8 Signs That it Might Be Time to Change Teachers


old-man-hornPrivate music lessons are a time-honored tradition for learning how to play an instrument. The experience is really hard to beat in terms of hands-on, focused learning.

That being said, private lessons are private. They are a one-on-one teacher/student relationship and not all relationships are made in heaven. Some relationships do not mesh.

For a period of many years, I pursued private teachers as often as possible. I ended up studying with a good number of horn teachers, some of which are very well-known personalities in the horn world. It was almost like a hobby.

Most of those experiences were very good. At the very least, there was always something positive to be learned, a kernel of truth that could be gleaned and absorbed.

Occasionally however, the chemistry was just not right between myself and the teacher, and it became apparent that I needed to move on to a different teacher, for one reason or another.

Time is money and music lessons, in most cases, cost money. All money concerns aside, it is just no fun to be studying with a teacher who does not connect, support and encourage.

There is no need to stay with a teacher that is not a right fit – either from false devotion or simply because taking lessons is the “right thing” to do. If any of the items below ring true in any way, it might be time for you to move on.

1. You do not feel challenged enough.
An ambitious student relies on their teacher in the same manner that a medical patient relies on a doctor for a clean bill of health. If the patient is overweight or otherwise unhealthy, the doctor should say something about that problem to the patient. As your caretaker, it is the doctor’s responsibility to monitor your health and to push you towards a healthier lifestyle. They should be prescribing treatments for improvement.

Metaphorically speaking, the same holds true for a private music teacher. If he/she does not push you enough, you might end up at a level that is not marketable or competitive.

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2. You feel overworked, tired, and/or confused.
On the opposite end of the scale from the previous point, I once studied with a teacher whose dogma for lesson materials was fairly fixed and strict. It was like a trial-by-fire; you either worked with his set regimen “as is” or you failed. Period.

During that time I always felt tired and overworked. My chops felt terrible. I felt like my playing was getting worse and not better. I got nervous for lessons and stayed that way.

After one year, I switched teachers. Hindsight being 20/20 I probably should have done it sooner rather than later. The first 6 months with the new teacher basically amounted to a detoxification process – repairing and mending the damage done to both my chops and mental state.

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3. Your horn teacher never plays in lessons. Or, if they do play, he/she does not sound good.
A music student needs a strong example to follow and emulate. While listening to recordings and attending concerts has its benefits, having a teacher that can both explain and demonstrate the techniques being talked about is crucial.

This is arguably one of the main benefits of private music lessons – being able to hear someone better than you, up close and personal, in order to see how it is done. If your teacher does not play at all in lessons, or sounds terrible when they do, this may be a sign to move on.

The bottom line – it is hard to trust a teacher as being competent if they are not also a competent player.

4. Lessons feel rushed.
A teacher that is active in the field, for example performing concerts on a regular basis, is a good thing. This kind of activity keeps the teacher mentally engaged and in-tune with what it is like in the “real world.” Ideally, this love of performing is then transferred on to the students through that teacher’s teaching method.

That being said, if your teacher is away from the studio more often than being present, it might be time to move on to a teacher that is more present and attentive. Music lessons work best when the teacher is able to take the time to listen and understand your needs.

If your teacher seems to not have the time for making considerate and informed prescriptions, it might be time to pursue a new one.

Additional reading:

5. Your teacher is not listening to you. He/she keeps you in the dark. 
Effective teachers have a specific pedagogy and method in mind for their students, consisting of standard studies, etudes, and solos. Yet, however staid this method is it does not preclude a proper evaluation of the student and where they will fit in with regard to that method.

Private lessons work best when time is taken to listen and understand, much like how a doctor listens to a patient when prescribing a new drug or important lab test.

The adage “one size fits all” does not apply when it comes to music lessons and the methods being used.

6. Your teacher is mean-spirited.
Some of the best lessons I have ever had were ones where I felt a bit horse-whipped, yet at the same time, inspired to move on and work even harder. A good teacher, after getting to know you and how far you can be pushed, knows where this tipping point lies.

If your teacher gets defensive or angry however, when challenging questions or situations arise, or leaves you feeling humiliated rather than inspired, it may be time to make a change.

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7. Your future goals are unclear.
If you are a serious student looking to make a livelihood from music, it is important to start thinking about your career sooner rather than later.

Most careers are planned and built out over time. It is not something that just happens by magic or osmosis. A private lesson teacher should be instrumental in helping a serious student develop and fine-tune these future plans.

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8. Your teacher seems more concerned about discussing him/herself more than you and what you need.
A teacher that spends more time in lessons talking about themselves and their accomplishments is one to be wary of. While it can be interesting and perhaps even entertaining to listen to personal stories and anecdotes, lesson-time is not about story-telling, or worse, hero-worship.

A central and primary tenet of private music lessons is the welfare of the student, not the other way around. If your lessons seem to be more about the teacher and their ego and less about you and what you need, it may be time to find a new teacher.

University of Horn Matters