Should You Study Music With A Teacher or Should You "Wing" It On You Own?
This question always comes up in this type of discussion about music.
An objective assessment of the two alternative approaches leads me (Chuck Anderson) invariably towards the formal route. Why? Because without guidance, there is a tendency to go in circles, What do you practice, when do you move to the next topic? When are you doing something wrong? How do you practice what doesn't exist to you? - Chuck Anderson
Here are links to some great resources on Learning Ukulele with Curt for answering the questions to "What Do I Study?" when going it alone or with a teacher.
“The self-taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself had done.” ― Mark Twain
( A little tough talk from Mark, but quite true. Curt )
Finding a Good Teacher
Here is my take on finding a good teacher. I was lucky enough to find a great teacher early in my development would like to pass on a few tips for finding a good teacher yourself. For ukulele it will take a bit of work - but with the Internet you can study with anyone in the world and try out different teachers.
Finding a good ukulele teacher can be a daunting task - especially in the Internet age with immediate access to information online, Free YouTube lessons, forums, meetup groups, local ukulele clubs, etc... Let alone you local music store with no shortage of guitar teachers purporting to know the ukulele and offer ukulele lessons.
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.
Evaluating a Teacher's Experience
Your actually not so much interested in a teacher's performance experience, I'd be more inclined to want to know their teaching experience. Remember your not hiring them for a gig or performance your asking them to help you with learning the ukulele. 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 prospective teacher or online content.
Questions from Students Point of View
What is the teacher experience? How long have they been teaching? Who did they study with? 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 that can be asked 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 they been teaching?
A teacher's experience as any job experience is gained over time and the number of students they have and have taught. A private music teacher gains experience - on the job -. It can't be found 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 each and every week the more experience they gain. I personally, constantly refine, research and polish my teach skills and maintain 50 to 60 students a week or more depending on the time of year. A really good guideline is to find a teacher where their majority of the income comes from teaching - not performing. This shows a level of commitment to teaching and not that it's a simply sideline. There are a lot of ways to make a living with music and the music business beyond performing.
If you find a local performer that your really admire. Search out their teacher, the teacher of that teacher... Remember, just like in professional sports, the best coaches where not necessarily the best players. It's one think 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 or a correspondence lesson program. Unless you a total beginner and simply looking for an overview or just shopping stay away from group lessons.
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 play.
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 that is an expert in the particular styles of music you would like to play. My response for a student wanting to learn classical guitar is: I can help with the music principles, the technique BUT I have not experience with repertoire, as the classical guitar has a very specific repertoire that is typically required for most classical players.
When I first meet a prospective student I tell them their lessons are customized one-on-one lessons 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 consistently sound good and for and guitar and ukulele students it's getting the hands to co-operate and consistently be able to perform what is asked. You looking for low maintenance technique that you can call on at anytime to get your music out.
Jazz and classical music are one area where a dedicated teacher specializing in that genre is most beneficial. Granted there are fewer of these specialists. A good jazz guitar teacher should definitely be able to help you with the non technical aspect of your study on ukulele. A really good classical guitar teacher can help with the technical, traditional classical fingerstyle part of ukulele.
Remember you don't 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 shouldn't always be a deciding factor in selecting a teacher but the old adage "You get what you pay for." sometimes can hold true. In demand teachers will command higher rates simply by demand. As a teacher it can actually be used as a way of filtering out less committed students. The rate in my area ranges from $15 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 actually evolve as students progress and their goals change and can evolve and change over time. Each lesson contains specific tasks geared to those goals.
If the teacher - for guitar students does not got over a specific way to hold the pick - run for the door. It's not just do what is comfortable. For both ukulele and guitar students the fretting hand thumb has a specific role and that should be talked about and the student given specific direction on what to do with it. There is an art and science to playing musical instruments and the ukulele is not different - techniques are an important part of learning the ukulele. This is actually the one area where there are a lot of teachers out there that don't even address this important aspect of playing. You'll never be any better than your ability to technically execute what you want to perform musically. 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.
Some Other Thoughts on Teaching
Equating the success of students 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.
Just because someone is a good player do not assume they are a good teacher. Teaching is the ability to develop and nurture a student and help them to achieve their goals and develop their own voice as a player. I know a lot of very good players that are not very good teachers. I was very fortunate early in my development as a teacher and musician to hook up with a few good teachers and ultimately one of the best teachers in the area if not the USA.
This should give you some in-site into finding a good and qualified teacher. Whether is face-to-face or online 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 guitar teachers and even worse for ukulele teachers. Use all the questions from this article for helping you find a teacher. A good teacher will not mind any of these questions. It really show your dedication to developing as a musician on your selected instrument.
For online lessons asking all the same questions and your search can be worldwide. However, all the same issues and questions apply to online lessons as well as face-to-face lessons. The online lessons I offer are not a "course" they are a custom lesson program for the students.
James Hill Ukulele Initiative Schools
The purpose of the James Hill Ukulele Initiative (JHUI) is to promote and celebrate the ukulele. The JHUI facilitates the teaching and enjoyment of music through educational outreach activities and continuing education programs. The JHUI advocates the use of the ukulele as a platform for music literacy and supports the growth and creation of new ukulele repertoire and approaches to performance.
Ukes in the Classroom Organizations
Ukes in the Classroom – Texas is a non-profit organization founded by Noel Tardy of UkeLady Music to teach Music Literacy … the Ukulele Way and for kids of all ages to have fun!
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Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books! — Peter Rhee
Aloha, Curt, All I can say is WOW! What you have accomplished is simply incredible! All the best — Glen Hirabayashi, The Aloha Boys
Folks, if you haven't stopped by Curt's site, do so right now! ..And get his books, they are fantastic. This guy knows his stuff and is able to pass it along too. — Alan Johnson Proprietor, The 4th Peg
I can highly recommend Curt's Uke books — I have four of them and they are excellent. — fatveg — Portland
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