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Finding an instrumental teacher

Learning your first instrument can be a minefield without the right help and some direction. Pianist and 2020 Young Musicians’ Bursary Winner Jessica Yuen, shares her thoughts on how to get the most from your lessons and what to look for in a teacher.

You have chosen your instrument; it is sitting in your house somewhere just waiting to be played! However, you have likely already tried – as I did when I first got my viola – and found that unfortunately it does not sound quite like the recordings you have heard of it… How will you ever get there? Finding the right teacher is not easy; I was lucky enough to find that the first teacher my parents found for me as a child and I got along well. However, most of my friends have had to try lessons with multiple teachers before they find the one who they enjoy learning with. It can be a daunting process- where do you even find one? How do you know that they’re good? Are they going to make my child cry? Are they going to make me cry?

Yes, you can search online for instrumental teachers in the area. Dozens of local musicians will appear on the screen for you to wade through. However, the sheer volume can be overwhelming.  A good strategy to employ is to look at musicians that teach in the schools in your area and contact them to ask if they teach private lessons; they usually do.

In answer to “How do you know that the teacher is good?”, the simple answer is to have a few lessons and find out! You can indeed get a general idea of the personality of the teacher as a person by asking their students, however you can only find out if the teacher is right for you by having lessons with them.

For example, I know of a few teachers which create strict practice programmes of scales, arpeggios and aural skills for their students. I also know of a few teachers which let the student direct their own lessons and direct their own practice entirely. You will find that, over time, you will develop a feeling for whether you like the way your lessons with that teacher work.

It is almost a rite of passage to cry after a music lesson. If you ask any musician out there at all, it is almost certain that they have cried after (or indeed, during) a lesson. Contrary to popular belief, crying after a lesson does not necessarily mean that the teacher is a monster.

I remember distinctly that after my first piano lesson with a new teacher, I left the practice room, sat on the floor and cried – I wish I could say I was a child when this happened, but I was actually 15! This was not because my teacher made me cry, but because it was a different teacher with whom I had not had a lesson with before. It was a change of scenery which was overwhelming, with no fault of my new teacher. Crying itself is not something to be afraid of, but if it is happening consistently it can be a useful indicator that you may need to seek another teacher who you will work better with.

You may wonder to yourself, why am I even doing this? Perhaps you’re a parent or an adult who has a career that is worlds away from music. What use is a musical instrument to you? The answer is simple (for once!) – it is enjoyable.  Instrumental practice is a constant learning curve that never ends, and it is a wonderful journey to wander down.

Click here to watch Jessica’s winning performance.