There is a longstanding debate over whether “traditional” or “modern” music education methods are more effective for today’s children. Traditional methods include sight-reading, scales and Fur Elise, while modern methods might not even cover sight-reading, and focus exclusively on a Justin Bieber song. On one extreme, parents believe that the older way is the only way, practice your scales, and eat your broccoli. Others feel their kids should only enjoy, flop randomly from one musical instrument to another, and have no structure. As you can imagine, these different values affect their decisions about which music teacher they select to teach their child. I would like to propose that the “traditional” versus “modern” method, should not be the central focus in selecting an instructor, and that taking any side might not be effective.
What we have discovered from working with thousands of children over ten years, is that instilling a passion for music first is much more important than the methodology. The question should be, what music teacher will instill a passion that will last a lifetime?
There is a basic logic for passion first: If your child doesn’t love music, they might continue learning by force, but this seldom gets great results, and eventually they will quit. We work with many adult students who had a bad experience early in life with a music teacher. (The old lady down the street that struck their wrists and demanded they play their piece 100 times). These students sometimes have a damaged relationship with music, and while we try to heal these negative associations, it is often hard for them to really progress. That is the power of an initial experience, it can set a course for a lifetime.
The only way to create passion first is to find an instructor that is passionate, both about music and about reaching students. Someone that is passionate about what they do has an energy that is contagious, parents and children will want to be around them.
There are also specifics that should be looked for in music teacher. A strong and outgoing personality, with a balance of confidence and patience, with a genuine interest in the lives and interests of others. In addition to personality, look for these teaching skills: They know how to set the flow of information and customize it to the students needs. They observe the student for subtle responses to avoiding information overload and adjust the lesson accordingly. They set clear, simple goals, both short term and long term. They set up sufficient rewards, and use creativity to keep this interesting. They use whatever styles of music or methodology keeps the student engaged and delivers the biggest growth. Often this means a balance, or integration of “traditional” and “modern” methods. They are conditioned to remain energetic and focused, always bringing great energy. Of course, it never hurts to have a masters degree from Juilliard and be an awesome performer, although this is the last item on our list.
For those who believe in the modern approach, parents may find this instructor starting out tracking the interests of the child, and then beginning to focus them more and more towards a productive growth, maintaining interest while perhaps integrating “traditional” techniques.
Parents who embrace the traditional may be surprised to find a great instructor starting the kids with a pop song. Don’t get worried, if your in luck this teacher may be setting the groundwork for a great music education with passion first.