Let's face it: the violin is one of the most difficult instruments to learn to play, and the same goes for viola, cello and bass. At a certain point, most violin students -- whether they are beginners or advanced students, children or adults -- find they need some dependable guidance. That is why it is so important to find a good teacher, and to choose that teacher thoughtfully.
How do you go about finding a good violin teacher, asking that teacher for lessons, and then getting set up? Here are some guidelines to help you through that process; thoughts and ideas that I've gathered from 20 years running Violinist.com and 30 years as a violin teacher. I hope you find them to be helpful!
Finding a teacher:
Your first task will be to gather a list of some names of potential teachers for your child or for yourself. These days, we tend to turn to the Internet for answers, and this can give you some leads, but don't neglect to explore your local "real world" when looking for a violin teacher or other kind of private music teacher. This is also your opportunity to get a feel for a teacher's reputation: who comes with the highest recommendations from students, parents and other teachers? How well is a teacher is respected in the community? Here are some suggestions of places to look and people to contact to help you get recommendations and ideas:
How much should lessons cost?
This is a very local question, and it greatly depends on the cost of living in your area as well as the reputation and expertise of the teacher. Remember, the lowest-cost, most accommodating teacher may seem like a "great deal," but may not actually be the wisest use of your time and money. A good teacher is going to cost some money, because that person has invested a great deal of time and money in becoming an expert at both playing and teaching. A good teacher is also going to make some demands on you, such as: you will need to commit to attending regular lessons, you will need to practice daily, you will need to participate in recitals, group classes, etc. So expect that you will have to invest both money and time in order to make this work.
What questions should I ask? Reviewing a teacher's credentials
A good violin (or viola, cello, bass, piano, etc.) teacher has expertise in playing the instrument, has expertise in teaching the instrument, and has experience teaching. Of course, the degree of each kind of expertise will vary in every potential teacher: a younger teacher may not have as much experience; an elite performer may have an impressive performing resume but little formal education in teaching; a teacher who majored in education may have more pedagogy training than performing credits. These can all be great teachers, but you will have to decide what you value and trust most and go with that. It is very important that you trust in the expertise of your teacher, so you can fully commit to that teacher's plans and ideas for you.
Here are a few questions to ask - and you may be able to answer these simply from looking at a teacher resume or online biography:
Approaching a teacher
Remember, when you are approaching a teacher, this is not the same thing as buying a consumer product such as a good tennis racket. Certainly, you need to balance quality with cost, and you need to see if a teacher's style and personality will work with you or with your child. But a good teacher will also be making a judgment about you - are you committed to learning and to practice? Will you work in good faith with a teacher? Are you respectful? The teacher-student relationship can often last for many, many years. Ponder this question, which goes both ways: "What are you doing every Wednesday at 4 p.m. for the next five years? Would you spend 30-60 minutes with me?"
Here are some guidelines for your first correspondence with a potential teacher:
Meeting in person
It is not always necessary to meet in person before committing to lessons with a particular teacher, but it can be helpful for both parties, to help get a feel for whether or not you are a good fit for each other. Obviously, neither student nor teacher can get a full picture in one meeting, but you can get a sense of each other's personalities and whether you communicate well and feel comfortable. Here are some ideas about what to do in an in-person meeting:
Deciding if a teacher is right for you
After talking with a teacher (or with several), you'll have to decide whether or not you would like to commit to lessons with this teacher. Here are some questions to ask yourself, once you have gathered all the information:
The very young child (age eight and under)
If you are considering lessons for a very young child, it is important to understand that this is a big commitment for a parent. Simply put, it's not easy. A child under the age of eight will need daily practice supervision, private lessons and group lessons. It is the parent(s) who will be making that commitment and supervising the fulfillment of that commitment. The most common method for starting very young students is The Suzuki Method; if you wish to read further about this, here is an article that explains the Suzuki Method in detail.
I hope this helps you in your search for the best possible teacher for you or your child! Please feel free to share any further suggestions and ideas below.
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