See if a prospective teacher allows a trial lesson to test how the personalities mesh. And be sure to ask lots of questions. What’s the teacher’s background as a musician and as an instructor? What kinds of teaching materials and music does she use? How much practice time is expected for students, and does that vary by the student’s age? Does the teacher have access to student ensembles? What kinds of performance opportunities will he provide? Will the teacher allow the student to record the lesson? This can be a terrific practice aid, especially when it comes to remembering how something is supposed to sound. Does she teach any music theory or composition? What are the expectations for students and for their parents?
A good teacher can be a friendly, encouraging and inspiring presence — even when a student hits rough patches. He will point out the student’s weaknesses without being harsh or dismissive, suggest innovative ways to overcome challenges, and create engaging ways to tackle even rote activities like playing scales or honing fine motor skills. The instructor’s age and experience might or might not be a deciding factor; for example, I’m consistently impressed by the range of tricks my own child’s very youthful private teacher has up her sleeve to turn what could easily be drudgery into fun. Not to mention the huge helpings of good humor and patience she brings to her tiny charges!