- How much should lessons cost?
The cost depends on the teacher (if they are famous / in high demand / highly educated) as well as where you live. Lessons in the city cost more. Lessons can range anywhere from $20-150/hr on average. Personally, I'd recommend you look in the $30-50/hr price point.
- Is it alright that I have zero musical knowledge, instrumental or otherwise?
Absolutely. A teacher should not expect you to know anything unless you tell them otherwise. In fact, many teachers like students with no experience so that they can mold them to avoid bad habits.
- How can I find a teacher that will work for me?
Several different options here. 1.) Since you're at a university, I'd recommend either going to the music department or send an email to a professor of the instrument you'd want to learn. Explain your interest and ask if they might be able to recommend a graduate student to give you lessons. For grad students, it's win-win because they'll work cheaper and they get to practice teaching. 2.) You can go to a music store and ask the clerk for recommendations. 3.) Use an online classified service (craigslist, etc.)
- Is viola or violin too far off a dream at my age?
Absolutely not. Learning an instrument is not like ballet or playing a sport; you are never to old to start. The worst thing you can do is never try because you'll always wonder.
- How do musical lessons usually work?
In your first musical lesson, your teacher will show you the basics of how to hold the instrument and how to produce your first sound. They might also talk to you about some of the parts of the instrument, but hopefully not overburden you.
As you progress, your teacher will give you weekly musical homework that you'll have to practice on your own. It could be to practice a certain technique, listen to music, practice a new song, or really anything they feel needs to be emphasized to see how you progress. The following week in your lesson, you will play for them what you have practiced. They will offer additional thoughts / revisions as necessary. Once they feel you understand the concept, they'll give you something else. Unlike other subjects, music is NOT something you can "cram" for - all musicians worth their salt know this. You can either play something or you can't - there are no short cuts. Better to practice 15 minutes every day than 3.5 hours the day before your lesson.
Teachers who teach privately are very used to working with various schedule types and often make themselves available specifically for their private teaching. For example, I have a friend who teaches trumpet privately. His work day doesn't start until 1:00p, but he'll teach until 7 or 8:00p, because those are the times his students are available.
I know it's intimidating, but don't believe what you hear about people having "talent". Those people are silly. Anyone can learn to be a musician. It's not a magical thing to be a musician, it just takes a lot of persistence and hard work. There is no substitute for work. Lastly, if you try those instruments and find out you hate them, be disappointed, but don't give up. Keep trying different instruments until you find your match. Think of it like a Harry Potter wand.