Whether you are in a formal teacher-student relationship or are self-learning, you are still a learner. That means that musical knowledge is being transmitted to you from either your formal teacher, teachers on youtube, or musicians you listen to. All of these can be considered your teachers.
But what is the key quality of a good music teacher?
A Performing Musician
A good music teacher is one who performs. Now I know many might disagree with me, and please do let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below, I’d love to engage in a dialogue with you. But let me explain why I feel that a good teacher is also one who performs.
Music is a performing art, and music is meant to be performed, and performances are meant to be consumed. Without someone to listen to music, music loses an essential quality of what makes music music.
You might argue that your audience may be yourself, or God, and that is fine - as long as the act of performing puts you, as a musician, in a position of having to execute the act of creating music in real time to a live, listening audience.
Why is this important?
As a learner of music, you want to learn the musical concepts that are crucial to developing yourself as a performing musician. Only a teacher who is actively placed in this position of a performer will be able to understand, through personal experience, the vital aspects required to perform music in real time. Not only that, such a teacher will be able to filter out what knowledge, especially theory, is required of their student and what is simply head knowledge. Your goal, after all, is to be a musician, not a theoretician, though there’s nothing wrong with being one!
Discernment in Learning
With this in mind, it’s good to exercise some discernment in selecting who you learn from - be it online, in person, or through osmosis, that is, through active and intensive listening, absorbing, and emulating. If you get to listen to someone so much, chances are they are already veteran performers so you’ve got nothing to worry about!
Now, I want to clarify that I am not disregarding the skill, experience, and talent of music teachers who do not perform. The thing is, teaching, as in the ability to transmit knowledge, is a skill. Many teachers are excellent at transmitting knowledge to their students, while many performers are absolutely horrendous at it.
My view is that teachers who love to teach and are excellent at it, should put themselves in performing contexts such that they too understand the musical concepts and skills vital in creating music in real time to a live audience. This may be out of the comfort zone for some, but you can find contexts that are less intimidating - to family, friends, busking, or giving voluntary performances at hospital wards and old folks homes.
My teachers who are also active performers have imparted so much valuable knowledge to me. These include recovering from mistakes, musical stamina through a concert, stage presence, filtering music material required to give a good show, and much more - and all from personal experience too!
My hope is that you can find the right teacher for yourself and have an enjoyable and productive learning journey. All the best!
By Neil Chan