What to Expect from the First Lesson with a New Music Teacher

Are you starting your child with a new music teacher? Have you had to leave your music teacher? Maybe you moved, or the teacher moved, or the teacher just wasn’t working out. But now you have found a new teacher and are ready to get started. What should you expect from that first lesson?

The New Teacher

I hope you have found a great music teacher to continue with your child. Does the teacher offer a trial lesson? Have you gotten any references from this teacher? Have you checked out the references? Does the teacher have a printed (or online) studio policy covering payments, recitals, missed lessons, and make-up lessons? Have you read through the studio policies?

Still looking for that perfect teacher? Check out these suggestions.

Or are you still thinking about changing music teachers? Consider these ideas.

Prepare Your Child for the First Lesson with a New Teacher

Be sure your child is aware of what is happening. Does he know he is getting a new teacher? Does she know she is not going back to a former teacher? For some kids, this could be a big deal. Some are very resistant to change, or apprehensive about meeting new people. (I have a couple girls like that!)

Tell your child what you know about the new teacher. What is the teacher’s name? What should they call the teacher? How far will you have to travel to get to the new studio? Does your child know anyone else who takes lessons from this teacher?

It’s a good idea for you to plan to stay in the lesson with your child for the first couple of lessons (especially if your child is younger, or very nervous/upset/apprehensive about the whole process). This will give your child some reassurance and will allow you to observe how the teacher teaches and interacts with your child.

Your child should be prepared to play some music she has worked on recently, something she has played in the past. The teacher may ask your child to play something she worked on several months ago, some scales or technical exercises, a favorite piece, and some sight reading. All this helps the teacher understand your child’s musical understanding and abilities.

What Should Your Child Bring to this First Lesson?

  •         Any music used in the last year or so
  •         All method books, theory books, and technique books
  •         Assignment notebook from the last teacher

Teacher Assesses the Student

                During this first lesson the new teacher will be trying to understand your child’s musical abilities. What has he learned so far? What does he do well? What does he need to work on? The teacher will also be looking for any technical problems your student may have, and posture problems that need to be corrected, any issues with form or technique that need to be addressed.

                Don’t be alarmed if the teacher suggests changing a bow hold, or changing a hand position, etc. This is part of the reason you sought a new teacher – you want your child to make more progress with his instrument. Changing certain things may be just what your child needs! This is not necessarily a criticism of the former teacher, but an improvement to help your child.

                The teacher may also suggest new music, or a new series of method books. Again, this is not a direct criticism of your former teacher. Different teachers have different approaches, and different lesson books are more effective with certain approaches than others.

You Need to Assess the Teacher

Observe

As the lesson progresses, you should be watching how the teacher interacts with your child. Is this someone your child will relate to? How professional is the teacher during the lesson? Is there a connection with your child?

I remember watching my son’s trial lesson with one of his cello teachers. He had my son play a piece, and then asked him why he played it the way he did. The teacher just wanted my son to think about what he was doing, and to have a reason for the way he played the piece. The teacher made a couple suggestions, then had my son play the piece again. It sounded so much better. I remember thinking that, yes, this was going to work. He studied with that teacher until he finished high school, and really enjoyed working with him.

While watching this first lesson, you should also check out the condition of the studio. Is it safe? Is it clean? Is there enough room for student, teacher, equipment, instruments, etc.?

Ask questions!

Do you understand all the studio policies regarding payment, missed lessons, make-up lessons, recitals, performances, etc.? If the teacher wants you to change method books, ask why. Why does he/she prefer this other set of books? What will your child gain from switching to a different set of books? How will this affect your child’s progress? Ask the teacher what he/she sees as issues that need correcting/changing. How will the changes benefit your child? The teacher should be able to give good answers to all your questions.

Final Evaluation

Think through this first lesson. Carefully consider what you observed.

  • Will your child adjust and enjoy working with this teacher?
  • Can you trust this teacher to do what is best for your child?
  • Will the teacher’s approach work with your child?
  • Do you feel that your child will make good musical progress with this teacher?
  • Will working with this teacher help your child enjoy playing her instrument more?
  • Can you work with the studio policies?
  • Are both you and your child comfortable with this teacher?

I hope you have found a great teacher that your student will feel comfortable with and learn from! Tell me about your favorite music teacher in the comments. (Or maybe, your least favorite teacher!)

How Do You Know if it’s Time to Change Music Teachers?

Thinking about changing music teachers? Why? I’m not saying you shouldn’t, just wanting you to be sure you have thought this through.

Your child’s relationship with his music teacher is unique. Think of it this way. Your child spends time, one-on-one, with this teacher almost every week. Often, a special bond is formed between your child and her music teacher. Music teachers can have a great impact on a child’s life. Don’t break this bond without a good reason. Don’t change teachers just because it’s the thing to do. Think this through carefully.

