Finding a Good Teacher

Questions you can ask prospective teachers and generally speaking what their answers should be.

Published: 05 Dec 2015 Updated: 14 Feb 2024Visits: 32Code: UL19512

INSTRUMENTS: Basics Main: Any Others: ANY Ukulele
Subjects: Beginner • Intermediate • Learning • Advanced • Core • Foundation

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Finding a Good Teacher


It's unfortunate that there' s no oversight or organization that regulates private music teachers. This is especially true for private guitar and ukulele teachers. Anyone can hang a shingle out advertising private lessons or put content online. So finding a good teacher can be a problem.

Unfortunately, there are no oversight or organizations that regulate private music teachers. Especially true for private guitar and ukulele teachers. Anyone can hang a shingle out advertising private lessons or put content on-line. So finding a good teacher can be a challenge.

What’s Bad About the Internet?

Checkout LearningUkulele.com's guest lesson/article by internationally renowned jazz guitarist and educator Chuck Anderson on What’s Bad About the Internet? . Chuck has great insight into the perils of learning using the Internet. As great a resources it is there are a few things to keep in mind when searching for a teacher — LIVE or Virtual.

For my (Curt's) Teaching Philosophy visit this page.

Evaluating a Teacher's Experience

You are not so interested in a teacher's performance experience, I'd be more inclined to know their teaching experience. Remember, you're not hiring them for a gig, performance, or to entertain you. You're asking them to help you with learning the ukulele and music. Not all great players are great teachers — in fact, just because they can perform on an instrument, that doesn't always mean they can effectively communicate the process and skills for you to achieve the same results.

Here are a few questions you can ask prospective teachers and, generally speaking, what their answers should be. I'll also input my perspective, which should give some info on accurately evaluating a potential teacher or on-line content.

Questions from Students Point of View

What is the teacher's experience? How long have they been teaching? Who were their teachers? What styles of music do you teach? How many students do they have, and how long does a student remain with them? Are the lessons customized to your goals? Are the lessons private or group? How are lessons structured? What materials do you use? What do I need for lessons? How is payment structured?

As you can see, there is a lot to ask, and the typical student I've encountered never asks even a small percentage of them. I'll address each question and what my response would be and teacher responses that should throw up a red flag for you.

How Long Have You Been Teaching?

A teacher's experience, as any job experience, is obtained over time. As well as the number of students they have and have taught. A private music teacher gains knowledge and experience — on the job -. It's not in a how-to book, in a college course — which I've never even heard of such a course for private teaching anyway. A teacher learns by actually doing — at a minimum — 3 to 5 years of teaching experience and not 5 to 10 students a week, more like 20 to 30 or more students a week. The more students a teacher teaches every week, the more experience they gain. Personally, I continually refine, research, and polish my teach skills and have maintained 40 to 60 students a week or more depending on the time of year. An excellent guideline is to find a teacher where the majority of the income comes from teaching — not performing. Maintaining a consistent private teaching practice shows a level of commitment to teaching and not that it's a sideline. There are multiple ways to make a living with music and the music business beyond performing.

Find a local performer that you admire. Search out their teacher, the teacher of that teacher. Remember, just like in professional sports, the best coaches are not necessarily the best players. It's one thing to be able to do it, and another to explain and teach others to do the same.

Are the Lessons Private or Group?

You'll make the best progress with private one-on-one lessons and coaching. These private lessons can be in-person or with the Internet via video services like Skype, Zoom, Apple FaceTime, or a correspondence lesson program using email. Unless you're a total beginner and merely looking for an overview or just shopping, stay away from group lessons. However, group lessons, workshops, and seminars are a great way to supplement your private teaching.

What Styles of Music Does a Teacher Teach?

Be sure to ask this question before a prospective teacher asks what styles of music you would like to perform.

A teacher should be honest on the types and styles of music they teach, and not a jack-of-all-trades teacher. Search out a teacher who is an expert in the particular styles of music you would like to play. My response to a student wanting to learn classical guitar is: I can help with the music principles, the technique, but I have no experience with the repertoire or the business side of that genre. The classical guitar has a specific repertoire required for players intending to perform.

When I first meet a prospective student, I tell them their lessons, customized one-on-one lessons, are based on their goals and experience. It includes a core foundation of the principles of music that all musicians for any instrument get and builds on that foundation depending on their short and long-term goals. It includes work on the technical issues inherent with actually getting the instrument to sound good consistently. For guitar and ukulele students, it's getting the hands to cooperate and consistently perform what is required. You are looking for an efficient, low maintenance technique that you can call on at any time to get your desired musical results.

