The Unconservatory  

How to Select a Music Teacher: A Letter to Parents

by Kirk Whipple and Marilyn Morales

" Say, did you notice how quiet Katie was at the ballet last week? The other kids were pointing at the dancers while she seemed to be watching the orchestra..."

" Kevin just can't stay away from the neighbors since their new piano arrived..."

" We are going to have to find a new teacher for Jenny! She hasn't learned any new pieces this year, and now she doesn't want to even touch her guitar..."

" Everyone keeps telling us how musically gifted our little Derreck is, but we just moved into town and don't know where to begin looking for a teacher..."

Dear parents,

If any of this sounds familiar you may be faced with a very important task. Finding and choosing the right music instructor for your child can be difficult even if you have had music lessons yourself. The following guidelines should make your search a little easier.

Are you ready for your child's musical education?

If a child is going to get the most from music lessons it is essential that parents are prepared to do their part. The following items need to be considered before seeking a teacher.

Your child's interest!

Sometimes parents push their children into lessons because they were unable to have them as a child or, perhaps, because they had to survive them as a child along with the other chores on the farm! Be sure that your child shows some interest in music before committing your time and money and submitting them to a daily practice regimen. A preliminary step might be a two month group lesson format. This could give you a better idea of your child's interest level. Even if music lessons are viewed only as a hobby, careful attention should be given to the child's ability to "stick with it"!

An instrument.

For starters many music instrument companies have leases or rentals. If your child's studies get serious a reputable store will allow you to transfer your previous monthly payments towards a purchase. Since the action or "touch" of a keyboard is important "direct action" console and upright pianos or Yamaha clavinovas are recommended for beginning pianists. Electronic "personal" keyboards will work for beginners (and are great for trips!) but should not be considered as the main long term practice instrument.

If your child's interest is leaning towards band or string instruments some schools have instrument loan programs. Ask your band director or principal about this. Once again you should be able to find a rent to own situation with these instruments.

Practice space.

Sure the piano would look great in the living room, but what is going to happen when the inevitable TV versus practice conflict begins? It is essential that a music student have a relatively quiet place to practice on a daily basis. If you do not have enough space to devote an entire room to music set up a schedule that will allow quality space for everyone's interests.

Materials and funds.

Regular music lessons are not an inexpensive proposition, but one that will give back enormous personal returns. Most music teachers require regular weekly attendance and will ask you to provide study materials. The cost of lessons vary according to several factors including experience, studio conditions and availability of the instructor. Whoever you decide to go with be sure that you can make your child's lessons a permanent factor in your monthly budget.


It will take time each week to go to and from lessons. It is also essential that at least one parent attend a beginning child's lessons and understand what is expected of the student on a weekly basis. It will also take time at home for parents to help with lesson assignments. As a student gets older and more self-directed parents are urged to gradually and completely pull out of the at-home practice sessions. Although the amount of attention required will vary from student to student be sure that you can provide enough time in your schedule to give your budding artist a great start!

O.K! If you have taken care of the previous considerations you are ready to find a music teacher! Their are several sources for finding a good instructor including concerts, the yellow pages, local music teacher organizations and even your own circle of friends. You and your child should have interviews with a few prospective teachers before making a commitment. There are several questions that should be answered as a result of an interview.

How do we feel about this person and their studio environment?

Since it is difficult for children to learn in an uncomfortable environment they should have a good feeling about a potential instructor. If you or the child feel that there would be something that would prevent a smooth parent-teacher relationship talk it over. It is a definite plus, on the other hand, if your child hits it off with a good teacher.

What are this person's qualifications?

It is perfectly normal to ask for a teacher's resume, references and other musical accomplishments. Some people get intimidated when checking out instructors, fearing that they might insult a teacher's professionalism by doing what amounts to a serious background check. If someone objects to this end the interview immediately! A good music teacher can have a very positive effect on a child's life. A poorly trained or otherwise unsuitable teacher may not only be unable to help your child advance but, in some cases, could have a negative influence on your child's life. Ask potential instructors what they are doing to improve their own skills.

What will my child be studying with this person?

There are as many methods as there are teachers. The following is a list of subjects that should be covered by a competent musical instructor:

And, uh, oh yes, um.... how much will it cost?

Since rates for private musical instruction are only regulated by the open market you need to consider each teacher's fees on a personal basis. Professional rates in this area can usually range from $20 to $50 per hour. If you are prepared to pay premium rates be sure that the instructor you are considering can meet the challenge. Some teachers who charge higher fees are worth double their price. Others will be scrambling to get you to believe that! Also beware of people who offer unbelievably low rates. Some may be in a position to offer quality low priced lessons. Others may be worth what they charge.

From ages 4 to 104 it is never too late to begin music lessons. Good luck in your search!


Kirk Whipple and Marilyn Morales,
Artistic Directors of The Unconservatory,
a federal tax exempt non-profit organization

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Updated: January 25, 2001 (KB)

Copyright 2001 The Unconservatory, All Rights Reserved.