Reasons to Look for a new Music Teacher

Obviously, any hint of abuse, bullying, inappropriate behavior, or anger issues on the part of the teacher should signal that you leave immediately.

That should never be tolerated. But if you aren’t at the lessons, how will you know? Does your child leave the lessons in tears repeatedly? Maybe your child will say something. Perhaps another parent will pass on a warning. Maybe your child will suddenly begin to hate going to lessons. If that happens, talk, ask, find out what has happened.

A teacher who is constantly unprofessional in her teaching might indicate that it is time for a change.

Perhaps she is always late. Maybe the studio always looks like a disaster recently struck. Or the teacher is always distracted during the lessons. Maybe the teacher just never really pays attention to the student. Of course, any of us can have a bad day, but if this behavior is continual, it might be time to consider a different teacher.

If either you or the music teacher moves, it might be in your best interest to find another teacher closer to you.

A good teacher is worth traveling for, but there are limits, especially when your children are younger. (And if your children suffer with motion-sickness!) Our violin teacher moved four times while my girls were studying with her; each move was a little bit further away from us. Because we homeschooled, we had some flexibility in our schedule so we could schedule lessons to avoid the worst of the traffic. But if the teacher had moved any further away, or only taught during rush-hour traffic times, we would have had to look for someone different. (I am glad we didn’t! She was a wonderful teacher for my girls!) You have to decide what is best for your family.

A major personality clash between your child and his teacher might signal that it is time for a different teacher.

You want your child to benefit from his music lessons, to progress, to enjoy them. If every lesson turns out to be a battle of the wills, maybe you need to find a different teacher who can work better with your child.

Sometimes your child may need a different approach to the lessons. Not all children learn the same way.

Not all teachers teach the same way. If your child is struggling to progress and learn from this teacher, and the teacher is not willing to adapt and try to work with your child, perhaps it is time to find someone who will be a better “fit” for your child. (Assuming your child is practicing and following instructions!)

Your student has progressed to the limit of the teacher’s abilities.

Not all music teachers are prepared to work with advanced music students. Some work best with younger students. A wise teacher will recognize her limitations and advise you to find a more accomplished teacher. There will also be teachers who will not see this, and you (or your child) will have to figure this out.

Before you change teachers, evaluate.

                Except for situations of abuse, take time to seriously evaluate your current music teacher before you come to a final decision to change teachers. And look for your child’s input as well.

  • In the current situation, what do you feel is wrong, or missing?
  • What do you want to see changed, or different, with a new teacher?
  • By changing music teachers, what are you hoping to accomplish?

I thought this article gave a good approach to this idea.

How to Leave Your Music Teacher (or, “Breaking up is Hard to Do”)

Be considerate

Don’t just not show up for the next lesson. Don’t leave a voicemail telling her you aren’t returning for lessons. Your music teacher has scheduled a time for your child. She has made her budget including your child’s lesson fees. Be considerate of her time and efforts. Give her some advance notice of your decision.

Be professional

Handle this yourself, in a face-to-face meeting. Don’t have your child hand the teacher a note at the end of a lesson. Don’t send an email. Talk to the teacher yourself, explain your decision and reasoning. And set an end-date, a date for the last lesson. If you are on a monthly or semester payment plan, finish out the contract, if possible. Of course, if the situation is at all abusive, leave immediately.

Show your appreciation

I hope you and your child have a good relationship with your music teacher, and will regret, on a personal level, leaving for another teacher. This current teacher has invested a lot of time and effort in your child. Demonstrate your appreciation with a gift. Maybe the only reason your child is leaving this teacher is because she is going off to college. A gift is still appropriate.   

To Summarize:

  • Sometimes you need to change music teachers. But think through your reasoning carefully.
  • Evaluate why you think you need to change teachers, and what you hope will be different with a new teacher.
  • Show your former teacher respect and appreciation as you leave.

You might want to check out this post about finding a music teacher.

What is a Marimba?

Do you know what a marimba is? Do you know the difference between a marimba and a xylophone?

Do you know what a marimba is? Do you know what it looks like? What makes a marimba different from a xylophone? And who invented the marimba? Where did it come from? Let’s explore and find out about the marimba.

What is the Marimba?

Family Connections

The marimba is a member of the percussion family. All the instruments of the percussion family must be “hit”or “struck” to produce the sound. Drums, triangles, cymbals, even pianos are percussion instruments. The sound of a marimba is produced by hitting the tone plates with mallets.

Marimbas are close relatives to the xylophone, the vibraphone, and the glockenspiel. They are all like cousins. All of these have tuned bars arranged like a keyboard. The players of these instruments use mallets to strike the tone plates. You need to be able to read music to play these instruments. Marimbas and xylophones are usually made with bars of wood, while vibraphones and glockenspiels are made with metal bars.

What Does a Marimba Look Like?

