This is a big decision lots of people are making about college right now. Some things to consider:
1. Take trial lessons and assess who the best teacher is - i.e. who makes you sound the best? Not who is the best player, or the most famous, or the most entertaining. I missed so many great teachers when I was younger. Sometimes great players are also great teachers, but it’s not a given.
2. What is good teaching?
- Not talking too much. It’s about the student, not the teacher pontificating. Did you get to play and test things during the lesson? Did the teacher help you troubleshoot what they were saying? Did they apply it to you, and respond to you, or just explain about it for 10 minutes?
- The student walks out sounding better. (Occasionally you have to retool to change a habit.)
- Clear/focused/attainable goals vs an unattainable, thousand-point to do list
- Approaching lessons like a sports coach: Less talking, more doing; Drills, reps, action, troubleshooting; It’s probably not as helpful to talk about the perfect way to kick a soccer ball vs. getting out there and trying it 100 times.
- Seeing the big picture: Does the teacher help you practice? Do they help you with fundamentals? Interpreting phrasing and expression in excerpts is fun but usually not the most important thing.
3. Cost too high? Can you study with them online?
- Does the teacher you want to study with teach at an expensive school or in an expensive city? Are you taking on lots of debt to study with them?
- Study with them directly, online instead. Remove the expensive middleman. What financial situation gives you the most agency? You don't have to study with anyone, you can make it work with many different situations and teachers.
- Could you go to one school that makes more financial sense but study with your dream teacher in addition online? Be respectful of your current teacher, but you always have the right to study with anyone you want, whenever you want. You are the customer.
- Debt can be a big mental burden. When I signed off on it as an 18 year old, I had never made a big financial decision in my life. Any worry was brushed under the table with "follow your dreams..." Just don't let the pressure make the decision for you, really consider it and make your own choice.
4. Great players are often very inspiring teachers, but...
- Teaching and playing are separate skills.
- Evaluate the teaching, not the position - the best players can be great teachers, and the best teachers can still teach you the most technical details. What's the impact on students?
- The best way to perform reliably is to minimize thinking and conscious awareness. This can make explaining/teaching difficult.
- The best players are the best practicers - if you can listen to them practice, this can be invaluable.
- Orchestra players are often excellent for showing you the extremely high level of proficiency and detail that is needed; at the same time the best teachers may help you achieve this level faster.
- The best players have their fundamentals (practice/reading/physical habits) so dialed in that they have the luxury of thinking about other stuff when they play. I'd miss notes and be told "just think about the harmonies more" or "practice more." The real issues for me were not reading clearly and not practicing well.
- You will probably get better at basketball with a lesson from the best coach than from Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
5. Relax and give yourself room to think. You don’t have to study with anyone. Don’t do what you “should," listen to what you want to do and what’s right for you.
What makes a good teacher to you?
Sub for more thoughts on practice and classical music: