How do I find the right music teacher?

There is a rare figure in music. The archetypal player known as the…

“self-taught musician.”

When it gets right down to it, we all actually teach ourselves. We do the work of showing up, looking deeply, listening, understanding, analyzing and actively performing.

No one else can do this for us. Wouldn’t it be nice to just get a download to our brain that would make all this possible so that we wouldn’t have to do all this pesky learning? Science fiction! Or is it?!

For the most part though we can use a pointers, some insight, maybe a lesson here or there, a fresh viewpoint or just a point in the right direction. The people that can offer this to us might be friends, family or new acquaintances that we refer to as mentors, teachers and coaches. Each term means something slightly different but what we are after is finding a person that can help lead us in the right direction, give us some insight, help us save some time and energy and make the best use of our personal ability.

So how do we find this very important person or more often, a faculty of encouraging, musicians?

There are always strength in numbers and we want to get the best people involved on our team. That’s right music is a team sport. Few rarely go it alone. Even those self-taught musicians need other musicians to play with, music from others that they listen to and more than likely, more than one person to step in with a little more knowledge, experience or perspective to move them along. You can learn a tremendous amount on your own in today’s information age but having a team of great musical minds around you will propel you exponentially via their investment with you and their immediate proximity to you.

There are endless books, magazines, videos and websites to peruse. AND peruse them you will. A great teacher or coach can help pinpoint the information you really need at the right time. They already know the right book or recording that will get you what you want. They already know the best ways for approaching new material and have already experienced the challenges of learning that material themselves. They’ve likely seen lots of other learners experience it as well.

Unfortunately, these “Bagger Vance” type gurus are not all that easy to find. If you are in a place with a lot of people, like a bigger city with a large music scene and a lot of affinity for the arts, they will be around. If you are in a smaller city or even a more remote location, good people are likely still there too.

So how do you find the best coach or teacher for you?

And for YOU is really the key here. We all have our own personality. Our own way of doing things, saying things and just being. We all have our own idiosyncrasies and learning style. Just because someone has a lot of experience or a great reputation doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a nice person that you can get a long with. You may not need them to be particularly nice. You may really want someone to give you the harsh reality and might respond well to a little screaming. Most of us aren’t really seeking any drama but we are seeking results.

The results that YOU want.

A great coach or teacher looks at you as an individual. It’s not about them. It’s not about all they can show you or all that they have done. It’s about what they can pull out or draw out of you. It’s about how they might be able to inspire or motivate you.

Though, I should say inspiration and motivation are not really the job of a teacher. If you weren’t at least a little motivated or inspired already you probably wouldn’t be here. But it can be a benefit of a truly great teacher/student relationship.

A great coach knows how to work with your limitations, how to show them to you and how to help you move beyond them. They may also put you on a routine. Do this, this and this at this time for this amount of time to get the results you want. The results you want is another key factor.

A great classical guitar teacher might not be the best choice as a jazz saxophone teacher. Although depending on the purpose and what you need they may be a great choice.

Usually though we want to seek out people who have had success themselves or with other students in the areas that we are most interested in. I always look to the teachers of the great players.

I know who my own guitar instructors learned from and I am part of that great lineage. Experience and information AND music passed down generation to generation. I seek out the teachers and learning materials suggested by other artists that I admire or aspire to play like. I’m a guitarist but I’ve learned a lot from pianists, percussionists, singers, wind players, academics, composers, writers, comedians and players in every style of music.

I have had a lot of wonderful teachers and they have been an enormous blessing my life. They also just seemed to show up exactly when I needed them. They were there at the right place at the right time to move me along. It always felt that fate or kismet or whatever was playing a role in my learning. But I take a very serious responsibility for this learning myself.

In music, there is no “I’ll finish these lessons and I’ll know all there is to know”, or “I’ve got a music degree and so now I don’t need to practice anymore”, “or now I’ve just won a grammy and that’s it for me”. NO.

Musicians are artists and practitioners. We are life long learners. We seek experiences and perspectives that constantly shape and effect what we are able to do and the quality with which we do it. There is no end to what is possible for us.

