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 and 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.
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 online. So finding a good teacher can be a problem.
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 your not hiring them for a gig or performance. You're 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 potential teacher or online content.
Questions from Students Point of View
What is the teacher 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. I personally, 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 their 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 ways to make a living with music and the music business beyond performing.
If you 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 were 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 or a correspondence lesson program. Unless you a total beginner and merely 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 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." 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 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 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 low maintenance technique that you can call on at any time to get your music out.
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.
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 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, does not go over a specific way to hold the pick - run for the door. It's not just doing what is comfortable. 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.
Some Other 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 theri names would keep popping up when talking to other students and professional musicians.
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 a lot of excellent players that are not very 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 reputitation as a teacher and performer.
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 shows 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.
Private one-on-one lessons are entirely different than group instruction and workshops. The concepts are the same – it's the how-to deliver to that audience that is different.
Curt Sheller Musicians
As an Author and Publisher I created Curt Sheller Publications in 1998 as a small publishing company catering to the needs of musicians, guitar players and ukulele players worldwide. Curt Sheller Publications provides for the resources and information to develop as a musician. Curt Sheller has over 40 years of playing experience, 20 plus years of teaching experience and publishing for over 10 years. As a Musician I have over 40 years playing experience in a variety of styles and s settings, most notably jazz. As a Private Music Teacher and *Educator Curt maintains a teaching schedule averaging between 40 and 60 private students a week.
Byron Yasui Musicians
Byron Yasui has been on the music faculty at the University of Hawai’i in his native Honolulu since 1972, where he teaches music theory, composition, and jazz improvisation. His experiences as a classroom instructor of ’ukulele include workshops at the ’Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum Expositions of 2001, 2002, and 2003 (all on the east coast), the 2004 UkeFestWest in Santa Cruz, California, the ’Ukulele Guild of Hawai’i annual conventions of 2002, 2003, and 2004, countless workshops at the University of Hawai’i Windward Community College since 2002, the Aloha Music Camps of 2004 and 2005 (Moloka’i), and various one day workshops on all of the Hawaiian islands since 2000. Many of these workshops were tied in with his participation as an ’ukulele soloist in concerts at the various venues.
Glen Hirabayashi Musicians
Uncle Glen was born a long time ago on O'ahu. His family lived in Lanikai at first, but moved to a tiny house with a huge yard on the beach in Kailua with 100 coconut trees lining the driveway. He then moved to Kaua'i when he was in the second grade. He lived in Kilauea, Kaumakani, Kekaha, and Waimea on Kaua'i and spent a lot of time in a family cabin in Koke'e. His first musical instrument was the ukulele. Charlie Kaneyama used to come to the elementary schools on the west side of Kaua'i after school to teach ukulele. He remembers listening to the kanikapila sessions under the hau tree near Poipu Beach on Sundays. He didn't play much Hawai'ian music until he arrived on the East Coast the second time. He then really started playing a lot when his kids starting dancing hula with Halau O 'Aulani. That's where the Aloha Boys were born. Glen has been in the Washington, D.C.area (this time) since 1986. His wife, Donna, and two daughters, Ashley Hokunani Spaulding and Amy Melenani, support his Aloha Boys habit. Ashley is a graduate of Virginia Tech and resident of Dallas, Texas. Amy is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech and is traveling the world with Adventures in Mission. Hokunani and Melenani dance the hula for Aloha Boys performances whenever possible. With mixed emotions, Glen retired as an attorney for the U.S. Tax Court in 2012.
Brad Bordessa Musicians
Live ‘Ukulele (as in living with your ‘ukulele, not “Live ‘Ukulele” like a concert) was created by two homeschooled students who can’t get enough ‘ukulele and Hawaiian music. The goal of this site is to provide free tabs, lessons, and advice to all levels of ‘ukulele players. Live ‘Ukulele is one of the top 10 ‘ukulele sites in the world
Group / Classroom Instruction
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
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