Training young musicians (Part 2)

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Yesterday, I mentioned that determining the talent of your child is important when deciding how hard to push them. Let’s say that you have had your child evaluated and he/she shows a lot of talent.  What then?

Unfortunately, it can be hard to get the right teacher.  It is certainly not hard to find a teacher; they are everywhere. But it can be difficult to screen them.  Here are some thoughts on how to get started.

I know that many teachers read this blog and I am about to annoy some of them, but here goes…

The first thing you need to decide is what you want your child to learn.  The traditional path is largely classically based.  Students learn progressively harder pieces of classical music along with some basic theory.  If other pieces of music are taught (such as sacred or popular), students learn published arrangements; in other words, they are not forced to improvise.

There are positive aspects to this approach.  The greatest one is that it provides a child with an excellent technical foundation.  If a child can play difficult classical music, they will have the technical ability to play about anything.

But there are problems too.  The biggest problem is that there is often an unrealistic view of classical music.  Look at it this way; your child has about as much chance of performing classical music for a career as he/she has of playing professional sports.  Classical music is good but it is not the end; it is rather the means to an end.

The more realistic goal for your child is that he/she will be functional.  By that, I mean that they will be able to serve in a church or another group in many different ways.  They will be able to sight read, play by ear, improvise, arrange and help other musicians do likewise.  They will be able to play different styles in convincing ways, accompany, transpose and anything else required.

Sadly, the traditional classical-based approach to teaching is not so good at developing functional pianists.  It is better at developing teachers, who by the way, will usually fall into the same trap.  This cycle produces a lot of teachers but not as many functional pianists as it should.

That being said, I do recommend the traditional approach; I just would recommend that you try to enhance it.  Try to find a teacher if at all possible who sees the value in such skills as improvisation and playing by ear.  Also try to find a teacher who really knows theory and can relate it practically to music.

Many teachers will teach sacred music by asking the student to learn published arrangements.  That is fine, but learning published arrangements is basically no different than learning classical music.  Ideally, the teacher will teach the student how to arrange their own pieces.

Here are some additional thoughts on how to find good teachers:

1) Try the teachers of the most advanced students you know.  Good musicians always attract each other.  Good students will gravitate toward good teachers and the opposite is just as true.

2) Start at the top.  The teacher is critical to your child’s success, and you should at least try to get the very best possibility.  Make a wish list and go for it even if some on your list are famous.

3) Consider performers as well as teachers.  I have learned the most over my lifetime from professional musicians (some of which happen to also teach).  Performers may always not be the best option, but sometimes have incredible knowledge.

4) Don’t be too narrow.  As many know, I play conservative Christian music.  But most of my knowledge comes from musicians outside of conservative Christianity or outside of Christianity completely.  If you are bound and determined to find a teacher that believes exactly what you do about music preferences, you are probably not going to get the best teacher.

In my next post, I will discuss how to teach your child how to practice.  Like the teacher choice, practice habits are extremely important.