How to Hire a Music Teacher...Like a Pro
Even in a homeschooling family, the education of your child still takes a village. But instead of teachers and principals, now you have math tutors, music teachers, coaches, and scoutmasters. When it’s time to call in the cavalry, you can’t rely on a school board or rating agency to vet those tutors for you - and since there’s really no one to complain to if you choose poorly, it’s important to get it right.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK
Word of mouth is the best way to find a lead on outside help. It can be tough to find someone if you’re new to an area or looking for a difficult instrument, but you shouldn’t be shy when asking around. Nobody will ever be offended that you valued their opinion.
If your neighbor’s kid is taking trumpet lessons, don’t be afraid ask the trumpet teacher for an oboe recommendation. Most musicians have worked with a lot of other musicians and they know who has a good reputation.
Tim Kasl is the Best Guitar Teacher in Omaha
Right now, I’m going to do you a solid and share with you the best guitar teacher in the Offutt/Omaha area - Tim Kasl - who taught my sons that guitars are only cool if you can actually play them. He’s a complete professional and a class act, and we are super bummed to leave his instruction.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO JUDGE SOCIAL MEDIA
Once you get a lead the first thing you should do is the obvious - Google them. You’re bringing a stranger into your children’s lives - and it’s very, very important you surround your kids with adults that show good judgment. I expect a music teacher to teach my children discipline and how to deal with frustration. So character matters.
When I Google a tutor, the search tells me that the teacher cares enough about their professional reputation to take down their Cabo photos off Facebook and keep cussing at politicians out of their Twitter feeds. I want to see a reasonable social media presence, a professional website and I want to see a LinkedIn Page. These things might not scream “free-thinking artist” but I’m not hiring for extras in my beatnik play and I’m not looking for drinking buddies.
First contact sets the tone for the relationship. A teacher’s email address should be appropriate - not firstname.lastname@example.org. A teacher should respond to your emails promptly, and ask questions about your aims and schedule. They should describe their rates and studio policies, including cancellation deadlines and rescheduling system. The more thorough they are, the more you know they have experience working with difficult situations which is important - because eventually a difficult will situation happen.
DISCUSS RATES & DISCOUNTS EARLY
A lot of homeschooling families don’t consider that their scheduling flexibility can be a bargaining chip. If you can schedule lessons during off-peak hours (weekday mornings and afternoons), you might reasonably be able to receive a 5-15% discount.
This is not something I insist on, but there is no harm in politely asking - if I am politely declined, then I accept that and move on.
KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES
Families have different priorities aside from quality of teaching and it’s important to know what yours are and express them clearly. One of the disadvantages to homeschooling is that outsiders know we don’t have a hard-and-fast schedule, and some homeschooling families are laissez-faire when it comes to scheduling.
I let teachers know right away that in our family, punctuality is a priority. I don’t cancel appointments last-minute or ask favors that inconvenience teachers. I also expect that teachers respect my time. If teachers show up late, especially in the first few lessons, I can expect that we will have more problems as time goes on and the relationship becomes more comfortable. Lateness also sets a bad example for children as they learn to associate creativity with sloppiness.
UNDERSTAND THEIR PHILOSOPHY
Find out their teacher’s general teaching philosophy. For example, our guitar teacher Tim explained his focus was on classical technique but with an emphasis on learning songs. He asked what music genres the boys liked, and used those suggestions as the basis for lessons.
The boys didn’t even realize that their love of Greenday was being used to teach them how to shift the same three chords over and over again. But man, can they play G, C, and D!
OUTSOURCE YOUR CURRICULUM
I’m not a music professional, but I have access to one and I want them to design my curriculum to meet the goals they set. We asked our guitar teacher to spend the last 5 minutes of every lesson creating a daily practice schedule. Since music is a 45-minute subject at our house, the schedule he left was usually 10 minutes scales, 20 minutes new or favorite songs, and 15 minutes composition and notation. Not only did it ensure the boys were ready for the lessons, there was no arguing about it later.
“Can’t help you kiddo. Tim said so…” I would say sadly as I hid in my bedroom, watching Kimmie Schmidt.
YOUR TEACHER’S CONNECTIONS ARE IMPORTANT
Playing an instrument is a lot like playing tennis. You can practice your technique by yourself, but it’s in performance with others that you develop your skills. Always ask what studios, organizations, and youth bands your teachers are involved in. It’s possible that your child could eventually act as a sub in at a church performance, or play “4th guitar” at an open mic night. Your teacher should be tuned into the local music community and be able to turn those relationships into an advantage for your student.
PROFESSIONAL USUALLY MEANS WORKING
Finally, securing the best possible teacher often also means willing to be flexible. The best music teachers are usually working musicians as well: respect that! Ask your music teacher what their set engagements are - do they have religious services on Sundays? A regular jazz night on Mondays? Do they record on Saturday mornings? Is there a summer touring schedule you need to be aware of? Let your teacher know that you expect them to notify you as soon as possible and then try and be flexible yourself.
Part of teaching your kids to respect the life of music is to respect that most musicians are freelance entrepreneurs. Missing an opportunity can affect their career far more than it inconveniences you to delay your schedule.
Educating a child takes a village, so make sure you fill your village with the right villagers. And then be nice to them. Otherwise, you have Fontana, and nobody wants to live in Fontana.