Learn how to find a great music teacher for your child.
I know… making a list seems obvious, but hang in there this post will go deeper.
Start by making a list of music teachers in your area with the teacher’s name, how you heard about them, and their contact info (I prefer email for efficiency). Try to find as many music teachers as you can in your area.
If your child’s school has a music program, ask for recommendations from the music teacher. If the local high school has a band, orchestra, or choral program, call the school and ask for recommendations.
Search for group music programs in your area. Group music programs often focus on singing and movement, and they’re great for younger children who aren’t yet old enough to follow instructions during 1-on-1 lessons. In the United States some of the more popular programs include Kindermusik, Music Together, and Susuki method programs.
Group music programs are a great resource for music lessons founded in excellent teaching theories which most private teachers don’t provide. If your child is older than the program limits then you can ask for recommended teachers in your area who practice these teaching theories — these approaches to teaching music can fundamentally transform your child’s experience of music — I highly recommend them!
Music stores can recommend teachers in your area; keep in mind that sometimes music stores can be biased towards teachers to whom they rent out space for holding lessons.
Popular searches include combining the city where you live with “music teacher for kids” and “children’s music lessons”.
If you live near a university with a music program email a few professors asking for recommendations; they may be able to recommend teachers, and you can ask them to include recommendations for undergraduate or graduate music students who can also teach and are often less expensive.
Of course ask your friends and family, post on Facebook, etc.
Your local library might have a music program, including opportunities for your child to play instruments or attend free concerts. Ask your local library, or if you live in the U.S. you might reach out to your local chapter of the Music Library Association.
Yep that’s what they’re called — instrument petting zoos give your child the opportunity to touch and hear a variety of instruments up close, and are often held at local performing arts centers with local orchestras. Instrument petting zoos aren’t music lessons per se, but they can offer a great opportunity to meet musicians and parents in your area who can recommend teachers.
For kids under 5 I recommend limiting your list of music teachers to voice instructors, group music classes see above, and any musical enrichment experiences you may find in your search (more on this below).
If your child hasn’t yet chosen a specific instrument then I recommend adding teachers of all different instruments to your list, and importantly include voice teachers. If your child is already learning a specific instrument then try to find teachers who teach that instrument, but I still recommend including voice teachers and drum teachers. I write more below in the music learning goals section about why voice and drum teachers are great for all budding musicians.
As you make your list, and especially if your child is an infant or toddler, be sure to make note of any available musical experiences in your area; these can include concerts and music group rehearsals (consult a pediatrician first to be sure you aren’t exposing your child to loud environments that can cause hearing damage), instrument petting zoos, a friend’s older child who is practicing their instrument, a caregiver who sings, etc.
I wrote my favorite questions to ask teachers into an email template below; using email tests if a teacher is responsive over email (which I find convenient), and email is a fast way to get info from several teachers on your list, so you can spend your time later talking to the teachers who meet your basic criteria.
Dear [teacher name],
I’m looking for a music teacher for my [age]-year old, [your child’s name], and I got your name from [source].
Would you be kind enough to answer these questions?
- Do you have experience with kids in this age range?
- How do you go about teaching kids to practice?
- What instruments do you teach and do you incorporate singing?
- Are you willing to teach a method from a book?
We look forward to hearing back and scheduling an introductory lesson!
The rest of this post talks about why these questions are important, along with others you can ask.
What if a teacher doesn’t use email? Or you only have their phone number? You can call them of course, but personally I prefer teachers who are responsive over email — I may end up corresponding with a teacher eventually via phone or text message, but if they’re responsive over email they’ll likely be responsive in all forms of communication.
Here are the questions again from above, listed here in order of importance and starting with the most important:
If your child is age 4 - 6 then it’s especially important for teachers to have experience with kids in this same age range, because it’s likely your child will have trouble staying focused and following directions. If your child is younger than 4, then I recommend going with group music classes that involve singing, even if they just go to listen.
Even if a teacher answers “yes” to this, they may in practice end up being more or less flexible — what you’re looking for in this answer is for the teacher to show an openness to taking direction, which is an indication that they’re willing to tailor their services for your child’s needs.
