Q&A with Chelsea Dibble

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Good afternoon students and parents! Today I am addressing the top five questions I get asked by students looking to find a good match for a music instructor.

1) What should I be looking for in a private music instructor?

First and foremost, find a high-quality music teacher. Ask to look at their resume. Find a teacher who has had considerable pedagogical background and is well-reputed in their field.

Look for a voice or piano instructor who is organized and who puts your lesson as a priority. If a teacher reschedules on you over and over or is not prepared for your lesson, you are most likely not receiving the full attention and lesson benefits that you could be.

Also look for a music instructor whose main passion is teaching. I have had personal experience in taking lessons from teachers who teach as a way to make some side money but whose main focus is on performing. While this kind of teacher can be a valuable asset, I believe that the teachers who spend their time obsessing over how to be a better teacher are really going to be the better teachers over the teachers who perform full-time.

2) If you were a customer looking for a teacher, what would be some secrets of the trade that you would know to look for?

Let me start off by saying that I am a customer! I still take my own music lessons on a regular basis. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be growing as a teacher. As a customer, I look for a teacher I could get along with as a person, someone who I would feel comfortable talking with about things other than music. Music is a very vulnerable endeavor and I believe that if I don’t have a teacher with whom I feel I can talk to about relationships and personal interpretations of my music, I know I will not feel safe singing and performing songs with that teacher. I also believe in only hiring music teachers with a master’s or doctorate in their field. There are many amateur musicians out there, young and old, who offer lessons but have no pedagogical background and no terminal degree to influence how they teach. Please, do not ever hire an amateur musician who has not gone to college for music!

3) What types of lessons do you most commonly teach?

My most common types of jobs are piano lessons for elementary-school aged children and voice lessons for middle and high-school aged kids. Most of the families I work for have two to three children who take lessons from me. I use the Alfred’s Piano Book series for piano lessons and Glover’s Scale Book for the basis of my students but I also allow them to pick songs that they like to learn as well like “The Pink Panther,” “Fur Elise,” “Harry Potter,” etc. I also love the ABRSM and The Royal Academy of Music books and programs.

For my voice students, I use a combination of vocal methods: Berton Coffin, Dalcroze method, Alexander technique, and other sundry methods and combine that with repertoire that I deem sufficient for the student’s learning and that the student deems interesting.

4) What questions should I ask when interviewing a potential music teacher?

Ask your potential teacher about their hours. Ask them about their previous experience teaching, performing and accompanying. Ask them what their strengths are—are they a personable person, a down-to-business type person, an easy-going person? Do they have good piano and accompanying skills? Do they have good accounting and business skills? Are they timely? What genres do they specialize in? What is their teaching style? Who is their favorite music instructor and why? Most importantly, they should ask you what you want to get out of lessons. A good teacher will always cater to you and will help you with your own personal goals in music performance.

5) Can my student do music lessons without having to be very serious about it?

When I was a kid, I participated in basketball, track, triathlon, gymnastics, swimming, dance, among other activities. I do none of those activites professionally. At the time though, I put my heart and soul into those activities. I worked as hard as I could during practice. I practiced at home. I went to clinics. I idolized the top professionals in those fields. I dare guess that many young athletes aspire to get on the varsity team and then to get drafted by a college team. Will they? Who knows. But the only way towards those goals is to have the drive to try and reach those goals. Why undercut a potential musician right away by dismissing their interest in starting up lessons by putting it on a back burner? If your child asks for music lessons, there is something within them burning and hoping to become as good as someone. Do not doom them to fail from the beginning.

Bonus question answered. This has little to do with finding a teacher, however, I commonly get asked what my motivation techniques are for practicing.

6) How can I help my student practice?

Be sure, especially with smaller children, to provide the structure they need to remember to practice. If your child needs help getting to school, getting to sports’ practice, eating at mealtimes, chances are, they also need help remembering when to practice. The expectations for music should be the same as those for schoolwork, playtime and the rest of their schedule. Montessori found that young children love structure, just as adults love structure. Schedule a regular practice time for your student—whether it’s in the morning before breakfast, after school before soccer practice, or after dinner and homework. Schedule their practice time and then remind them or “take” them to practice every day.