Many parents dream of raising Von Trapp family-type children who can sing in harmony and give performances on their little pianos or violins.
However, in reality, music lessons in Singapore usually involve a child being dragged kicking and screaming to the piano and stressing out over exams. Inevitably, the child gives up and reaches adulthood remembering only how to play “Chopsticks”.
Whether you realise it or not, the music teacher you choose for your child has a huge impact on your child’s success as a musician.
As someone who took more than a decade of music lessons as a child and even moonlighted as a piano teacher for a while, I’ve seen my fair share of great teachers—as well as teachers so bad I felt embarrassed for them as they tried to teach me.
Here are three tips for choosing a music teacher who’s giving you your money’s worth.
1. Don’t hire a teacher who teaches only the exam syllabus
Parents need to get rid of the PSLE and O level mentality when it comes to music.
Passing music exams is useless if the kid cannot play anything other than the set exam pieces.
Teachers often try to lure parents into enrolling their kids in their programmes by promising that they’ll train the kid to pass exams. The problem is, learning the skills required to “actually play” is a lot harder than learning to pass music exams.
Teachers who teach only the exam syllabus are most definitely not giving you your money’s worth, as under their tutelage your child only plays three pieces in an entire year. That’s like hiring a math teacher to teach only the six times table just because that’s what the school said it would be testing that year.
Even a teacher with lousy playing skills can teach exam pieces as they just need to practise those three pieces beforehand, never mind if they can’t play anything else.
If your child becomes a well-rounded musician, he or she should be able to pass the higher exam grades with ease after several years of study. If you approach the study of the instrument solely as preparation for exams, however, that’s all your child will be able to play.
2. Pick a teacher who gets your child excited about music
If a teacher is killing rather than stimulating your child’s interest, look for one who does the opposite, or you’re wasting your money.
The problem with studying music is that becoming a serviceable musician requires much more time and effort than you can imagine.
No matter how much you force your child to practise, if they’re not fiddling around with the instrument on their own and experimenting with creating their own sounds (as opposed to just practising the set pieces), it is, frankly, quite unlikely they will ever have the confidence to even casually entertain their friends on their instrument.
And a teacher who is unable to incite any enthusiasm in his or her students is going to produce kids with advanced grade certificates who, at the end of their study, will declare regretfully that they studied the instrument as a child but can’t really play.
That’s not to say there are no merits to having a strict teacher. Strict teachers can be beneficial to older children who already have a strong interest in music and are committed to improving their skills. Younger children who are just starting out, however, tend to do better with teachers with high levels of enthusiasm.
3. Find out if the teacher can actually play
While anyone with a Grade 8 certificate can call himself a piano teacher these days and get away with it, not all teachers can play.
Growing up, I had at least 8 music different teachers, and even as a child I could tell that about half of them weren’t very good at playing.
Now, I’m not saying you need to hire Lang Lang to teach your kid. But at the very least, the teacher should be able to sight read and play pieces of your child’s standard on the spot without having to practise beforehand.
Sit in on a few lessons and see if the teacher actively plays for your child. If the teacher hardly ever plays or only demonstrates short excerpts of the exam pieces, very nicely request a song and check if he or she breaks out into a cold sweat.
Have you had any encounters with music teachers in Singapore? Share your experiences in the comments!