Great opportunities to learn are all around us and just a click away on an internet worth of free music and video tutorials. All of this needs time, your time, to be explored. A great coach or teacher can save you time and separate you from the “rabbit hole” and get you on a focused path towards the top of the mountain.

So how do I find these amazing purveyors of musical encouragement and experience?

You might already know some. The literally could be a friend or a family member. If you’ve already had some lessons they may be your current teacher or someone in their network. You’ll have to discuss this very seriously (and sometimes casually) with the other musicians in your life. If you’ve never studied before or are looking for a great teacher for a child or a friend, there are likely some resources available in your area first, and then on the world wide web next.

A great place to start is with personal references. Get recommendations from the people you already know who are studying or who might have children or other friends studying music. Where do they go for lessons or who are they teachers they know or have heard about. Any good or bad experience someone else has had can give you a lot of important information about programs or specific teachers.

Music stores almost always have a team of teachers on staff or at should know who the musicians and teachers are in a community. This can be a great place to make a connection and build relationships amongst other musicians as well as for getting materials or making repairs. Music store teachers don’t usually need music degrees (though some might) and they likely have their own system for teaching. This is neither good nor bad but you’ll have to be the judge based on how the personalities are working together and with the results you are getting.

Colleges and Universities are the places for higher education and they will usually have a dedicated music department or even a conservatory. There are serious players there studying to get certificates or degrees based on their knowledge and ability. A call to the music office can often be a good point in the right direction as they know the students who are skilled in your instrument and students are often looking to make a little extra money. Some departments even have systems in place to help their students start teaching in the community or even in filling gigs.

Music clubs and societies are communities of music enthusiasts and musicians who come together for special events, to prepare festivals or concert series or to do charitable work in the name of spreading the music. If you live in a large enough city, you’ll find everything from musician’s unions, music foundations, community supported radio stations, guitar societies, violin societies, piano, societies and interest groups of all kinds from bluegrass and flamenco to classical and new age composition. These folks are a network within themselves. They know everybody and they know who is doing what, who is doing it well and how to get in touch with the people you might need.

Public and private school music programs thankfully still exist in many school districts. I am a product of my elementary, middle and high school’s music program. My teachers there were great and very encouraging on many levels and we got tons of experience reading music and performing in everything from concert band, marching band, jazz and stage bands, choirs and smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles. When I was ready to stretch out further with the guitar (not a traditional band instrument) my teachers there helped me connect to the best choices available.

We lived in a small town of about 2000 people but we did have a great music program at our school and we also had a small private college with a music department to draw upon.

Churches are an important place in the community for music. Almost all of them have a dedicated music pastor or leader and some of them contain full out concert halls with state of the art sound production, lighting and a full band. Some will have opportunities for people to join the band or participate in some way and other offer youth bands with capable coaching.

Church musicians are often educated but depending on the size of your community, they may be a little more insulated and not have all the various connections to other musicians outside the church. But if you go to a church with some great music, you should make a connection with the players there about your desire to learn or to be a part. They could be very helpful.

With todays technology some players and teachers offer “Skype” lessons or face to face, real time lessons over the internet. You’d need a certain amount of technology to be able to do it but you can literally study with anyone from anywhere in the world this way. You even have to option to hit up some big time players that you wouldn’t have access to any other way.

Other players and teachers may offer subscription or web lessons via material on their website or for download. If you are already pretty accomplished this might be a great thing. You really have to teach yourself from the materials that you get from the teacher with no real response or correction from them.

Beginning players really do benefit from a teacher that is in the room with them and can make adjustments or suggest improvements in real time.

There is no shortage of place to find great music, musicians and teachers. The real challenge is in finding the right person for your learning style, musical styles, level of play, your personality and your budget. They are out there though, even in the smallest communities if you just know where to look.

Hope you’ll find a great coach and mentor that can help you realize your musical goals.

Happy hunting and happy playing.

We offer online video courses as well as in-person, private and group lessons through AND

Don’t hesitate to send us a note if we can be more helpful in finding what YOU really need and want for your own music studies.

Jason Riley

I’m a hustling musician and family man. I love to learn, play, share and encourage others in music. We’ve got some cool bands (including Soca Jukebox) and I am the director of the St. Joseph Arts Academy. This is my Blog!