Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Questions to Ask Ourselves…

Today – a list of questions to ask ourselves

As private studio teachers, what are we here to do?  Of all people, we surely know how hard it is to make a living in the arts.  What are our expectations of our students’ future?  Do we tie our students’ success into our perception of our own worth?  Do we only teach the students we see as “talented” or will we teach anyone who has the desire to learn?

Future expectations:  What is our goal for our students?  Is not the student who truly desires to improve and works their tail off to gain incremental ground in understanding as important as the student who shows the potential (and the will) to have a career in music?  What about our avocational students who are in lessons just because they enjoy the time taken each week for music, even if it is the only time they touch their instrument?  Should we not take the time to enjoy their time?

Talent: What do we do when we find a “talented” student who just refuses to work?  How do we respond?  Do we get frustrated with them?  How do we help to encourage them to practice/improve?  Is this even our job – to identify and encourage talent?  Even with a “talented” student, what criteria do we have that helps us to identify that talent?  What right do we have, ethically, to tell a student that they have talent, versus not encouraging another student to such a high degree?

Conversely, what about the student who shows little to no ability on their chosen instrument?  What is our obligation to that student?  Especially if the student states their goal of becoming a professional musician, what is our ethical responsibility in encouraging the love of music while discouraging the dream of becoming a professional?  How do we balance these two dichotomies?

Do we identify our professional success with our students’ success?  What defines this success?  Is it, for the student who has struggled to match pitch, singing an entire song on pitch?  Is it how many students we have accepted into higher education music performance degree programs?  How do YOU define success in the studio?  Is it the same for each student, or do you take into account each student’s personal goals when defining student success?

We also have chosen to make a living teaching.  The ethical razor-wire balancing act between our responsibility to our students and our responsibility to our business is something we must assess from time to time, ensuring that we are honest with both ourselves and our students.  We have an ethical and fiscal responsibility to both encourage musical study and to be honest about what we see as student potential.

What questions are you wrestling with today?

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

I offer ... [Read more]


  1. Stephanie

    Great questions!
    Here is a quote that sums up what I *now* believe to be true about teaching music.

    “Culturally we’ve been scared away from our creativity by what my dear friend Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, calls creativity monsters–the voices from the past and present who criticize, attack, ridicule, and judge us, and who banish us from owning and expressing our creativity with joy and abandon…. They’re the people who imply that creativity must be “good” in order to be valuable, who subject your work to public appraisal before you’re allowed to join the club…

    One of the problems that distances so many of us from our creative Spirit is the notion that being creative is synonymous with being a professional or an aspiring artist. It’s not. It simply means making something new out of something that presently exists.”

    The Answer is Simple…Love Yourself, Live your Spirit! Sonia Choquette

  2. A Waters

    I’m in high school and I teach as a part-time job for a little money (to the tune of about $1000-$1500 per school year) that I can save for college. I don’t plan on going into music performance or music ed, and while I enjoy playing violin, I am not the best in my orchestra. I try to always keep in mind that my goal is to help my students learn to improve and love playing violin. I love teaching, and I try to make lessons not a burden for students. Balancing that desire to make lessons fun and also with the need to help my students improve can be tricky, but that’s part of being a teacher. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

  3. Jennifer G.

    How about those who don’t like these things anymore but their parents want them to? How would you deal with that as a teacher?

  4. Rachel Velarde

    Thanks Sonia!
    Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I love your thoughts on creativity. Creativity just IS, it doesn’t have to produce anything world changing. It will change us, and that’s enough.
    Keep creating and encouraging students to be creative!

  5. Rachel Velarde

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. Yes, improving playing and encouraging the love of music is, I think, ultimately the goal. That serves the student best. Keep it up!

  6. Rachel Velarde

    Hi Jennifer –
    Thanks for the GREAT question! For students who are ambivalent about their instrument (often demonstrated by lack of effective practice, dramatic slow-down in improvement, inattention during lessons), I will talk with them directly, openly and honestly about their interest in continuing lessons and make sure that the cues I am reading truly come from a lack of desire to continue studying the instrument (in my case, voice). Following that discussion, I will call the parents and either speak with them over the phone or set up a meeting time to discuss the student’s stated disinterest in continuing lessons. At that time, we come to a decision on whether or not to continue, based on all the information gathered from behavior during the lesson, the discussion with the student, and the parents’ concerns. I will not teach a student who does not want to learn – it is a waste of time for all of us, and a waste of money for the parents. It is also exhausting to try to inspire a student who is not interested in lessons. Finally, if forcing the continuation of lessons serves to make the student hate music, we have done them the disservice of a lifetime. Music is of a vital importance and should be a lifelong part of everyone’s life – to whatever degree, even if it’s just singing in the shower.
    For my own daughters, they have gone through periods of disinterest in their piano lessons. As a parent, I feel that both truly enjoy playing the piano (they sit down and just play around), but are not always interested in the discipline needed to learn the technique. So, I resort to long-term bribery – they both really want dance lessons. I told them that if they continue to work well in piano lessons for the next year, while I’m in graduate school, then I will do my best to make sure they get dance lessons after I have graduated. This serves as both a motivator, and as a chance to really instill the habit of piano as something they just “do,” it’s not really an option, it’s part of their every day routine like reading and other homework. They still go in and out of phases, but both improve and DO enjoy the piano. If they didn’t spontaneously play the instrument, I would not force them to continue.
    I hope this helps you!
    Thank you for the thought-provoking question.

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