I've been talking to music teachers all over the world to learn and share what their best practices are. One of my standard questions has been "What would be your best advice for a new music teacher - someone just starting out?"
Music teachers are creative folks and artists, so we are sensitive types for the most part. We want to hear the good stuff and the hard to hear comments too. But it can affect us. One of the common pieces of advice that I've heard is to take it all in, but don't take it personally.
I used to fret and worry and feel personally slighted if I didn't get a response to every single email. Or I would actually feel like someone was avoiding me for some unknown reason. Talk about insecure!
"Parents are busy. It's not that they don't like you if they don't respond right away." says piano teacher Mary Farrell of Mount Kisco, NY. "They are not ignoring you or mad at you. They're just...parents. They've got a million things going on."
Mary started out over 30 years ago, as a local piano instructor at a music store, after graduating from Wichita State University with a degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. While this was great for finding her first students, after a while she felt the need to branch out on her own. She negotiated a flat fee per student to the shop owner and started teaching from home.
"You need to figure out what makes your student tick?" says Mary. "If after asking and trying out different things and they don't know, just pick a direction for them - they may not have had enough music exposure yet."
Because I start my students at 4 years of age, I usually just start with my own original compositions which are really exercises in disguise. They have funny words and are designed to get kids having fun playing and singing while sneaking in the technical and theoretical. For older kids, I need to start to get a sense of their tastes. While this definitely creates a lot more work personally, it does have the magic effect of creating instantly focused, engaged and excited students. After all, they don't want to take music lessons, they want to play their favorite songs. And, you can start to collect a pretty great stockpile of songs that other students (current and future) will also want to learn. So it's never wasted effort.
Here's one of my students performing these early "exercises-disguised-as-songs" at a recital.