Trial lessons with multiple teachers from same school

June 6, 2021, 9:47 PM · My son is finishing up sophomore year and we recently had a discussion with his teacher about starting to think about who he wants trial lessons with as he begins the college admission process.

She said one thing to me that both surprised me but also made sense -- that it can be problematic to have trial lessons with more than one teacher from the same institution. Apparently, at some schools they interpret that as playing one teacher against another. She advised trying to narrow it down to one preferred teacher at each school. At the same time, it's hard to narrow down BEFORE the trial lesson, if you know what I mean. What if you end up not liking the teacher? That school is just then ruled out?

I was wondering if anybody had experienced this situation or what your advice would be in this area. At a few schools he is interested in more than one teacher.

Replies (10)

Edited: June 7, 2021, 2:28 AM · Yes, I think I can see there could be some difficulties with that! Quite apart from the inevitable fact that some teachers are likely to be oversubscribed at the expense of others, any impression gained from a trial lesson is sure to be superficial and influenced by numerous factors of questionable importance.

If teaching is to be treated as a commodity, why not take it to the logical conclusion of online reviews and 1-5 star ratings?

June 7, 2021, 3:37 AM · I think narrowing it down to 1 or 2 teachers you want to meet and then take it from there seems sensible. After all, you have to start somewhere. However, if you feel unhappy in any way with these trial lessons, even if it's just for a superficial reason, by all means have trial lessons with other teachers at the same school.
To a certain degree, teaching is a commodity (it's not just a commodity, of course), I think. You're paying a person up to $250 an hour for a service. If you're with a teacher for just 5 years that can come up to $65.000. That's a lot of money. So I think it's fair enough to make sure that the teacher and the student get along and are a good fit. So by all means, try out as many teachers as you like. Just be polite, clear and open about it.
June 7, 2021, 7:42 AM · My son spent a lot of time taking trial lessons before auditioning in the winter of 2020. He received the same advice that you have received - only take a lesson with one professor at a school. I don't know too much about the internal politics, but I do know that, come audition day, all of the teachers are in the same room listening to the auditions. This was true at Rice, Colburn, NEC, Eastman, and Oberlin. Juilliard was a bit different as it was not all teachers in the audition, but there were a sizable number.

There are some teachers who (as of two years ago) do not give trial lessons at all. There may be some who are now willing to give lessons over Zoom. Once again, pre-pandemic, no one wanted to give a virtual trial lesson. Interestingly, taking additional lessons at summer programs does not seem to be frowned upon. He was able to take a few extra lessons at Aspen and that information was very telling.

Happy to share more information if you would like.

Edited: June 7, 2021, 8:23 AM · I can see the rationale for the "one teacher per school" rule. I also think that in many ways it's really sad because if it's really true that having a trial lesson with more than one teacher at a particular conservatory creates such seismic political rifts among the faculty, to the point where they can't even evaluate auditions fairly, then it's obvious they aren't attaching sufficient priority to what is best for their prospective students. You would think they would want to find the best match, for everyone involved.

I view a conservatory baccalaureate education as basically the same thing as jumping from high school to graduate school in the sense that one is focused from the outset on a narrow academic outcome, and one's education is highly organized around a primary guru. It's a bit like being a chemistry grad student -- you have a major professor, but you also have an advisory committee of three or four professors, plus you do take some classes normally.

In many STEM graduate programs these days, students rotate during their first year among three (or so) different labs to see which research program, lab culture, and advising style suits them the best; faculty members do also have some say in who they want to teach. Maybe this would be a better approach for situations in which the student is not already sure (from prior connections in summer programs or whatever) with which of the various teaching faculty they would prefer to study.

I think if you sign up with one teacher for a lesson, then it's one-and-done, because if you come back a couple of weeks later and ask for a lesson with a different teacher, it will be obvious why you have done so. So if you want lessons with two teachers at one school, get them both scheduled before either one occurs. That's my two cents, admittedly based on essentially zero knowledge of the conservatoire application process.

Edited: June 7, 2021, 11:11 AM · This is another place where wealth, privilege and connections play a part. A student that's had the opportunity to have contact with multiple teachers at a school, over the years -- from summer festivals, camps, etc. -- has an advantage in being able to immediately narrow down who they're interested in. And a teacher who's well connected and familiar with the teaching styles of many teachers at a particular school can make a solid recommendation to the student as to who their best match is likely to be.

Susan, given your son's program, teacher, and previous opportunities, I'm guessing that you're in a good position to make good guesses as to the right teachers to choose for trial lessons.

June 7, 2021, 11:57 AM · Lydia, his program and teacher definitely have lots of suggestions. Under normal circumstances, he would have been exposed to many more teachers, but due to the pandemic, this has been restricted to some degree over the past two years. He's still probably in a better place than most, though.

It will be interesting to see how things evolve in the next two years with trial lessons. I really hope more schools/professors will begin offering them remotely. That would make things so much easier and fairer for students, as many are unable to travel due to expense or parent obligations.

Steve, thanks for sharing your experience. As we get further along in this process, I will likely be asking you lots of questions!

Edited: June 7, 2021, 12:40 PM · When I was accepted to a large, major music school, a violin teacher was assigned to me. Not being a major prodigy, I did not expect to be able to make a choice, and I had no illusions about having lessons with the famous soloist on the faculty. Fortunately, my teacher was very good, as it should be for any first- tier violin program.
June 7, 2021, 5:37 PM · Joel, that's how it was for me as well. And to be honest, that method is somewhat easier than the method today. We've been told by two top professors at schools that they won't even consider a student these days who has not had a trial lesson or worked with them in some capacity. Which seems really unfair to a lot of players who don't have the ability to make that happen...
Edited: June 8, 2021, 2:14 AM · As I see it the problem with trial lessons in which the teacher is under the spotlight is that the criterion of how well they "perform" can only be how well the pupil enjoys the experience. A similar argument applies in the context of medical consultation. In both circumstances I think we the pupil or patient are not in a good position to judge what is best for us or who should be responsible for our case.

However after a period of time (maybe 3 months?) we may have sufficient experience and feel strongly enough to decide whether or not to proceed with the prescribed course of "treatment". This occurred to me twice in the course of my education, when I felt impelled to go to the powers that be and plead, first for a change of subject and 5 years later for a change of my principal supervisor. In both cases I was left with some catching up to do and although I have no regrets I have no way of knowing if either switch was ultimately beneficial.

June 8, 2021, 2:52 PM · I have generally found my experience with trial lessons (as opposed to masterclass exposure) to be fairly reflective of what the teacher would be like long-term.

I don't think "enjoyment" has anything to do with it, though. I'm interested in "Does this teacher explain things in a way that I can easily understand? Do they welcome my questions, offer good responses, and appear to be a good listener? Do they have a flexible way of tackling a challenge? Can they offer insights that someone hasn't offered me before? Do they understand my goals and have a plan for helping me achieve them?"

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