Eight reasons your kid needs a new music teacher

There can be obvious indicators when it's time to find someone new to give lessons to your children: the teacher is late or cancels all the time, takes phone calls in the middle of the lesson, raps your kid's knuckles with a ruler, et cetera. I'd like to discuss some less obvious signs that nonetheless point to the fact that things aren't working out.

Sometimes it's more a matter of taste.1. There is no accountability.
A professional educator should have a book wherein he or she records the lesson's assignments in detail for either the parent or the student (depending on the student's age). Ideally, there should also be a place for the student to log their practice. A teacher who leaves no trace ends up treating each lesson as a discrete meeting with no thread of continuity, which hinders forward progress.

2. The teacher is not using professional materials.
The best teachers have strong relationships with local music stores and are keeping up with the latest books and methods. These teachers understand that costs of $5.95 here or $6.95 there are not unreasonable in the context of the overall investment of music lessons. Furthermore, an experienced teacher has a plan for the student's education that means any individual book will be useful.

An instructor who uses photocopies, outdated method books, or handwritten materials may be thinking small, uncertain of the best direction to take, or reinventing the wheel.

3. The teacher moves straight through each method book, page after page, week after week. This teacher is using a one-size-fits-all approach and is not really present. The student is not gaining independence or skill, since very few students can assimilate new concepts at this rate.

A better teacher will supplement the method books with folk, classical, jazz, and pop repertoire tailored to the student's desires and needs.

4. The teacher asks for a longer lesson. This is a red flag, especially if the request is accompanied by skipping the student from, say, book 1 to book 3 in a given series. Some teachers pinpoint a student as "talented" and then unwittingly set them up to fail by giving them repertoire they are not prepared for, requiring a lesson that's too long for a beginner.

5. The student is not playing rhythms correctly.
It can be tedious and difficult to teach a student to count rhythmic patterns on their own, which is why a lot of teachers don't bother.

6. The student has curled-up pinkies, hunched shoulders, or keeps looking at his or her hands when playing. These are signs of tension that scream, "too much, too fast."

7. The student is not practicing. If you, as a parent, are supporting your child's practice and it's not happening, the teacher is perhaps to blame. A student will practice if he has a practice routine and a clear idea of what he is supposed to do during the designated time. If the piece is too difficult, he will balk.

A pro teacher will spend a lot of time during the lesson teaching the student how to practice. Not every detail will transfer to the student's own practice sessions, but specific guidelines are much more inspiring.

8. There is no recital. Recital preparation is "teaching to the test" but in a very healthy way - it shows that the teacher can help the student set and follow through with longer-term goals. If there's no performance opportunity, there is no bigger picture and it's all too easy to lose momentum.

All of the eight no-nos above are things I've learned in part through the many transfer students I've taken. I've encountered these teaching mistakes so many times that it now takes me only a few moments to diagnose them with a new student.

Some of these things can be corrected - I've had lots of parents say things like, "He never used to practice but now I don't even have to remind him," or "She doesn't get frustrated the way she used to." However, some students never recover from the lack of momentum created by these failures of instruction, and it's a shame.

In a field where so many adults are intimidated by their lack of knowledge, my goal is to spread the word about the problems I see in a way that is accessible to the layperson. I hope I've done that here.

As a student, teacher, or parent, have you encountered any of these eight reasons to seek a new music teacher? Or others?