How to Find a Music Teacher for Your Child



I took piano lessons off and on from age six into my early twenties. And my late spouse taught guitar full-time for decades in the town we lived. He was also a regularly gigging musician. In summer, he taught “rock school” — week-long camps, in which he’d group young musicians and they’d learn how to “be a band” and perform, which is all very different from September-June lessons.

When a student didn’t practice (barring some weeks that are just too crazy/illness/regular-life-stuff), he’d discuss with a parent. When a student forgot to show up with their music books (ah! the ultimate way to get out of not-having-practiced), he’d send them out to take our dog for a walk around the block, equipped with doggy bag for the inevitable. (They would not forget their books a second time…)

He was respectful of people’s time, and had a clock in the waiting area for pre-lessons. Students were instructed to come in at their time, and out went the previous student. Students who fell in love with jazz — my spouse’s weak point — were scheduled as last of the day, and he’d give them extra time. All got their dollars’ worth. So this post is coming from these experiences. Read on…

What instrument to learn

Some kids ask for a particular instrument: trumpet, drums, bagpipes. But you might want something that you see as “foundational,” thinking that your child will acquire musical knowledge for life, and can choose their own instrument later. What to do…

There are musical programs for young children, comprehensive programs that leave one with some general knowledge. Often they are group lessons, and focused on “fun.” This is not really what I’m focused on here. But especially for very young children, you might want to look into this.

Usually, if thinking “foundational,” we’re thinking piano or guitar. Not so long ago every home had a piano. Now those coveted instruments are retiring to landfills. If you want a piano, you no longer have to pay for one; people are giving them away. (Look in the “free” local paper column, and online listings.)

Piano can give the young musician a rather spatial sense — higher notes go off to the right, bass notes to the left. Sharps and flats — black notes — are all laid out in front of you.

Guitar gives this too: frets farther up are higher notes… and so on. Not quite laid out in the same way, though. But the musician develops “feel,” holding it in their hands.

With both you can learn to read bass and treble (generally left and right hand) notes. (And how important is reading music…? See below.)

Many feel a child should learn a “basic” instrument before moving on to what they want to learn. My take is that is too discouraging. If your child has a passion to play something else, I’d suggest you go with that. Or discuss, and set a time and goal: “Study the piano for a year, and you can go on to the accordion the next.”

What is it about anyway?

Playing music has many aspects to it; I feel a bit ill when I hear people talking about the “educational” piece— the “wee Mozart” stuff — as if the sole purpose of learning music is to make you better at math (just learn math!) or smarter in some way. Play music because you love music — learn because it makes you feel good. Music is its own wonder-filled thing.

And there are social aspects to it, too… so if thinking “piano or guitar?” remember that it’s a lot easier to sling a guitar over your back and play it anywhere. Piano, not so much. But an accordion is a keyboard, and can go anywhere! And if you want to see an accordion replace a guitar in a rock band, check out the all-women St. Petersburg band Iva Nova, discovered at my local “Accordion Noir” festival one fine October night.

Keep an open mind. Music brings joy and solace. (Take your kids to music festivals!)

What to look for in a teacher

Again, this has a lot to do with what you/your child wants from this experience. I had a total of three teachers as a child, and two as an adult.

Different teachers for different learners. If you have no musical knowledge yourself, it is tough to know if the teacher is teaching proper technique (or does this matter?) or optimal method (what is the end result you want?)

For instance, my earliest teacher at age 6, taught from the “Michael Aaron” books, with weekly scales and exercises to practice. Mostly though, she made crunchy peanut brittle, and I especially appreciated those weeks!

But I was bored, and wanted something else — I didn’t know what — by age eleven. At that time, “Yamaha” group lessons were the Thing… so off I went for a couple years.

It was a “chord” method. Which was great, but my capacity to learn to read bass clef music went to nothing. And no one explained how the chords actually functioned. I’m not sure the teacher knew.

In my teens, I went to a teacher because someone recommended him and he was kind of cute. I learned next to nothing. But I didn’t practice either. His patience was his strength.

As a young adult, away from home, I missed music. I found a teacher who had a lot of royal conservatory letters after her serious-sounding name. She proved to be exactly as advertised, and we spent the first 18 months unlearning all of my poor technique. She stressed good technique — proper hand placement, and more, so that one could develop strength and speed for more complicated works.

