So you finally decided to take music, dance, or acting lessons, but where to go? How do you find a good program and a good teacher? Here are six tips to help you find the right teacher for you.
1) Know what you want and what you can afford.
Take a look at your budget and your schedule. Are you looking for a once a week activity or every night? Do you want to do solo performances or group performances? How much can you afford to spend? How far are you willing to drive? Deciding these things will help you to narrow your choices down to something you can live with.
2) Do Some Research.
There are a plethora of websites that give reviews. Check out the local studios on Yelp, Google, and Angie’s List. Also check professional membership groups like National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) or other similar groups for your discipline. Every year Backstage does an edition listing the best teachers and schools as voted by readers in NYC and LA. But remember like everything else in life, you may not agree with all the opinions presented on the web, however they will give you a feel for the studio. Also check out class fees to get an idea of the going rate in your area. For example at the time of this post in Covina, CA half hour music lessons range from $20-$30. In Hollywood, CA they range from $40-$60. The local community college is also a great place to get quality classes for cheap and they take all ages. My husband took fine art classes at the local community college when he was in 4th grade after his school day was over. During high school I took music classes in the evening at the local community college. At the community college dance class I took a few years ago, we have a bunch of retirees. They are usually offered at all times of day and are a great place to start your training. Also check out what your city offers. Many have a large selection of music, dance, acting, and art classes. They are a good place to start, but if you are a more advanced student one on one classes are the way to grow.
3) What do they offer and what is required.
Most studios offer 2-4 recitals or showcases a year. Most charge an extra fee for recital or performance participation. Some provide your book or learning packet, most do not. Do they offer scholarships? If so, what kinds of commitments are involved? Most places that offer scholarships require the families to do many volunteer hours. Some places will allow videos and photos of the performances and rehearsals, but many hire professionals and sell photos and DVDs of the performances as a fundraiser. If it is an on-camera acting class, do you get a copy of the footage? If it is a dance class, do you have to provide a uniform and specific dance shoes? For many dance studios you must purchase specially designed costumes for every dance number your child is in, so take this in to account. Do you pay weekly or monthly, and are they willing to work out a payment plan if you need it? Find out as much as possible about all the “hidden fees” involved in your activity.
4) Meet with the teacher before you pay any money.
Most good schools will offer a meet and greet, free introductory lesson, or free class observation to make sure you are a good fit with their program. At that session you can ask all your questions, talk to other students and their parents, and get a feel for the teacher’s style. They might have a very reputable program and successful students, but if the teacher rubs you the wrong way for any reason then you have not lost any money or made a commitment you do not want to keep. On the other hand, if you are hesitant and the teacher is awesome, then you will be excited to start classes.
5) How to tell a good teacher.
Make sure their training and accomplishments and in line with what you want to achieve. If you want to be an opera singer, don’t learn voice from someone who doesn’t sing. If you are getting ready to audition for a certain school or scholarship program, find a teacher who has either attended that school, is one of the people for whom you will be auditioning, or has many students who have auditioned for that school. Make sure the teacher you want is the person who teaches the class. Sometimes teacher’s assistants or other professionals teach 50% or more of the time. You are paying for this teacher’s time, so make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Often I have to remind my students that private lessons should be tailored to the student and that they should speak up about what they want to learn. Make sure the teacher gives you good personal attention and is available to answer questions or give advice during class time, via e-mail, or open office hours. Another thing to consider is how well-connected the teacher is to the industry you want to get in to. Do they offer special classes with industry professionals? Do they have the inside scoop on various auditions, competitions, performances? What professional memberships are they part of? Lastly, make sure your personalities and teaching/learning styles are compatible. If they are not compatible, don’t worry, just keep looking for a teacher you like. You will know it when you find the right teacher for you.
6) Don’t stay too long or too short with one teacher.
When you are first developing your technique, it is important to stay with one teacher. As an opera singer it is imperative to stay with one teacher somewhere 3-5 years. I think the same can be said of dancers or other types of performing that are very muscularly technical. Getting too many different methods and techniques from different teachers can be more harmful than helpful when you are first starting out. However, once you have a solid technique in place, definitely check out other teachers so you can gain new and clearer perspective on your craft, make more contacts, and gain different performance opportunities. I would never go to more than one teacher at a time for the same skill, but different teachers for different skills at the same time is great. For example, the crossover effect of acting classes on how a performer sings can be remarkable. Similarly you do not want to stay with one teacher for too long and get stagnant. Sometimes it is hard to stop working with someone you love, but you have to keep growing and a good teacher will understand. My motto as a teacher is “my job is to make myself obsolete.” After three years, my students should know what I am going to correct in their performance before I have to say anything. Hence why finding someone you admire and enjoy learning from is important, a good student will become like their master.
I am proud that you are looking to better yourself and your craft by learning from a master teacher. There will be lots of bumps on the road to becoming a performing artist, but keep learning, keep playing, keep creating. You are worth being the best you can be, and the world needs your skills as an artist!