Jazz and classical music are areas where a dedicated teacher specializing in that genre is most beneficial. Naturally, there are fewer specialists in these styles. A good jazz guitar teacher should be able to help you with the non-technical aspect of your study on the ukulele. An excellent classical guitar teacher can help with the technical, traditional Classical fingerstyle part of ukulele.

NOTE: You do not have to study with only one teacher at a time. A good teacher would not be offended if you studied with other teachers at the same time.

Cost?

Cost shouldn't always be a deciding factor in selecting a teacher, but the adage You get what you pay for., is still valid in most situations. In-demand, teachers will command higher rates by the demand for their services. As a teacher, rates can be a way to filter out less committed students. The price for lessons in my area ranges from $20 for thirty minutes to $100 an hour.

How Do You Teach?

If a teacher answers this question without knowing your musical knowledge, your technique or your musical goals, and tries to explain how he or she will teach you, then this is not a competent teacher. I tell students that the lessons are custom lessons based on their goals – It's as simple as that. They are private lessons, and each student is different, and lessons material evolves as students progress and their goals change and evolve. Each lesson contains specific tasks geared to those goals.

If the teacher — especially for guitar and using a pick, does not go over a specific way to hold the pick — run for the door. It's not just doing what is comfortable or natural. Few things come naturally on most instruments. For both ukulele and guitar students, the fretting hand thumb has a specific role, and a teacher should cover that. Music is an art and science. Applying the principles of music to the ukulele is no different. Learning efficient techniques are an essential part of learning the ukulele. The technique is the one area where many teachers don't even address these most important aspects of playing. You'll never be any better than your actual physical ability to execute what you want to perform musically, technically. Doing what feels natural is typically not the most efficient and easy to maintain. The goal is to get your technique to sound and feel natural to you.

Additional Thoughts on Teaching

Equating students' success to the success of a teacher is only a good indicator if that student started with that teacher as a beginner. You can, however, ask successful performers who they studied with and if one teacher's name keeps popping up, that might be a good indicator for that teacher. I'm sure that are one or two teachers in your area that their names would keep popping up when talking to other students and professional musicians. I was lucky, in the early years, to have several great teachers in Franny Boyle and Paul Byrne (passed July 24, 2021). And, then Chuck Anderson's name kept popping up, and I finally started studying with Chuck and credit Chuck with my success. Of course, I, did all the actual work, with Chuck's guidance.

Just because someone is a good player, Do Not assume they are good teachers. Teaching is the ability to develop and nurture students and help them achieve their goals and develop their voice as a player. Not play like their teacher. I know numerous excellent players that are not good teachers. Early in my development as a teacher and musician, I was very fortunate to hook up with a few good teachers and ultimately with Chuck Anderson, one of the best teachers in the area if not the USA. Chuck has developed an international reputation as a educator, teacher and performer.

Here are a few requirements to look for in a teacher:

  • Pedagogy – Big word but basically means learning how to teach. I studied how to teach a variety of techniques, music theory, ear training, song writing, improvisation, etc. I learned how to deal with a variety of personality types. Everyone leans in different ways and a teachers needs more than on way to teach. It is important for a teacher to understand this proccess. A good teacher can present the same information in several different ways so that you will be better able to teach all of your students well.
  • Recording – As you get more proficient you might want to record your self and with recording in a home studio being more affordable then ever a good teacher should be able to help with that. Recording yourself is also a good way to track progress.
  • The Music of Business – There are more than one way to make money as a musician. A good teacher will be able to help with that as well.

This should give you some in-site into finding a good and qualified teacher. Whether it is face-to-face or on-line, the search for a qualified teacher is well worth it.

It can take a bit to find a qualified/good teacher, as the best teachers typically do not advertise. There are several sources for finding a private face-to-face teacher. Contact the music department of colleges and universities near you. They can refer you to qualified teachers. Your local music store is one place to check – but they don't have the highest standards for their selecting their guitar teachers and even worse for ukulele teachers. Just you can play guitar and most skills will transfer — the ukulele is a really different instrument with specific challenges, and you deserve to find a dedicated ukulele teacher.

Use all the questions from this article for helping you find a teacher. A good teacher will not mind any of these questions. It shows your dedication to developing as a musician on your selected instrument.

For on-line lessons asking all the same questions, and your search can be worldwide. All the same issues and questions apply to on-line/virtual lessons as well as in-person face-to-face lessons. The on-line lessons I offer are not a course, they are a custom lesson program for the individual student.

Private one-on-one lessons are entirely different from group instruction and workshops. The concepts are the same — it's the how-to deliver to that different audience.

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