She made certain ALL her students, regardless of age or interest, played in public at least twice a year, and before class, in between students, I would sit outside her door (she taught in the basement bicycle room of a downtown apartment) and listen to her PLAY. And she could play. Her playing made me want to weep in the best way. I connected with classical music in a way I hadn’t before.

Ask your teacher to play you something… does this person inspire?

It wasn’t until a boyfriend suggested I take a few jazz classes that someone not only explained chord construction and theory, but also FINALLY explained what the scales are about.

“Here,” he said, “this is a blues scale. You use these notes as you would any vocabulary; these are the notes you use to create a song or to improvise in this key.”

I had to remind myself to close my astonished mouth. Oh! That’s what a scale is about; it’s not just finger dexterity and punishment.

So each teacher has had a role in this education of mine.

Reading music; learning by ear; theory; a mix

We all have our biases. I learned to read music but when, as an adult, I began to play my Dad’s old saxophone, once I learned all the fingering, I forced myself to play by ear and intuition while listening to recorded music. I did this so I would not be reliant on written music; there’s a lot to be said for those who learn by ear. A teacher who can share a blend of learning styles and approaches is rare.

My sons’ teacher taught them to have some fun on her hand drums to learn rhythm, and she did teach them to read music, but she also worked with improvisational material, and song-writing. She taught chord construction alongside basic theory for musical understanding. Altogether a tricky mix. It meant, as a parent, accepting that my boys weren’t progressing from one book to another, being tested, and getting some annual certificate. Some students and parents need this for a sense of progression.

She had two recitals each year, and all were expected to share music — the development of that social aspect. My spouse had students work together, and play together, for these events. There’s a lot to be said for playing with other musicians as soon as possible; it makes for less self-consciousness, and develops intuition. And yes, adds to that fun piece.

And how to read the signs of what the teacher is really about

Do you want a teacher who is also a working musician? They might not gig a lot, but at least a bit? Or someone completely focused on teaching? If you’re looking for a teacher for an older child, one who is thinking about performing, then I’d suggest looking for a teacher who is a working musician.

Ask what music they like. Try to get a sense of their musical values — what is that they enjoy about teaching?

What expectations do they have about practicing? And are these realistic? What you want for your child? Do you want them to play with others?

Discuss with your child the idea of trying out more than one teacher — have a lesson with a small number.

A note from the teachers’ perspective:

Teachers should have rules around missing lessons and make-up lessons. You can’t expect to miss a lesson, give little (or no!) notice and have them fill in the time later. Most music teachers are self-employed, and a student not showing up costs them. Some will ask for a ten-month commitment for the year — fair enough. But they should be open to being paid for a single lesson as a way to determine if they’re a good fit before committing.

A note on practicing:

No teacher can accomplish anything with a student who carries home their books and leaves them collecting dust all week until the next lesson.

With young children — primary-school aged, and even a bit older (you know your child) — I found that if I spent time sitting with them, at least when they started their daily session, that went a long way. For the non-musical parent this works really well: have your child explain what they’re learning. We learn best by teaching others!

Another key piece is to make certain they do not miss practicing the day immediately after! If they are going to miss a day or two, let it happen later in the week. But that day-after-lesson is critical to remembering what happened in that 30 minutes.

Young children can feel lost if told to practice for 20 minutes, and then just left sitting on their own with the instrument. Join them and create a routine with flexibility: some focus on the tasks set out by the teacher, some loose “playing” time. Time spent showing a younger sibling or you. Time reviewing a piece they’ve learned in the past — so they can feel the sense of having learned, being able to create Music!


  • Check out your town/city facebook pages for people looking for recommendations
  • Ask your child’s school teacher for a recommendation — they know how your child learns
  • Check in with your local homeschooling group. These groups are everywhere now. They might have some great suggestions (especially if funds are an issue for your family, as most homeschool families live on limited income). The group might even have some teen-aged musicians who have a good grasp on different ways to learn and are up for teaching a beginner
  • Scrutinize the local listings for music teachers and schools. Costly doesn’t mean best; neither does a string of letters after a name. Still… lessons should not be inexpensive either — the person should have confidence that they have something to offer you. And sometimes, the most costly is for good reason. Try to read between the lines after you ask some questions
  • If you go out and listen to local musicians play, ask them during a set break or after a performance; musicians know musicians, and can recommend. Or you may love their playing and ask if they teach!

With thanks to Walter Rhein — this piece was inspired by his story of a music teacher…

This post was previously published on


The post How to Find a Music Teacher for Your Child appeared first on The Good Men Project.