At the end of this post I include a list of my favorite music learning goals for kids, which I encourage you to share with your child’s teacher — even if a teacher disagrees with the learning goals I prioritize, I believe it’s still good to work with someone who is open to being flexible and creative with their approach to teaching vs someone who gives a rigid “no” or “I use my own method” even if they back that with solid reasoning.
Ideally a teacher should answer this with some awareness of the ‘meta’ process of learning music, and some acknowledgement that it’s kids who actively learn to practice vs a parent or teacher enforcing practice on kids. For example, a great answer would be “I teach kids to start practicing in short periods using a timer” or “it’s important for kids to learn to practice every day” — a not-so-great answer would be “I can’t control if kids don’t practice” or “if your kid doesn’t practice then we repeat the lesson” or “I give parents a tracking sheet where you write down the time they practice every day.”
In fairness I wouldn’t disqualify a teacher based on their answer to this question alone (especially over email, and you can ask them more over the phone later). The teacher may have misunderstood the question, and if they’re open to teaching a method from a book (per the question above) you can simply ask the teacher to adopt a different approach to teaching your child to practice (I’ll be blogging soon about practice approaches for kids; subscribe here).
Here I’ll repeat what I wrote above in Step 1 when you made your list of teachers:
If your child is under the age of 5 then I recommend limiting your list to vocal teachers and group music classes. If your child is 5 or older and hasn’t yet chosen a particular instrument then I recommend adding teachers of all instruments to your list, including voice. If your child is already learning a particular instrument then try to find teachers who teach that instrument, but I still recommend including voice teachers and drum teachers. I write more below in the music learning goals section about why voice and drum teachers are great for all budding musicians.
I didn’t include this question in the email template above but eventually you’ll want to ask. How do you decide how much to spend? One approach is to decide how much you’re willing to spend per month on a theoretical absolute best music teacher, and make that amount your upper limit. Like most professional services, music teachers will charge different rates based on their experience and the market you’re in.
If the teacher you find will be your child’s first experience learning music, then it might be worth spending extra money to hire the best teacher possible, even if you only hire them for a few months before switching to someone less expensive. With a great teacher giving your child their first lessons, you can focus on finding out a very important piece of information: whether your child enjoys learning and practicing music at home, and what motivates them to learn.
These are basic practical questions I don’t cover here.
Next choose the top two teachers you’re considering, and call them to talk and schedule an intro lesson. In this step you’ll want to ask a few more questions, but most importantly you’ll want to get a feel for whether you’re comfortable with them as a person and teacher, and during an intro lesson whether your child is comfortable learning with them.
You can also ask the teacher you’re interviewing for references from parents of kids close to your child’s age range.
During your child’s introductory lesson, try to step back and let your child’s teacher do their work — music lessons are a space for your child to learn independently.
Here’s a list of learning goals I recommend — feel free to print this post and share it with your child’s new teacher!
These learning goals are listed roughly in sequence:
For your child’s first lessons it’s most important they enjoy themselves! As the teacher to try and find something about the experience that most interests your child, or that your child most enjoys — this can help you and the teacher focus on what motivates your child to participate in lessons and makes them interested to learn and play their instrument.
Some kids will be inherently interested in music and motivated by the experience of learning. Other kids will be motivated by their friendship with their teacher, doing something their best friend is doing, practicing and getting better at something, making sound on an instrument that gets a reaction from adults, singing and dancing, or playing musical games on their instrument instead of playing traditional songs. You’re looking for that spark of interest and motivation that may lead to a deeper love for musical learning.
Be mindful too that your child may love music lessons but be turned off by something about the experience: they may not like the teacher, they may find music recitals terrifying, they may feel pressure from you and not feel safe to experiment and fail, etc. Being mindful of these factors can help you work around them.
Of course, if your child is in fact not interested in music, it’s probably better to pursue some other activity, but it’s an incredible gift to at least give your child the opportunity to have an enjoyable first experience with music lessons, and to find out their level of interest and motivation.
