Private Music Instruction: A Primer (Part 1)
In the private music instruction business, professionalism is perceived very differently depending on whose perspective is used: that of the teacher, the student, or the student’s parents.
As “self-appointed” masters/mentors, private music instructors are similar to private contractors, such as electricians, plumbers, hair stylists, etc., because they provide a service. The obvious difference being that there is no tangible result of music lessons, but rather the results can take various amounts of time to become apparent. The dynamic relationship between student and teacher is a key component in the development of these results, which draws a clear comparison to other instructors, i.e. personal trainers, karate instructors, and golf professionals, in particular. Those examples, however, have built-in hierarchies to distinguish the more accomplished from the less qualified (different colored belts, formal apprenticeship, and well-known national organizations).
Private music teachers are also similar to schoolteachers, in that they aspire to educate others, using a combination of their personal experience and formal studies.
Operating outside of an academic environment, such as a secondary school or university, private instructors occupy a peculiar place, one where qualifications are extremely important, but are not so obvious or easy to verify. Although a music instructor might have a degree (or degrees) from a university, there are no widely recognized organizations that certify or otherwise accredit/license private music instructors; therefore, an instructor’s reputation is the most reliable resource for determining an his/her qualification.
The Reputation Equation
An instructor’s reputation is a mixture of three possible factors: his/her professional performance record as a musician, the professionalism exhibited in his/her day-to-day dealings with students, as well as the reputation of those students.
A performance record might be an undergraduate or graduate degree from a university and the performances associated with its completion; any and all recordings, as well as live performances; or it might be a culmination of the years spent playing professionally in the area. All of those situations are equally acceptable and valuable methods of developing proficiency, though one might be more preferable depending on the position to be filled.
An instructor builds a reputation by demonstrating professionalism in his/her interaction with students. The NUMBER ONE priority for any private music teacher should be establishing and maintaining a strong, positive reputation for professionalism and enthusiasm with his/her student roster. Part 2 of this series will go more in depth on this topic, but how a student perceives a teacher and shares that perception with others is the central ingredient in any instructor’s reputation.
By extension, the private instructor that has been teaching long enough to have students develop and participate in musical groups or auditions will have his/her reputation determined by those students’ skills, whether bolstering or damaging. Make no mistake, each student ultimately determines what direction his/her career will be, professional, semi-professional, or otherwise, but the association should be a positive situation for both the instructor and the student. Instructors pass along their attitudes and enthusiasm, either directly or indirectly. Likewise, students represent their instructors as examples of the potential when studying with them. Their examples should be inspiring and not a warning! The self-aware, self-motivated private music instructor will be fully aware of the influence that his/her students have on his/her reputation and will see that it is positive.
These three components combine to determine how students (potential students as well), their parents, and his/her peers perceive an instructor. Paying constant and close attention to all three factors will guarantee a successful career as a private music instructor.
In Part 2, the student’s perspective in this relationship will be considered more thoroughly.