Picking The Teacher That's Right For You

Written by: April Vargo


I come across a wide array of students, each with different interests and experience levels wanting to participate in music or theatre.  Each person has different goals and milestones they are hoping to achieve in a given amount of time.  Some are looking to improve upon their skills, build up their repertoire, just for sheer enjoyment, nail an audition, get work, and / or meet new people.   

Sometimes picking the teacher to study with or the program you want to partake in is the biggest hurdle.  Studying with the wrong person can set you back instead of move you forward, cause damage, give mixed information, and leave you feeling frustrated.  It's incredibly important to be diligent while also having a definite idea of what it is you want to gain from your experience.  

I have created a checklist that's helpful when looking for a teacher or place to study....whether you are taking private lessons or group classes, you definitely want to feel comfortable with the teacher you are working with.  

1.  Check out the teacher's background, get an idea of where their experience and expertise falls.  Does it directly align with your goals? 

For instance, if you are looking to pursue Musical Theatre and the person you are studying with teaches Classical Music, this will be a problem.  While it's excellent to get a Classical background, it's not going to help you move forward in a different genre of study.  You want a teacher who is familiar with the repertoire, the technique, audition procedures, and can help you achieve the overall desired effect.  

Don't be afraid to ask the teacher what genre(s) they teach or are proficient in.  It will not only be beneficial to you, but also the teacher.  

I ask my students to fill out a form before they start studying with me, I ask for their prior experience as well as what they are working towards / looking to gain from lessons.  This helps me to gain an insight into their background and future goals, while also allowing me to make a decision on how to proceed / how I can help them. 

2.  Pricepoint

You should definitely have a general price you are willing to spend on lessons.  Depending on the area that you live and the individual teacher themselves, prices will fluctuate.  Most teachers will have already researched their area, what others are charging, and what they have to make in order to be personally and professionally successful.  Prices are also set based on someone's experience level, background, and the type of student they are looking to attract.

This might sound bad "the type of student you are looking to attract" but every teacher has worked with that student who comes in and just bangs their head on a piano, runs around screaming, never practices, or argues the whole time.  When discussing with mom, you find out that this is mom's time to get away and the teacher is, unfortunately, put in the situation to babysit for whatever amount of time the lesson is.  A teacher will learn that at a higher price point this type of student is weeded out.  Some teachers don't mind working with these students, but others will not allow this in their studios, and the higher the price, the more invested the student and the parents are in the entire process. 

3.  Do you get along with the teacher?

This is incredibly important.  If you don't feel comfortable with the teacher you are studying with, you won't see results and won't be able to achieve your maximum potential.  It's important to work as a team with your instructor - if you're under 18 the team is child, parent, teacher....if you are over 18 the team is student, teacher.  You should be able to talk to your teacher about your goals, any difficulties you're having, and feel comfortable showing off your talent.  If you are uncomfortable you will most likely stay quiet, be introverted, and won't share your thoughts / goals with your teacher. 

If you develop a good relationship with a teacher, your teacher will not only be a teacher but also a mentor, and someone a student will look up to.   

I make it a point to start every lesson asking how my student's week went, anything fun happen this week?  I ask how practicing went, anything I should be looking or listening for?  When lessons start I am working with my students to asses, give feedback, ask for their opinions, and ask them to try something different in order to reach our desired sound.  Throughout the time working together, I constantly check back in on any new auditions, new goals, I give them the opportunity to pick selections, alongside of selections I have picked for them.  They are not just being told what to do, but instead, an active participant in their performing arts journey.  My goal is for them to be independent and be able to perform whether or not I'm present, not just during lessons. 

4.  Checkpoints

Are you happy with the progress you are making, do you feel like you're reaching your goals?  You should constantly be making assessments on your own progress and where you started to where you currently stand.  Make sure to have conversations with a teacher if you feel like you're stepping backwards or staying stagnant.  A relationship can turn sour if you feel bored or stagnant, and sometimes if a teacher knows how you feel they can help you shake things up a bit and progress again.  

You also need to reflect as to whether or not you're putting in the necessary time and work needed.  Are you practicing, are you going over material you are given?  As you assess, make sure it's an assessment of both you and the teacher together. 

Keeping open lines of communication is key to any successful, working relationship.  Musicians and actors spend a great deal of time honing in our skills.  The people you work with will help to guide you, make you strong, and successful.  In order to have a positive outcome, it's important to put the work in at the beginning, asses what you truly want, and find the person who can help you get there.  


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