If I plan to take some lessons, I would like to be sure my teacher is of sufficient level, for what I have to pay for.

Is there any way to be sure of that without being seemingly rude and take the risk to impair your maybe useful future relationship ?

Is it rude to ask the teacher at your first course to play some Chopin or Paganini etudes (piano or violin teacher) ?

EDIT: As many pointed out, there are many excellent teachers for all levels. For my sake, I would like to get to professional level (Im an advanced amateur (Chopin sonata 3 mv4 on my board right now)), and I am a bit afraid of non capable individuals for my level (without being pejorative), hence my question: how do I know it makes the fit ?

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    Instead of looking at the teacher, perhaps look more towards the teacher's existing students. Jul 13, 2016 at 10:18
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    And after all that, how do you know he'll be an effective teacher for YOU? How long has he been teaching? How do his students' exam results look? Is he adaptable enough to cope with you, or does he have one method? Question after question, all far more important than 'can he play well?'
    – Tim
    Jul 13, 2016 at 10:29
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    @Tim I cannot endorse this enough. I've been fired by a piano teacher before, with the main issue being that we clashed over her teaching method. She was an incredible pianist, but that was irrelevant in the end. Jul 13, 2016 at 10:39
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    Usain Bolt's coach wasn't a good enough sprinter to go professional, fwiw
    – AakashM
    Jul 13, 2016 at 13:21
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    To answer the actual question, if you want to know if someone is an accomplished musican, ask them to list some of their accomplishments. Go see them at a gig. Ask them for recordings. Ask them for references. If you want to know if someone is a good music teacher, then take a lesson with them or ask their former or current students. Ask for references. Jul 13, 2016 at 14:27

7 Answers 7


Possibly putting the cat amongst the pigeons here. An expert (at anything, be it sport, art, science, etc.) is often not a good teacher. A good teacher knows the subject, of course, but maybe hasn't the propensity to perform as well as an expert.

Often, when someone is naturally good at something, they will lack the empathy to understand why the students find it more difficult than they do.

A good teacher has ways in which to explain and help a student understand what is going on.

Imagine a brilliant player/teacher with arthritis. Suddenly they must be seen as a not so good teacher due to their ailment?

Most coaches, particularly sports, are not as good as their proteges, but that doesn't make them less valuable as coaches.

Being able to play Paganini doesn't mean being able to teach it. All this is borne out with respect to uni. degrees. Available in 'performance' and 'teaching'. So the two aspects, whilst somewhat related, don't have a great deal of bearing on each other.

Rant over!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dom
    Jul 14, 2016 at 15:08

Don't ask for it. Others have already pointed that the teacher's mechanical abilities have almost nothing to do with his pedagogical abilities.

One more point that I would like to add - if you can't play the instrument, can you judge the musicians abilities? I don't know about you, but most people can't. I am a guitar player and can play a bit of keyboards or drums. But when I'm listening or seeing someone playing saxophone, I have zero understanding if the musician is doing something incredibly challenging or as simple as it gets. If I hear no flaws in audial output, it just seems fine...

As a guitar player I have received far more praise and awe for playing stuff that is not actually that hard. Play something fast. Play something squeeky with whammy bar. If I do something flashy like use fretting hand from above the neck I seem like a virtuoso. Some people are even amazed by simple licks from famous pieces thinking that a song that sounds good and is famous must also be hard to play :)

And when actually playing something that is really challenging... Especially if the piece ain't that fast but there is some really demanding fingerings or rhytmic patterns - noone but guitarists can appreciate that accomplishment.

Also, if you don't play any instrument yet, someone might play a piece that is above their abilities by cheating on rhytm, tempo, skipping something or just simplifying/playing something dirty and you might not notice that the person can't actually play that piece...


If it is possible, go to own of his/hers concerts. Most musicians (despite their musical style) play concerts. So, try to find out if the teacher you are interested in is playing a gig any day now and go and watch for yourself.