Learning Goal 2: Help your child learn to practice, solve musical problems, and experience self-directed success
Learning to practice, and learning how to learn music, is a fundamental skill that is often overlooked (and a topic I plan on writing about in the future). Strategies for learning how to practice include practicing for short periods of time daily (even 5 to 10 minutes), using a timer to measure these periods, and using a timer to deliberately alternate between periods of doing something difficult for a few minutes, followed by something fun. You and your child’s teacher can help your child be aware of the ‘meta’ process of learning to practice, e.g. “okay, now let’s spend a few minutes doing something we don’t know how to do yet, this can be frustrating at first, I’ll start by setting the timer.”
Learning to solve musical problems is another ‘meta’ learning process — it involves you (or more likely your child’s teacher) helping your child recognize when a musical skill is difficult, and then helping them apply strategies to make learning easier. These strategies can include slowing down the musical tempo, learning a difficult larger passage by concentrating on one part at a time, working on a single movement in a larger sequence, or patiently applying repeated short practice sessions over time to let the brain’s subconscious integrate new learning gradually.
Learning to practice and to solve musical problems can ultimately lead to my favorite part of musical learning: self-directed success! This is when your child learns to be aware of the learning process and can practice on their own. Crucially, this includes recognizing that music is difficult and sometimes frustrating, and recognizing that you can succeed if you apply effort over time. You and your child’s teacher can encourage your child’s awareness of this process.
Learning to create and experience music is more important than learning to read music. In fact, reading music can hinder your child’s early musical development.
This may seem counterintuitive because we so often imagine music lessons that look like a dutiful student sitting in front of sheet music, reading the notes one by one and plunking them out on a piano (many of us have experienced this firsthand!). But reading music at the early stages of learning is a process far removed from the core skills of learning to make musical sound and listening with joy and understanding.
Consider that musical notation is a relatively modern invention — long ago humans were singing and creating music before they were writing it down, just like they were vocalizing and speaking long before writing down words.
By delaying the learning of music reading, your child can focus on learning how to play, create, and enjoy music, instead of focusing on the robotic process of learning to hit a key on an instrument every time they see a little dot on a page. Again making an analogy to language: as children we learn language by speaking, not sounding out phonetics from scribbles on paper.
By the way, one of the earliest documented forms of musical notation dates from 1400 B.C., and musical notation has changed and evolved considerably, taking on many forms in different cultures across time (Kilmer and Civil 1986).
We use our bodies to create music, and from an early age we respond to music by moving our bodies, and our voices are our first instruments. Learning to move, to sing, and to express rhythm and melody with our bodies should be a fundamental part of your child’s music lessons.
This is why drum lessons and voice lessons can be so enriching for musicians who play any instrument, and why I recommend above including drum and voice teachers in your search. Drumming especially encourages your child to focus on rhythm and movement in a way that is often ignored when learning other instruments.
Proper musical technique is important, but for your child’s first music lessons it’s more important to pursue the other learning goals we’ve covered. Your child can learn better technique later after they’ve learned to enjoy music and to practice.
All music students will benefit from learning proper technique, but for early lessons it can seem frustrating and arbitrary. For example, my first music lesson as a 9-year old involved learning to pick up a tissue… …seriously, my teacher thought it was important to show me how to hold my hands properly over the piano… …it left me completely uninterested, I never had a second lesson, and I wouldn’t get to experience music lessons again for at least another year until my parents could afford to rent a saxophone from the school band program.
Don’t get me wrong, musical technique is important: it shows your child how to create pleasing sound in a way that’s safe for their bodies and for long repetitive practicing. It’s also easier to learn good technique earlier vs correcting bad motor habits years later. But, exact proper technique can wait, especially while your child first finds the joy in learning music.
Personally I was surprised to find almost no articles on the internet that give advice of any depth on how to find a great music teacher for kids, so I hope you find this post helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, thoughts, experiences, or criticisms!
I also want to emphasize what an incredible privilege it is for any child to have the opportunity to learn music, especially early in life when you can so enrich their musical development. If you live in a small area with few options, or your favorite teacher is too costly, remember that most any first musical experiences are better than none at all.