Marimbas are large instruments. They have two rows of wooden bars, or tone plates, arranged like a keyboard. One row of bars is slightly raised behind the other row of bars. A large frame supports the tone plates, and then a full stand holds the frame. Here is a picture.

This is a picture of a marimba.
Here is a picture of a marimba. Notice the resonator tubes under the tone plates.

Underneath each wooden bar is a long tube that acts as a resonator. Each tube is open on the top and closed on the bottom. The lower notes on a marimba require longer resonator tubes, and the higher notes need smaller, or shorter tubes.

Sometimes you will see a marimba with a nice-looking arch in the resonators. This is just for looks – the tubes are closed, or blocked, inside at the appropriate length.

How do You Play a Marimba?

You play a marimba the same way you play a keyboard. Sort of. The person playing reads notes on a page of music. The tone plates on the instrument are arranged like the keys on a piano. Instead of using fingers on a keyboard, a marimba player uses mallets to strike the tone plates on the instrument.

Since we have two hands, you might think a marimba player uses two mallets. And, you might be wrong. A good player often uses two or more mallets PER HAND! That means playing with 4 or 6 mallets! That calls for some good coordination!

What Does a Marimba Sound Like?

A marimba produces a deep, rich, mellow sound. It is softer and darker than the sound of a xylophone. This sound blends well with other instruments. Because of the resonators under each tone plate, the sound can resonate up to 2 or 3 seconds. The length, thickness, and density of each tone plate determines the pitch, or how high or low it sounds.

How Do You Tune a Marimba?

Very Carefully! Actually, you don’t really tune a marimba. Over time, though, some of the tone plates do get out of tune. Usually, the marimba player takes the tone plates off his instrument, packs them up, and ships them off to a professional who will work with them to get them all back in tune with each other. Usually that involves carefully reshaping of the wood on a tone plate. Not really a job for most of us! From what I read it costs between $50 – $100 per octave for tuning. (Most marimbas are over four to five octaves.)

How Much Does a Marimba Cost?

A good marimba will cost at least $10,000 to $20,000. A lot, right!? The best tone plates are made from Honduran Rosewood. Problem – those trees are now on the endangered species list. That may drive up the price for good marimbas even more.

Where Do Marimbas Come From?

Most music historians seem to think that marimbas originated in Africa, but some say there is evidence of marimbas in Asia as well. Originally pieces of wood were arranged over a hole in the ground. Then people used sticks to strike the pieces of wood. The hole acted as a resonator to amplify the sound. Later the pieces of wood were elevated, and a hollow gourd was hung under each wooden piece to act as the resonator.

Marimba = “Wood that Sings”

The word marimba in the Bantu language of Central Africa means “wood that sings.” The Zulu tribe of South Africa has a legend of a goddess named Marimba who makes and plays an instrument of wooden bars with gourds underneath the bars.

Marimbas and Central America

Most likely the marimba came across to Central America with African slaves. The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

The Central American marimba maker, Sebastian Hurtado started arranging the bars of the instrument like the keys of a piano, including an additional row of keys for sharps and flats.

Over time people replaced the hanging resonator gourds with wooden tubes. By the early 1900s instrument makers started using metal tubes for the resonators. And by 1920 an American company began making marimbas.

But Who Knew about Marimbas?

But even by the 1920s not many people knew about the marimba. And not many composers were writing music for the instrument. If you loved the marimba, and wanted more people to know about it, what would you do?

A man named Clair Omar Musser had an idea. Musser both played and taught the marimba, but he wanted more people to know about the instrument. So he assembled groups of marimba players together and put on concerts around the country. Sometimes he used more than 100 marimba players together in a concert. He even had his group perform at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Here is a link to some more information about Musser.

And Who Wrote Music for Marimbas?

Because of these performances many more people became interested in the marimba. And composers started to write music for the instrument. One of the earliest compositions for the marimba was the Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone, written by Darius Milhaud in 1947. You can listen to it here. If you watch this video, pay attention to how the tone bars are arranged on the instrument. Also, watch for when the player changes his mallets, and listen to how the sound changes with the different mallets.

By the 1950s orchestras were beginning to use marimbas as part of the percussion section. Other composers who started to write music for and including marimba include Leos Janacek, Carl Orff, Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, Clair Omar Musser, and Olivier Messiaen. Notice how I did not mention composers like Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven? The marimba was not a part of the orchestra then. All the people who wrote for this instrument lived (or still live) in the last 100 years or less.

If you find this information about the marimba fascinating, you might want to check out this video – It gives a brief introduction to the glockenspiel, the xylophone, the vibraphone, and the marimba. The presenter in the video talks about the difference between the four instruments, and also explains how they work.

Are you interested in other instruments? Check out some of out other posts about instruments.

Violin

Flute

Trumpet

Do you know the difference between a marimba and a xylophone? Do you know what a marimba is?