Private Music Instruction: A Primer (Part 2)
The relationship between a teacher and his/her students is the central component to a private music instructor’s career and the linchpin to success in this profession.
Students vary in age, but there are some constants that affect the opinion that they have of their instructors: personal appearance, demeanor, enthusiasm, organization, punctuality, and the ability to confidently demonstrate any and all topics discussed in a lesson. The conscientious instructor will be objective about his/her ability to project a positive version of each of these assets.
Let’s begin with the asset that affects a student’s opinion of his/her instructor before the lesson can even begin: personal appearance. A line of work such as private music instruction has certain “perks” that other professions with more formal atmospheres cannot offer. The most obvious is a relaxed personal appearance/dress code. Dressing similarly to how students will be dressed is one way to create a relaxed environment that encourages communication between instructor and student; however, a private instructor can damage the respect students should have for him/her if their appearance is too unkempt or they are wearing inappropriate clothing. Never underestimate the affect that your appearance has on your students and/or your students’ parents.
An instructor’s demeanor is closely related to his/her personal appearance, but it isn’t as easy to recognize initially. Personality determines how an instructor will communicate whatever training he/she has acquired. This communication can either be helped or harmed by the way an instructor behaves during his/her interaction with students. Empathy and genuine concern combine for a great foundation for an instructor’s relationship with students, but are not the only way to establish a meaningful connection. Generally speaking, being pleasant and likeable go a long way to endearing an instructor to his/her students and that likeability starts with an instructor’s attitude.
Having an enthusiastic attitude about teaching is one of those all or nothing propositions; you cannot fake it. Any student can sense whether their instructor is genuinely concerned with and excited by his/her musical development. That isn’t to say that a musician that has never considered teaching privately can’t discover some real interest or passion for it, however. If there were one single linchpin that holds all of these pertinent qualities together, it would have to be sincere enthusiasm for the process of sparking students’ imaginations and motivations.
Organization and Punctuality
Organization and punctuality go hand in hand. No private teacher can successfully maintain a student roster of any size without organizing a schedule, a method of instruction, their teaching philosophy, regular reviews of student development, public student performances, clinics or other opportunities to inspire motivation, personal study time, “maintenance” and “improvement” practicing, etc. The list goes on, but you get the point.
While punctuality is commonly thought of as only applying to the beginning of a lesson and maintaining a consistent lesson flow between scheduled lessons, there is also the punctuality involved in other important aspects of these relationships: consistent communication via texts, phone calls, or e-mails about schedule changes or other info that should be sent (or replied to) in a timely manner. As a matter of fact, promptly replying to any communication from current or prospective students is paramount in sustaining success as a private instructor. Develop the habit of replying to any and all messages as soon as you can, even if to postpone a more thoughtful reply. This habit separates the most successful instructors from the rest. Then, there is showing up for the lessons more prepared as the instructor than the student is prepared to learn.
Demonstrate and Discuss
The ability to demonstrate and thoroughly discuss topics that occur during a lesson are the hallmarks of an accomplished instructor and build the confidence of that instructor’s students that they are in qualified hands. Honesty about any limitations that you might have will also go a long way in assuring students that they can trust your guidance. In other words, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MISLEAD OR BLUFF A STUDENT WHEN YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO PROPERLY DEMONSTRATE A TECHNIQUE OR ARE NOT KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT A TOPIC. Students are usually very perceptive to this unnecessary tactic because it is completely obvious to most people, regardless of their experience. Rather, when you don’t feel prepared to demonstrate or discuss something, use that incident as inspiration to become more knowledgeable and increase your technique. This honesty will keep you sharp and produce more confidence among your students.
The relationship between an instructor and student (and that student’s parents, if applicable) can be a wonderful, positive connection. The most reputable teachers have positive relationships with their students, without fail. Strive for this strong bond with all of your students and your teaching career will flourish.
In Private Music Instruction: A Primer Part 3, the logistical aspects of the teacher/student relationship will be considered.
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