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Private Music Teachers: Why They Are Some Of The Most Influential People In Our Lives, Good & Bad.

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Gone are the days of the stern piano teachers who would slap children's fingers with a pencil or ruler for making a mistake. (We hope.) And yes, that really was a common practice in the "good ole days."


These days, no teacher of any subject could get away with those types of corrective actions, but they can still leave a very large impact on another's life in ways that a student will always remember, both positively and negatively.


I've worked with many different musical directors of varying degrees of expertise in choir, band, and orchestral settings. While they have all played a large role in my growth as a musician with mostly positive memories, it's the ones who took the time to work with me one-on-one in extra rehearsals or my specialized private instructors who made the greatest impact. Why? Hint: It's not about the music.


The best private music instructors are not just teachers of music; they share valuable life skills and lessons that can, in turn, reveal and shape powerful qualities within us that we may not have even known we had.

Private instructors have the ability to really get to know their students on a personal and professional level. They can discover individual strengths and areas to improve musically. They can tell when the student may not be performing at their best due to external stressors and help that student in finding ways to overcome those obstacles. And most times, it all comes down to bolstering confidence.


Why do you think that public speaking is the number one fear among the majority of humans? Because it involves other fears like fear of inadequacy, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of failure, fear of being judged...the list goes on. Performing music is very similar. Imagine yourself nervously sitting on that piano bench or that chair with your wind instrument or standing on that stage ready to perform. You've practiced for days, weeks, or maybe months. Will your teacher think it's enough? Will your teacher criticize you for not putting in enough work? Will you be humiliated? These feelings do not allow us to fully express ourselves through music in the way we want. When you feel comfortable and confident, the music will flow. A great teacher should encourage, while tactfully and respectfully make corrections to improve a student's playing while ensuring understanding of the material being presented.


Positively influential music teachers act as life coaches, cheerleaders, role models, counselors, and friends who actively care about a student's success.

vs.

Negatively influential music teachers have the potential to indirectly damage a student's self-esteem and even self-perception for years to come.

Sometimes the impact on a student is a negative one. Your first thoughts may bring you back to those grouchy, old piano teachers. No, that's not necessarily where I'm going. Without blaming age or years of experience, just watch out for teachers who have "checked out", seem passive, or uninterested in the goals and aspirations of the student. Other ineffective teachers may err on the other side of being "too picky", failing to inspire students because they are too aggressive, or expect too much, and rarely praise or acknowledge a student's improvements. Either way, it can produce a lifelong effect on the student's will to continue in music and possibly deter them from attempting other interests or opportunities in their lives.


I'm going to give you two examples:

  1. Let's say you have a child who is really showing interest in music. They may be improvising at the piano or on the family guitar, singing their own songs, and just loves to be creative. Yes, let's get them into private lessons! But what if that teacher is stuck in their own ways of teaching because they only know the ways in which they were taught? What if this teacher stifles the student's creativity and refuses to guide them in the direction they wish to go? The flame inside often goes out in smoke. I absolutely believe that learning music theory, scales, and other things that may not be super fun are necessary to really bring greater understanding to the craft and the instrument. However, I think it is equally important to try to keep learning fun and to allow the student's personality to come out while learning these fundamentals in order to keep their interest.

  2. Now, we have a student who really wants to dig into the details. They show perfectionist qualities and meticulously read note-for-note. This student wants to do well, but so much so that they may get upset at themselves whenever they make a mistake. The type of teacher that is not a good fit for this student may be one who either lacks knowledge in all areas of the material or just doesn't understand that emotional encouragement is absolutely crucial for perfectionist personalities. Too many gifted players get discouraged because they expect a lot from themselves and don't realized that making mistakes is part of the process. This was me. I know that it is one of the hardest things to accept, but it is essential for us to learn how to embrace the imperfections, practice how to recover quickly from them, and even turn them into something creative. Without this type of encouragement, the student quits with the idea that they will never be good enough. This too, was almost me if it weren't for an encouraging instructor in college who helped pulled me through to see that I was good enough.

In both of these examples, the teachers did not care to recognize what the student needed to be inspired to continue.


Remember: it's not always as simple as just teaching the notes on the page.

Is it possible to overcome a misguided start to your studies? It is, but only if you possess the persistence to focus on the end goal by either "sticking it out" with a tough environment or by making the switch to another teacher who may be a better fit and is willing to help guide you through any insecurities or self-doubt.


Allow me to give you examples of both of these successes:

  1. Now we can look back at the old-school teachers. I will not say that they were wrong in their disciplinary actions or stern ways in which a student was "encouraged" to practice because that was a different time. I know many incredibly talented musicians who emerged from that type of tough learning environment and even thrived from it. In hearing some of their stories, there are often small scars of a love/hate relationship with their instrument, but overall, the love of music won, and thank goodness it did. So many other people get to enjoy listening to these musicians who chose to share their talents with the world.

  2. I've had students come to me in their adult years who regretted quitting lessons in their younger years or just never had the confidence in themselves to even try. This could be caused by so many different reasons that we need not get into here. But I know what it is like to feel that insecurity. I know what it is like to have self-doubt. I also know what it is like feeling the disappointment in yourself for not "going for it." So I tell them, if it's something you want to do, embrace it right along with your fears, and let's do it! The smiles on their faces when they start to see progress and begin to gain confidence in their abilities is priceless.

  3. Bonus example: Remember when I said earlier that I was almost one of those who quit? Yes, I have experienced both good and bad instructors (mostly good), but the worst critic has always been myself. I've experienced humiliating performances where my nerves got the best of me. Disappointments so strong that I was ready to drop my music major in college and throw away the countless hours of rehearsals and lessons because I didn't feel like it was worth it anymore. I was lucky to have strong, relatable instructors that gave me the type of realistic encouragement I needed, and now pass on to each one of my students. It is real and it is life-changing.


No one needs to tell you that you can't do it. Not even yourself.

Simply put, I would not be where I am today with a fulfilling career in music if it were not for my private music teachers.







 

Kimberly is a professional musician and vocalist of multiple genres with over 20 years of performance experience while teaching private lessons. These blogs are inspired and backed by personal experiences. Follow her on Facebook @kimberlymeyermusic and Instagram @kimberly6876 or on the web at www.kimberlymeyermusic.com.

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