Try to find others students of his, and ask them. This is more important to me, because a good musician doesn't equal a good teacher.Jaco Pastorius (bassist extraordinaire) couldn't teach anyone. Bill Milkwoski (who wrote his biography) interviewed some of his students and all of them said that he was the worst teacher ever.

So, for me it would be more important to find 3-4 students and ask them about his teaching.

Lastly, I wouldn't say it's bad to ask for a demonstration. I mean you are there to invest your money, so you want to see if he/she is worth it. So, if you cannot find other students of his and/or see him in concert, ask for him to perform a bit.

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    I've never had a teacher who ever played a concert (at least during the time I knew them). My best teacher could barely play at all, after having a stroke that left her partly paralysed. But she could still teach.
    – user19146
    Jul 13, 2016 at 15:51
  • An example for "try to find his students". Here is a music teacher's channel: youtube.com/user/coltrane78/videos Check out some videos of his pupils. If you see that he can teach this, do you care at all how well he plays the instruments himself? Just check out students and judge if their level is where you aim ;)
    – Džuris
    Jul 13, 2016 at 20:12
  • @alephzero So I can assume your teacher played concerts before teaching ? In this case one would have no need for demonstration Jul 14, 2016 at 10:42
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    @Blue_Elephant you can assume anything you like. You seem to have already decided that you want to make an assessment of your teacher's playing ability. Go right ahead if you want, but you are going to pay the teacher to teach you, not to give you private music recitals.
    – user19146
    Jul 15, 2016 at 1:32
  • @alephzero What I was trying to say was that your example was not adequate to the situation I describe, that's to say you don't know the person teaching abilities. Jul 15, 2016 at 7:41

You do not want to ask the teacher to perform for you at your lesson. As a teacher my answer to that request is "if you would like to hear me perform I would be happy to let you know of upcoming performances in which I will be playing!" I send out a newsletter so students have plenty of opportunity to hear me play if they desire to do that.

While I agree with those who have said that performing ability does not equal pedagogical ability, how your teacher plays should be a part of your decision. However, you don't need to get lessons from the concert master of the local symphony in order to find a good instructor. Someone else in the orchestra, who may not be as good a player, might be a better teacher. Notice that they are still a professional player. I would say that is important.

I would suggest going to places you can hear the STUDENTS of the teacher perform. Do you like what you hear? Do they look like they know what they are doing? You of course don't have all the information to be able to judge things, but in general good teachers will produce competent students and it will show.

Also, ask around in your area. Ask the local music teachers who they would recommend and why. Contact the personnel manager of the local symphony and see who they would recommend. Ask people you know have kids in lessons, etc. You will start seeing the same names come up over and over again as good teachers.

Once you have narrowed down your search take a trial lesson with a teacher or ask if you can observe some of the lessons the teacher gives. Observe their style of teaching, the results they get from the student, and whether or not you feel comfortable with them.


Accomplished musician does not always make an accomplished teacher. Pavarotti was a great singer, but I would not have brought my child within a mile radius of him. Domingo on the other hand, he would be a great teacher of children.

There is more to a good teacher than just the mere mastery of the subject matter, (That is important, though.) to me the natural born teacher can achieve more with people than virtuosos whose egos are so huge that they can barely share a room with a beginner, never mind teach one.

In the end teaching is a selfless act. You are making a sacrifice in time and money to teach young people. There has to be a certain amount of emotional maturity to be a teacher, something which some great musicians simply do not have.

Many times as teacher you have to think further than just what I want out of the situation and think what does the pupil need. This you cannot do if you think the whole world revolves around you.

There is also a great deal of social graces you need as the teacher. Working with children is not easy. You need the negotiating skills of an Ambassador to get them right.

So in closing what I would say is more important is does this teacher speak with authority? If he is a man how does he strike you? If he makes you uncomfortable then that should be a warning sign.

