What Makes a Good Music Teacher?

Mar 07, 17 What Makes a Good Music Teacher?

Written by Kimberley Bell 


My official journey as a musician started when I was 10 years old. I sat in front of a whiteboard with the other children in my first lesson, and we were revising notes in the scale. My teacher recited, “E, F, G… what comes after G?” Being so overconfident in my abilities, I loudly replied “H”, only to prompt a chorus of giggles from the rest of the class. I suppose it was here I learnt that musicianship was going to be tricky, and that constant revision is paramount. But you can’t practice without motivation, and what’s better motivation than a great teacher?


In my experience, I have come across a variety of music teachers; one was docile while I made the same mistakes every week, one yelled that I wasn’t learning fast enough, but there was only one that left a lasting impression. She was my piano teacher for 4 years, and it was her fun-loving personality and pedagogical style that motivated and engaged me as a student. Children see many teachers move in and out of their lives, but it is the special teachers we remember fondly. From my experience, they often possess these qualities:


She was a person

A pivotal learning point is looking at your teacher and realizing they have a life outside the classroom. As children we assume that teachers never leave the school grounds, and that their life’s work is to robotically recite multiples of 4 and put stickers on our homework. Yet with age comes wisdom, and eventually we realize that they chose this job­– they are not robots– and have dedicated themselves to help you learn and excel. When I successfully played a perfect phrase, or finished a new piece, my teacher and I would celebrate together. When I was overworked and too tired to see the bar lines clearly, she would understand and set more achievable goals for that week. When children respect their teachers, they are more eager to listen, learn, and engage in class, because they are no longer just a teacher, but a mentor and friend.


Tailored Learning
In a fast-moving technical age, we are learning more about the different ways children learn, and how to keep them interested. Whether it be visual, verbal, auditory, kinesthetic, interpersonal or independent, the sign of a good teacher is noting and tailoring to a student’s apposite learning method. As part of developing my musicality in piano performance, we spoke about how the music made us feel. What colour was the music? What shape was it? She knew that I loved art, so for homework she asked me to paint around the sheet music in colours corresponding to the phrases. It was an excellent exercise, because every time I read the music I had plenty of visual cues to influence my transitions and technique.


Unfortunately, I was a very lazy music student. Up until this point, most of my teachers had tolerated my lack of practice, but this special teacher took the time to explain how much I could achieve and develop my level of playing if I practiced a bit every day. Unlike the others, being paid to play the same 5 bars every week wasn’t enough– she wanted to see me succeed. She introduced small goals, and we would write them down on post-it notes and mark out how many bars I were to play per piece until I was confident. This taught me that it doesn’t matter how much you have to revise, as long as you do a little bit a day, you’re activating the same part of your brain to retain important information.



When a teacher knows what they’re talking about, and enjoy telling you about it, you’re going to pay attention. I loved walking up to my teacher’s front door in the afternoon, and hear her play the piano. She was studying for her AMus, and you could hear the passion and determination running through her fingers from the front garden. When a teacher is confident in what they’re teaching, you feel safe in their knowledge, and consequently trust their judgement and correction.


Good teachers are proficient, disciplined, and professional, yet approachable, empathetic, and patient. Anyone can learn to teach, but it takes a good teacher to make a difference.