Teachers are some of the most important people in our lives. They can make or break our hopes and dreams. They can support us or discourage us, point us in the right direction, or lead us down the wrong path. Some teachers we get stuck with like many of the teachers we had in school, but when it comes to choosing a teacher for your instrument, technology has made it so that we can choose almost anyone we want. Whether it’s hopping in your car or on a train to go and see a desirable teacher, or hopping on Skype to take a lesson from someone halfway across the world, the options are endless.
How do you know that you have found the right teacher? There are a couple of things that jump out at me when it comes to this important decision, but I will say this right up front: Ultimately, trust yourself to know when you have found the right person to guide you through your journey.
First of all, you need to be ok with the idea of trying out different teachers until you find the right one. Think about it like dating. You’re not going to get married to the first person you ever go out on a date with (if you do, you are a very lucky person, my friend!). Most of us need to date several people before we find the one that makes us feel complete. It’s the same with teachers. Commit yourself to trying a certain number of teachers before you make the decision on whom to study with long term.
Secondly, realize that all great players aren’t great teachers. There is an art to getting your thoughts across to a student in a clear, accessible way that not everyone has the ability to do. Granted, most great players are great teachers, but the opposite can also be true. Be honest with yourself, do you want to take lessons with someone because they are a monster player, or do you want to take lessons from someone unknown that will actually teach you something? Always go with option number two. You might not be able to brag to your friends about the person you are studying with but you will be able to impress everyone with how good you sound. The lessons from the lesser-known but amazing teacher will probably cost you less too!
Lastly, the best teachers in the world can’t help someone who doesn’t want to put in the work to get better. As a teacher myself, nothing is more frustrating than a student coming in at the same level as they were at the last time I saw them. If you work your butt off and honestly can’t complete the material, that’s one thing, but if you don’t care enough to work on the material your teacher gave you then you are wasting your time, the teacher’s time, and your hard earned money! On the flip side, when a student comes in having worked their butt off on the material I gave them, I get pumped up! I think I am a much better teacher when I know the student cares and it makes me more invested in their success.
I can honestly say that the relationship between student and teacher when it comes to jazz, or music in general is one of the most important facets of becoming the player you want to be. Students need that one on one interaction and attention to reach their full potential and become the musician they ultimately want to be. Do you have a quality teacher that is making the most out of your time and money? If the answer is no, start playing the field again until you find the one that is money and time well spent.