What are his qualifications, what results has he achieved with his pupils? Most importantly of all, how does he work with children and adults?


If you want to go to one of their concerts that's probably a good idea. Most musicians have a youtube channel or soundcloud or something, so this really shouldn't be that hard. If I were asked by a potential student to play for them so that I could "prove my worth", honestly I'd probably be pretty offended. I would do it, but I would find it to be tremendously disrespectful. One thing you may want to consider - have you been asked to play for them? A good teacher will teach anyone but a great teacher usually has a waiting list. And they won't just take you - they'll want to hear you play. Even when I was still in grad school earning my 3rd music degree (btw I had already gotten to carnegie hall at 15 - am I an expert or an amateur with my 2 masters degrees in your eyes?) I had a waiting list.

As far as the concern over "what you have to pay for"... standard rates for music lessons are $50/hr. Better teachers cost more. I've had a few lessons from some top tier musicians that have cost $175 an hour. Just want to make sure you're informed about pricing here. Being a musician is expensive as hell. And music teachers deserve to get paid that much.

I am a little bit bothered about your question conceptually. If you're asking this it sounds like you haven't actually taken lessons before. Which means that you could probably get a teacher at a local/community college to teach you and that would be more than sufficient. Hell, you could find a middle school band director that could do the job. Just so you know, I started teaching when I was 14 years old.

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    You'd really find it offensive if a potential student asked you to play for him? He is going to invest a lot of money in your lessons. Doesn't he have the right to see if (he believes) it is worth it? Jul 13, 2016 at 15:55
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    I don't think the questioner was interested in the rates, and it may not be appropriate here as we don't even know what country he or she is in. You are right to mention what level the questioner is at though; I think an ambitious and experienced player might be concerned to learn more from a major performer, but a total beginner just needs much more basic instruction initially.
    – Andy
    Jul 13, 2016 at 16:04
  • @Shevliaskovic - with your comment we're back to is it a teacher or performer we're looking at.
    – Tim
    Jul 13, 2016 at 22:35
  • @shevliaskovic yes he has the right to find out if the teacher is worth it, but to me asking in this way is akin to the "parlour trick" mentality that a lot of people have towards musicians in general. You wouldn't ask someone applying to be a doctor or a paralegal to come in and work for you for free - why would you do that to a musician? He seems concerned about spending money on a teacher that isn't worth it, which is why I explained the rates. I have run into a ton of people who have no idea about the rates and get sticker shock, but it seems unreasonable to me to pay a teacher $20... Jul 14, 2016 at 15:53
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    ... for a 1 hour lesson when it requires the teacher to drive 15-30 minutes each way. There are a lot of hidden costs for private teachers and music teachers in general and it simply is not fair to pay them below minimum wage because you don't think it's worth it. Jul 14, 2016 at 15:54

Don't equate their ability level with their teaching ability. Obviously they should have a basic level of musicianship, and be able to demonstrate what the student should be able to do. Beyond that it's all about how well they teach and the relationship between student and teacher. I can imagine that a student could learn a tremendous amount from a gifted teacher who knows nothing about the student's instrument but knows how to motivate musicians and teach them to be expressive. And I can imagine that a virtuoso on their instrument might be a rotten teacher or just a poor match for their personality.

The most important thing I've learned as a teacher is that I can't be better than all my students at everything (I teach chorus, general music, band, and orchestra - among other things - at a public school). I am absolutely up-front with them, especially those who play an instrument that is NOT my primary focus as a musician, that I will tell them when they have exceeded my own ability level. At that point I encourage them to seek a more specialized teacher to take them where they want to go. But they still come to lessons with me. Partly because they're free, and partly because even though I can play helpless little on viola (e.g.) I can help them with rhythm, I can help them be a part of an ensemble, etc. I think they relate well to me as a fellow human when I'm honest and not trying to be master of all trades. If they ask about my primary focus, I direct them to a page featuring my compositions.

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