Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It takes a village, Part 1 of 2

Guest blogger Emily Sorensen*, former Play Music Educational Studios administrator, takes a look at the parent's role and perspective in getting the most out of private lessons for your student. 

As a parent it can be difficult to know how to interface with your student’s private music teacher. This is part one of a two part series with some tips and suggestions to help you team up with your student and his/her music teacher to increase your student’s success.

As a parent you can expect a short list of characteristics from your student’s teacher regardless of his/her background. Some of these characteristics include:
  • Professionalism
Many of us associate professionalism with the corporate industries and, more often than not, associate beatnik and hippie stereotypes with the music industry and aren’t sure what to expect with music instructors. So many of the things in this category seem like common sense, but because of the aforementioned stereotypes, it bears repeating. 
  • Personal grooming and good hygiene: A professional music teacher should appear to care about personal grooming and hygiene. Something as simple as showing up in clean clothing in good repair can make a big difference in your student’s ability to focus during lesson time. 
  • Punctuality: The teacher should be punctual. Being on time and organized prior to your student’s lesson allows your student maximum time to get through material and both teacher and student are able to concentrate. 
  • Legitimate skill set, instrument knowledge and current industry experience: In a previous post I wrote about knowing how you are getting a good deal for the money you spend and a big part of professionalism is having a legitimate skill set and knowledge of the instrument they are teaching as well as current experience playing their instrument.  
  • Interest in your student’s progress: One of the biggest professional qualities your teacher should have is caring about your student’s progress and skill development. In a hard economy many people who played in junior high and high school or took lessons for a while and need to make a little extra money might start teaching lessons. Often times those can be, “my personal music history,” lessons and not much by way of progress for your student. Yes, a teacher needs to have experience and be able to relate to your student’s current experience, but the overall goal needs to be about your student.
  • Communication
The importance of good communication cannot be over emphasized. Everyone’s experience in music lessons is enhanced when good communication is expected and practiced. Sometimes that means being willing to say something that seems common sense or seems like it could go unsaid. Again, communication should be professional and tactful at all times. As a parent, never feel bad about asking a question or expressing a concern. You should feel comfortable expressing yourself and expecting your teacher to be clear with you and your student.
  • Clear Expectations and agreements
This goes hand in hand with communication, but is worth pointing out specifically. You should be able to expect a clear list of expectations for your student and you. This often will include expectations about payments, practicing, attendance, rescheduling and make-up lessons, personal emergencies, studio group activities and suggested memberships and such. However, don’t expect the list of student/parent expectations to be all inclusive. There is not a way, nor should it be required, to account for every possible scenario. More often than not you will find that professional teachers who are willing to communicate their expectations for you and your student are willing to listen and work with you as long as you don’t try to take advantage of them.

In addition to a list of expectations for you and your student, a list of clear expectations and agreements about your teacher’s behavior should be part of your lesson experience. Teachers should communicate with you how and what to expect as far as their policies, personal emergencies, rescheduling and make-up lessons, holidays or no lesson weeks and how they handle the non-lesson elements of their business (payments, credits, statements, receipts, referrals, etc.) Again, the list can’t possibly include every situation and scenario, but should provide for open and clear communication.
  • Pricing Structure & Payment Policy
This is another element that goes hand in hand with communication, but is important enough to discuss as an individual point. Good music teachers are in business. As consumers, we often overlook the arts as businesses, but it’s extremely important to remember your private music instructor is providing a valuable service, and this is an important part of how they make their living. Imagine if you went to work and didn’t get paid on time or consistently and often you were carrying your employer with a balance they owed you at least one month behind. Keep this in mind as you are paying for lessons, and expect a clear pricing structure and payment policy from a professional private music instructor. 

A clear pricing structure will include a price per lesson, often based on the length of the lesson. 20 (for younger or beginner students) 30, 45 and 60 minutes are common time increments for lessons. The longer your lesson time the more you can expect to pay. Also, the more educated/experienced the teacher, the more you can expect to pay for lessons. It is expected that you pay for lessons a month at a time and at the beginning of the month. It is common for teachers to charge an additional fee for paying later in the month. Some pricing structures offer a discount for paying in full on time, however, this is less common so it shouldn’t be expected as part of a good pricing structure. Before you begin lessons, be prepared to carefully read and discuss the pricing structure and payment policies. Nothing can ruin a lesson experience like miscommunications about money - so be clear about your expectations and what is expected of you. 
  • Knowledge of available resources
This seems like a silly expectation to have for a professional private music instructor. However, it would surprise you how often you will need to talk to your teacher about where to purchase items, software, supplemental materials, instrument upgrades, music camps and many more items that are indirectly related to lessons. You should feel confident in your instructor’s knowledge and comfortable asking for information. Many times you won’t need to ask because the instructor will volunteer the information about resources, but you should expect to be able to get an answer if you ask your instructor.

In part two of this series we'll explore a team approach to student success. We’re looking at what parents can expect to contribute to their student’s success.

*Yep, Emily is my wife and best friend. She's also an experienced musician and was the administrator at our music teaching studio where she worked with about 20 teachers and over 100 students. She dealt with all of the day-to-day operations, including interfacing with parents and students. In short, she knows her stuff.

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