Many music teachers still confront the false idea that their subject is a walk in the park to teach. The belief that music is one of those easier subjects where less effort needs to go in to supporting students than in the sciences or English literature, however, ignores the tremendous efforts educators put in to develop the musical abilities of their students.
It’s of course impossible to draw up a precise list of qualities which every great music teacher must have. A wide variety of approaches to teaching music exist, and there is not necessarily a right and a wrong way to go about it. But here are a few ideas of some traits which help music teachers to stand out.
Connect with students
Students will generally learn better if they feel a connection developing with their teacher, whether that’s through humour, showing you care about their development, or making sure you devote your time equally to all students when in a group.
Don’t be afraid to be challenging
Acting as a student’s friend may be an easy option in the short run, but the best teachers need to be prepared to challenge students to push themselves, and not to say “it’s ok” if they’ve forgotten to practice their piece for that week.
Be an excellent communicator
This is probably the case for any teacher, but there are some important points specific to the case of music. McCready points out that students should be given the opportunity to try things out in the lesson, rather than having to listen to long speeches from the teacher which take up most of the time. So while its key to be able to communicate core concepts and point to areas for improvement, it’s also vital to be capable of doing so in a concise manner, allowing the music to go on.
Love all music
Most people have one or two genres that are at the top of their list, even if their tastes are varied. However, it’s crucial to show students that you have an enthusiasm for all musical styles so that they are motivated to do some exploration for themselves and find out what they like. This can also help them open their eyes to some types of music they may never have considered before.
Have a strong commitment to fundamentals
As Tony Mazzocchi notes, it’s sometimes by reviewing the fundamentals of instrument playing and musical technique that a problem can be overcome. So even when you’re rehearsing a complicated piece on the eve of a concert or test, returning to the basics, such as posture, will sometimes make all the difference.
Identify problems quickly
You don’t have to criticise everything a student is doing, even if it seems like one of your students can’t even play for ten seconds without making a mistake. McCready notes that it might just be a case of identifying a key problem with their technique or approach to improve things. The ability to do this will make you a great teacher.
Believe that everyone can reach their full potential
All students learn at different paces and in various ways. This may mean that you have to repeat certain things with one student whereas another will grasp the point you are making all at once. Teachers need to be able to maintain patience and the conviction that with the hard work and study, everyone can make it.
Work yourself out of a job
This might at first sound an odd one, but ultimately, the goal of a teacher is to develop their students to a point where they become increasingly independent and capable of developing their own talents. Having the ability to see when it is necessary to step in and help and when it is better to let the student explore their own approach, particularly as they become more advanced, is critical.
Be a constant student
The best teachers always recognise that they can learn something from their own practice and that of others. Reflecting on how you have performed, if there was anything you could have done differently or identifying areas you need to work on will be beneficial to you as well as your students.
Leading a class of students can be challenging and noisy. And if your teaching an instrument one-on-one, you will invest a lot of time in developing a student’s talent. Making clear to students that you are enthusiastic about what you do can be a great way of motivating them.