No matter what your age learning to play an instrument has proven advantages, possibly the main one being that it increases the proportion of the brain being used so your brain has to work harder and thus increasing your brain’s functionality. It can also increase your spatial awareness and in children it has also been shown to aid language development as well as produce an increase in IQ.
So you’ve decided that you would like to learn, but how to go about finding a tutor? What questions do you need to be asking?
First of all you need to ascertain what you can afford. This might seem simple and obvious but working out your budget is essential. You will need to pay for an instrument (either hire or go straight to buying one), pay for lessons, exam fees, books and for a service on your instrument once a year. If the instrument breaks can you get it fixed? Can you afford fuel to get to the tutor’s house? (Some tutors will come to your house, but many require you to go to them, particularly if the instrument you are learning, eg piano, isn’t very moveable.)
It’s also important to think about what you want from your lessons. You need to find out if the teacher is purely exam driven. While for some it is only exam results that matter, others are more flexible and will let you play ‘fun’ pieces and drive your learning that way, maybe doing an exam once every few years. Think about which you would prefer and make that clear to prospective teachers.
Ask other parents for recommendations and ask their children what they think too of the teacher, especially if you’re looking for lessons for your child. If your friend’s child/children find the teacher to harsh or off putting then ask yourself whether that would be right for your little one.
When you’ve found a tutor, ask if you can sit in on the taster lesson as this will give you a feel for the teacher and make you feel either more secure in your choice or give you an inkling that you might need to keep looking.
Make sure you ask the teacher what their expectations are, especially when it comes to practice times. If you’ve got a young child but the teacher is still expecting 1 hour of practice a day then your child will, more than likely, not fill the teacher’s exceptions and not benefit positively from the experience.
Also enquire whether the teacher puts on recitals or concerts. If they do then try and go to one before signing up with them. Having some beginners at a performance who struggle through it is completely normal – we all have to start somewhere - but there should also be people there who play beautifully. If there isn’t then that should be raising some concerns. Ask whether performing at these concerts is obligatory. While you or your child may thrive on the stage, for some it is an awful experience that can be rather off-putting.
Ask how the teacher wants to be paid. Do they want paying every lesson? Pre-pay for a block of lessons or will they invoice you after a block of lessons has been completed? Do they want cheque, bank transfer or even cash?
It is always important to find the right teacher, even if that means going further afield. A good teacher will push you further than your think you can ever achieve and make you do things you never thought you would be able to do. A bad teacher, or one just not suited to your personality, will have the opposite effect and could but you off the instrument for life.
Don’t rule a teacher out just because of their age, particularly if they are only just starting out teaching. These teachers sometimes prove to be the best.
How to know if you’ve got the right teacher?
They should be able to make you feel comfortable and confident, even when you are struggling and not grasping what come easily to others;
They should be able to challenge and push you to new heights you never thought you could/would reach;
They should always be honest to help you achieve your best and should NEVER put you down;
They should always work to your goals, not theirs, and put a plan in place to help you achieve what you want;
They need to be able to communicate ideas that you just don’t understand in many different ways, as many times as necessary, with patience and understanding until it clicks;
They should also be prepared to say when they think it is time for you to move teachers, especially if you have reached as high as they can take you and for you to improve anymore, a different teacher would be needed.
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