- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Looking for someone to teach Johnny to read music? How about a maestro to really fine-tune Susie’s violin aptitude?

Finding a good music teacher can be a complicated process because it depends on matching

talent, experience and personalities, says Ardene Shafer, director of member programs for the National Association for Music Education.

Ms. Shafer says parents should keep the following in mind when looking for a teacher.

• Education is important, but it is not the only criterion. A degree in music means the teacher has the background, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a good teacher.

• Look at who the other students are.

“Some teachers are good with little kids, and some are good with older kids,” she says. “Ask around the community for a teacher suited to your child’s age group.”

• Observe classes and ask other parents for references. Watch how the teacher treats the students.

“Nothing is going to be perfect,” Ms. Shafer says, “but if the child likes the teacher, he will do what says.”

In the Suzuki method, parents and students are required to observe classes before getting involved, says Mary Findley, a Suzuki strings teacher in Northwest.

“The teacher can also see how the potential student is observing the class,” Ms. Findley says. “She can see whether the child is paying attention, playing or asking to leave.”

• Look at the lessons as tiny steps.

Parents should see music lessons as a foundation that can be built on over time, not a way to learn to play Beethoven sonatas within a month.

“There is a pervasive expectation of instant gratification on the part of both parents and students today,” says Kathleen Wilson, dean of the Levine School of Music, the Northwest music studio with more than 3,200 students.

Indeed, some children enter music lessons with the same sort of competitiveness they use in other activities.

“I hear children say, ‘If I am not the best, then I don’t want to do it,’” Ms. Shafer says. “I hate to see that. You end up cutting yourself off from a lot. I personally encourage children to think music for life. In an activity such as football, for instance, that is not for life. You get old, and you can’t play anymore because it hurts. In music, you really can learn and do it until you are too infirm to hold an instrument.”

A good teacher, meanwhile, should have a passion for music and enjoy sharing his or her knowledge, Ms. Wilson says.

“An excellent teacher cares about the student as a whole person, not just the subject in question, and is respectful of individual differences,” she says.

Tina Anderson, a Northern Virginia music teacher and conductor of the McLean Youth Orchestra, says she tries to motivate her musicians by giving them a sense of history about the piece.

“I try to hold their interest by telling them something about the life of the composer,” she says. “I tell them something about how it relates to today.”

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