really made an impact on me at the time because I thought, “You have a doctoral degree in flute! What else is there to learn?!” It just goes to show you that there are always ways to improve and people should always seeking to be better.
C) Are there any particular books or workshops on pedagogy that have made an impact on you?
Ask this question to make sure they aren’t lying about the previous question. :) Then check the answer.
D) What are some of your own musical problems you had to struggle to overcome?
Everyone remembers taking PE in school. There was a subset of kids who were naturally athletic and competitive who loved sports and physical fitness. There was a subset of kids who felt awkward or clumsy and detested gym class for various personal reasons, and there was everyone else in between these two extremes. Of course, I don’t know the exact nationwide statistics of the kids who hate gym class vs. those who thrive on it. Now, out of these three populations, which subset did the gym teacher belong to when he was growing up?
It’s not surprising that students who are naturally gifted in one area often seek a career in that field. Children who are talented in science become scientists. Children who love to cook become chefs. There’s nothing wrong with that! Usually!
Does anyone see a problem with the fact the instructor who naturally relates to only one small group of students will be responsible for designing and instructing a curriculum for the entire student body? What happens to this group over here, then? The group that hates gym class? Each generation of jocks will produce new gym teachers and each new gym teacher will produce a subset of students who hate gym. Don’t you think schools would be more effective if teachers who really struggled with math (but overcame that struggle) taught math? Think of all the empathy and patience they would have!
My point is 1) Everyone has struggled at one point or another, though one person's struggle might be completely minor compared to another's, and that 2) teachers who have had to work hard to overcome difficulties often turn out to be fabulous trouble-shooters. Of course, there are always exceptions, but this is just something to keep in mind.
E) Have any of your students ever had a music problem you couldn’t solve, and what did you do about it?
Hopefully, the answer is YES, because if the answer is “no,” then I would wager the teacher is either very inexperienced or not knowledgeable enough to see a problem staring at them because every student encounters difficulties at some point, with technique, posture, or tone and teachers don’t always have all the answers to every single difficulty. Ideally, the answer would be that they experimented several weeks until the issue was resolved, or that they researched online and in textbooks, or they reached out to their colleagues for suggestions. You want to know that the teacher you find will really stick with your child and help her if your child suddenly develops an obscure complication.
F) Have any of your students ever outgrown you? How did you handle the situation?
This is an important question. There are some extremely qualified teachers (like university professors), who might teach a child for years and though the child’s music skills improve exponentially, they still won’t reach the level of the teacher, and that’s ok.
Sometimes after several years, a very dedicated student might advance tremendously, and a teacher with less formal musical training needs to refer the student to a more accomplished teacher. Remember what I said before, about some teachers just teaching lessons to earn a few extra dollars? Teachers should be committed enough to their students that they absolutely 100% want what’s best for them. Similarly, if an instructor’s teaching philosophy is different than a student’s expectations, the student might do better in the studio of another instructor. If a student is not a good fit for an instructor’s studio,for whatever reason, the teacher is doing a disservice to the student by not referring her out.