If your kids (or you) are taking (or consider taking) any sort of private music lessons, you should probably consider the following before you make any sort of commitment.
What to look for in a music instructor:
1. Teaching/Coaching Ability.
A lot of music teachers will talk about their musical talent or skill level. They'll talk about how many orchestras they've played with, or how many bands they've been with. This isn't bad - I mean - you want a teacher who actually knows how to play the instrument they teach. But really, as a student (or parent of a student) you should be primarily concerned if the instructor can actually teach.
Do they have any experience coaching or teaching (or working with students of your skill level)? All of the musical talent and skill in the universe does absolutely no good if you have a bad teacher.
In my opinion, the ability to effectively teach is the most important factor when selecting a music teacher.
2. Lesson Format and Duration.
Ok. Let's say you've found an awesome teacher. Next question: What are the lessons actually like? You should ask a potential teacher questions like: "How long is each lesson?" "What do you usually cover in a lesson?" "What can I expect to learn" or "How long will it take to learn (insert your favorite song here)?".
I'll probably catch some flak for this, but I strongly believe that lessons should last from 45 minutes to an hour. Any more time and your attention span is shot. Any less time and I don't think you can really learn anything.
EVEN FOR KIDS. Yes, kids need time to learn and grasp the information. Thirty minutes is not enough time. Trust me.
A lot of lessons run 30 minutes or shorter. If you feel you're getting what you need, and learning at a good rate - awesome. But chances are, those lessons are probably rushed and missing a few things (for more about what lessons should entail, you can check this out).
3. Student Load.
You may want to inquire about the number of students an instructor currently serves. Too many students and you risk a lesson without a lot of focus or personal attention. The last thing you want, is to feel like you're not valued. I think about 20 students is a good maximum. Any more than this, and I feel stretched pretty thin.
Keep in mind though - this shouldn't be a deal breaker. Just something to consider.
4. Musical Ability.
Okay, okay, okay. I know I downplayed this in the first point - but it is important. You want a teacher who knows what they're talking about - specifically as it aligns with your goals. For example, if you want to learn how to play blues guitar, and your teacher is a classical guitar expert... this may not be the best match.
If you're interested in beginner lessons, it may be best to find a teacher who is great with novice students (it can be really overwhelming to have an advanced guitarist try to teach a beginner).
*Remember - it's totally fine to change teachers mid-stream. I specialize in beginners - if I find that a long-standing student is moving past what I can teach, I have no problem referring them to a more advanced instructor (this is a great way for me to network in my community).
Music lessons can range from $20 per half hour to over $100 per hour. Cost doesn't always dictate quality. In a lot of cases, the instructor doesn't even set the cost (some music stores or academies function this way). Obviously, you should feel comfortable with the cost - you should also know how your instructor's billing works (per lesson, per month, etc). Again, this may not be a deal breaker - but you should definitely ask about this up front.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, you should select a teacher that can actually teach you what you want to learn. Yeah, it sounds obvious, but it's surprising how often this piece is overlooked.
In school, we've all had good teachers and bad teachers (good coaches and bad coaches), fortunately, music instruction is an area where you (the student) has a lot of control over who you select.
Remember, you want someone you actually enjoy working with - someone who can provide you with great feedback, keep you on task, and actually make learning music fun.
There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than seeing a student excel and enjoy what they're learning.
Jake Posko is the founder of Severn River Guitar. He teaches guitar lessons in the Severna Park and Annpolis area and runs recordyourfaceoff.com - a community designed to help musicians learn how to record and distribute their work. He can be contacted directly at email@example.com