Private Lessons: Finding the Right Teacher

100_2801Once you have decided to pursue private lessons, you will need to seek out a teacher. Most band directors keep the contact information for a handful of professional musicians who teach privately, or you can usually find an instructor through your local music store or university. There are also a handful of teachers who offer online lessons via Skype.* Where should you start?

The best way to find a teacher is almost always word-of-mouth. Ask for recommendations from people you know–and remember to include other trumpet students, especially those who are more advanced. If you are a parent, remember to involve your son/daughter in this process–he or she might already know of a teacher who would be a good match. As you ask around, you might even find that one or two names continually resurface.

Once you have a name or two, do your homework! Look these people up online–many teachers, especially college students, do not maintain a website. But those who do will often include sound clips, which will help you evaluate whether this is someone to emulate.

Bear in mind that private trumpet instructors (unlike college professors) are not used to students who try out two or three teachers before settling on one.** Many are freelancers whose bread and butter comes from lessons, and consequently they like commitment. Though some may suggest signing up for only one lesson at first, they are really hoping to be able to get to the end of that hour and say, “Same time next week?” If you respond with, “Well, we want to try two or three other people…”, many will write you off.

For most students, committing to lessons with a good teacher is a better plan anyway than searching for the best teacher, because a teacher’s impact is best measured over the long haul. The following litmus test will help you predict whether you should sign up for more lessons–regardless of the student’s age, s/he needs to confidently answer “yes” to three questions:

  1. Do I want to sound like this player?
  2. Does this person teach in a way that is engaging and easy to understand?
  3. Am I willing to trust this person’s judgment about everything related to my instrument?

Since most teachers play in lessons, you will be able to answer the first two questions after the first meeting (or sooner, if the teacher maintains a website with sound clips!). The third question is a tacit contract that both the student and parent need to understand from the outset. I have been blessed with wonderful clients who seem perfectly content to trust my judgment. But I have colleagues who tell me about students who won’t make changes because they believe they know better; parents with music backgrounds who try to “supplement” private lessons with additional (often contradictory) information; and non-trumpet-playing band directors whose well-meant advice is partially incorrect. When you sign up for regular private lessons, you implicitly agree to rely upon the advice of someone you are paying as an expert. Please do yourself a favor and follow this person’s instructions.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at some of the practical questions associated with private lessons–how long, how often, and how much.

Happy practicing! :)


* I use Skype for online coaching and plan to launch a private lesson initiative with my university students in the fall. If you are interested in taking lessons online with one of my college students, please email me after September 1, 2013.

** Finding a college teacher is altogether more complex and worthy of a separate post. Most university professors do not teach junior high/high school students, but their students probably will.

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