A Special Note to Beginners

It’s difficult to be a beginner. We have all been there, and we are all a beginner at some field at any one time. Here are some of my thoughts on how to navigate the entry into learning music when you are a beginner and how to choose a teacher.

Research your Teacher’s Background

Do not feel that your starting level is too basic to have an experienced mentor and teacher. By experienced, I mean a teacher or mentor that for example hasn’t just studied for the AMEB exams at a certain grade and now classify themselves as a teacher. It takes more than that to be able to teach and pass on valuable advice to your student.

It takes years and years (and years) of mistakes and frustration in their own learning to become an experienced teacher. Experienced teachers have also had mentors throughout their life that they have studied and learnt from.

An experienced perspective is invaluable for new students starting out. Everyone started out as a beginner and everyone started from ground zero. Choosing the right teacher from the beginning is important to help you reach your full potential, or nurture your interest in music, even if it is for fun.

The Right Mentor – Speeding up the Learning Process

Ask around to help you find the right teacher for you. It is important to choose a teacher that has achieved something that you would like to model. This will help you achieve your goals. This is always the fastest way to get to your goals because those teachers have made all the mistakes to get to where they are and you can learn immediately from their wisdom.

Find a Teacher That Has a Strong History

If you want to be in theatre, find a teacher that actively performs in theatre, or has a strong background in theatre performances and is now taking a mentoring role. If you want to learn how to compose your own music, find a teacher that has composed music professionally and is strong in music theory, harmony, counterpoint, and music analysis.

Suppose your goal is to sing in a group. Join a school that specialises in choir performances and find a singing teacher that has a strong vocal background that makes you a stronger singer as an individual when you perform in a choir environment. This may or may not be the choir conductor. You do not learn how to sing by purely joining a group choir.

Untrained voices can hide in a choir. Untrained voices also just annoy the others in the group. Just because you have sung in a choir for years, it does not mean your voice is trained. Unfortunately there are people in a choir that have been there for years that have not progressed with their singing. The normal and logical case is that a person is able to join a choir only after being able to sing multiple songs from the beginning to the end immaculately.

Learning for ‘fun’

Learning for fun means different things for different people. This may mean that you do not want exams, cannot commit to practice, do not want to perform or have homework, or learn pieces you don’t like. Communicate this to your teacher. There is nothing wrong with this. Find a teacher who is dynamic and can teach you to play by ear or help you compose your own musical pieces. Pick songs that you want to learn and make sure your vocal teacher has the ability to transpose the song so it fits on your voice.

You want to learn composition? Pick a teacher who knows how to correctly use Cubase, Pro Tools, Sibelius, Logic Pro, or similar software, and has a strong musical theory and harmony background. Even if you are composing your music for fun, and you are just starting out, these software tools are industry leading and starting to use them early will make your life easier.

Research, Research, Research

Someone pointed out to me the following ad for a Music Keyboard Teacher in Sydney. It needs no further comments from me except:

  1. Research the school and (AND!) teachers
  2. If a teacher is charging out the usual rate of $60-$80 an hour, and the person below is getting at least $40 an hour, what are you paying for? Clearly not experience.

Measure a Teacher by Their Experience

Finding a teacher to learn for fun does not mean find a teacher that is less qualified or any less experienced. I don’ t mean by the number of years they have been teaching. Everyone can sit it out and get through 10 years of being a teacher as a hobby.  Ask what ’20 years experience’ means. Did the 20 years consist of different experiences and growth, or was it 20 years of the same thing repeated every single year?

You are paying for your lessons, so go the extra mile to research your teacher. Use Google as your research tool. Paying more does not mean they are a better teacher. What have they achieved?  Watch videos of their performances or of students that they have taught. There are lots of teachers that post videos of their students. Some students were ready to perform. Others were not. In some cases, particularly in singing, it is unfair to put a video of a student that was not ready.

Finding a teacher to learn for fun does not mean find a teacher that is less qualified or less experienced

Finding a teacher that fuels your internal motivation by understanding what you enjoy and guide you along this path is much stronger than trying to be disciplined… and it is a lot more fun. Fun doesn’t mean you are not learning. So choose your teacher wisely. You may be surprised where it takes you.