Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Choosing the Right Music Instructor, pt. 2

Now that you know what your goals are in terms of music lessons, here are some very general pieces of information which will help you to make an informed decision regarding your child's potential music teacher. 


Typically, education is the first thing parents want to find out. It is the shortest means of discovering any kind of credentials. In the past, I have not stressed a formal education due to my notion that instructors and musicians could be very effective through experience alone. Of course, it goes without saying that this is still the case – I myself began lessons with an older woman teaching out of her home, she never attended university, but she had been teaching for about 50 years, and simply by virtue of that fact she knew the needs of her students very well. On the other hand; a college education does create the opportunity to attend classes such as pedagogy and child/adolescent development courses all the while honing one's instrumental ability.


This is an area that I find profoundly important, much more so than music teachers having a four year (or more) degree. An instructor must be continually learning in order to know what is out there in terms of the teaching world. Magazines such as “American Music Teacher,” “MENC Periodicals,” and “Music Teacher Magazine” are some examples of publications that contain wonderful information on practical instruction.

In addition to magazines, a good instructor should have several “go-to” texts which forms their theoretical basis in the studio. Most major areas of study have some seminal book to its instruction, you could ask in the interview or in conversation to which books your child's potential teacher adheres. If she/he is able to converse with you and explain what they liked about the book, its a good sign that they pay attention to what other experts have to say regarding music instruction.

Which leads me to the next point...

Are They in Lessons Themselves?

Many parents/students seem surprised when an instructor states that they are still taking lessons. It shouldn't really be shock, continuing personal and professional development shows dedication to the craft – something that is very admirable in any expert. This is something that is absolutely vital for a teacher maintaining a realistic vantage point during their own teaching. An instructor enrolled in lessons sets a good example to all of that instructor's students – it also give the instructor another expert with whom to discuss issues that arise in teaching. It should be noted that for a professional musician, weekly lessons might not be necessary, but at the very least, a teacher should check in with another instructor ever couple of months.

Professional Memberships?

A good instructor will have a membership in at least one professional organization. Music Teachers' National Association (MTNA), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and North American Music Teachers' Association (NAMTA) are just to name a few. Professional organizations provide a network for teachers to collaborate, share ideas/knowledge, recommend products and a host of other benefits. Most professional organizations also have yearly conferences where experts present, new literature is shown and technology unveiled all with the hopes of making private studios better.

Background Check?

Most studios have some sort of background check procedure. Many opt for the state fingerprint card which is bar-none the most reliable. There are however many private background check companies that do a comparable job in looking at criminal records as well as enquiring about general reputation and searching the internet for information. NAMTA members have an option to submit to a background check which shows up on their teacher profile, other organizations might have similar services. In the end, it is up to you how important this aspect of the selection process is.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Choosing the right music instructor Pt. 1

Question: What are my plans, or goals for my child?

This isn’t as easy to answer as you might think, and your answer will be different depending on the circumstances that brought you to looking for a music instructor. Perhaps your child has shown a genuine interest – maybe at age5 or 6 they are listening intently to Glen Gould or Horowitz and begged you for lessons every day for months. It’s a rare occurrence but not one that is totally unheard of.  More commonly, a child will be exposed to a music performance and this will spark a desire to try out the new thing they have seen. More common still, lessons are a parent’s ambition for their children as music is part of a complete education woefully left out of our public schools (that is, here in the USA where I live).

The reason these situations are of so much importance is that it will alter the kind of instructor you seek out. For the child that in grossly ambitious beyond their years, you are going to need the kind of teacher who can deal with prodigies – I would argue that it isn’t as important to hire someone who really understands children because a youngster in the first situation is likely to be very self-motivated. Of course, this is also the most rare of circumstances and you must be very very sure that your child fits that first description.

An example of the kind of youngster who probably doesn't need to be told to practice. 

Here is another one.

The second situation is one that has to be handled gingerly, your child shows a genuine interest to learn and you want to seek out someone who will challenge them, but at the same time understands a correct pace of learning for all developmental levels. My advice would be to find someone who focuses on collaborative work between student and teacher, where music can be as much a social outlet as an intellectual one. This method tends to keep the students engaged all the while enhancing their intellectual needs.

A wonderful performance by a teenager who has probably worked quite hard for some time

In the third situation, one where the parent is responsible for initiating music lessons, it is important to find a teacher who is sensitive to the fact that not everyone aspires to play Carnegie call. I know this should sound like a given, but you have to remember that most music instructors were at one time (or still are) aspiring professionals – meaning they fit into one of the first two categories as children  It is not the norm at all, that a music instructor would be so desperately out of touch  - but it can happen. For this reason, it would be advisable to find out how many diverse activities are implemented in the program. For instance; are musical games played? Is there use of technology? Is the instructor willing to pursue music interesting to your child and so on.

Where it all starts - my students love learning this piece

It should be noted that any professional teacher, of any quality what-so-ever should be able to construct a viable lesson plan for any of the above three situations. Most of us who have received degrees in music were required to take some amount of pedagogy and  developmental psychology. Still the more important thing to take away from all of this is that you should be very upfront with potential instructors regarding your child’s interest level.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Level 1 Hindustani Vocal Exercises

Sing along with the following exercises to improve your ear and vocal flexibility. Sing the sargam (sa re ga) with the harmonium then repeat the phrase exactly over the drone in akar (on an "ah" vowel)