Six Secrets of Successful Music Teachers

What makes a successful music teacher? I have observed and listened to many very successful teachers over the years. I am so fortunate to personally know many outstanding teachers, and I have learned from them. These are teachers of all ages who have studios full of students, including beginners and long-time advanced high school students. Here is what I discovered:

  • They have goals.
  • They are flexible, but not door-mats.
  • They don’t rigidly follow method books.
  • They don’t complain and they don’t make excuses.
  • They are willing to learn more and keep up to date.
  • They love their work and they do more than just teach.

Teaching music is hard. There are so many factors that we as teachers cannot control. Music is enjoyable,  yet it is hard to learn to read and it is hard to learn the coordination involved in playing an instrument. We teach because we love it and we want to share our love of music. It’s also how we make our living. This is a lot to balance and it is understandable that we get frustrated at times. However, we stay positive and carry on! I hope everyone reading this has a great teaching year!

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25 Responses to Six Secrets of Successful Music Teachers

  1. Saundra

    Thanks Susan for all you do and share with music teachers. Love the points on your bullet list. Very true!

  2. Thank you for your great points, Susan. I love what I do and love that others out there are working as hard to change the lives of so many. I am blessed to teach the students I have and blessed to know so many amazing teachers as well. Thank you also for your amazing contributions to our industry. You are an inspiration!

  3. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your blog posts and your educational worksheets. I don’t teach piano (I’m a drum teacher) but I still get a lot out of your approach to teaching and the way you layout your lessons.
    Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing with all of us.

  4. Marilyn

    Seeing learning as a creative process which is a prominant element in teaching piano helps me ease the pressure to push too much on perfection my goal in to share the joy of music and create an appetite for fun.

  5. Debbie

    I’ve been working on the doormat since I started teaching full time six years ago. It’s definitely been a long time in coming. I still have one or two families that just seem to know how to get in there though and get their way and I walk away feeling like what did I just agree to…..

  6. I love your 6-bullet list, Susan! Important things for us aspire towards as teachers!

  7. Susan,
    Just a note to express some long overdue gratitude and heartfelt thanks for all you do to inspire each one that visits your site. Before going online in 2009, I felt alone out here in a barren land where music stores are few and far between, let alone teacher workshops or other connection with area teachers. Technology has changed all. There is no excuse now not to be refreshed and filled with renewed inspiration with marvelous teachers like you sharing insights and clever compositions. Thank you so much for your willingness to share your wonderful and creative materials with all of us.

    • Susan Paradis

      Thank you, Tresa. I think the internet has opened a whole new world for piano teachers, and I think our students are benefiting. While most of our students will never major in music, if they enjoy themselves and have positive thoughts about piano lessons and will put their own children in piano, then we are successful. We won’t be able to reach every child, but we can try!

    • Paula Fournier

      I feel the same about being grateful and a big heartfelt thanks for all you inspire, and all the time you must put in to help the world a better place for music teachers everywhere… it shows what a wonderful caring teacher you are. Thank you so much for sharing….truly.

  8. Doreen

    Love this discussion – very supportive! Sometimes it is the parents that do not seem to get the “regular” playing part – encouraging the student by just sitting down and listening at home can make a huge difference. Your games are so good – I use them especially with the elementary students however the highshool students get the flash cards and note games – I have a competition with flash cards ….the most done in the shortest time and then at the end of the month I post the names a bulletin board I have (with flashing lights!). This contest has become quite popular – I also post the top three names of “most days practiced”. Just having their name posted is reward enough! PATIENCE is required in abundance to teach anything – I also agree that being Organized is really important plus the 6 items you mentioned. I LOVE teaching (most days!)

  9. Beth

    Beth again – I should have read more carefully – #4 – don’t complain, don’t make excuses!!!

    That is probably my biggest personal blindspot, and the area I need to work on most, with honesty, self-compassion, and compassion for others!!

    • Susan Paradis

      Beth, it’s ok to vent! Sometimes there is a need for that. It’s not the same thing as complaining all the time! So don’t worry, we all have been there!

    • Marilyn Brennan

      Beth you should probably check out Wendy Stevens’ website, as she has fabulous ideas on handling the business part for piano studio. I actually have an extra hard copy of an 8-page handout she gave at a presentation here in Oregon. I would be happy to mail you one. It will give you some great ideas.
      Susan, your website is priceless. Thank you so much for all you do and share!

  10. Beth

    Thank you so much for this post. I will admit to being a bit burnt-out, not for the first time in my life. I think the major reason is allowing myself to be a doormat. I am realizing that this not just to my detriment – in fact, I am the one who is incurring the least long-term damage. Allowing any and all behaviors sends the incorrect message to children; if we don’t have SOME standards, we are not guiding them to understand the value of music, the importance of practice, and the value of discipline. Of course, these are skills and attitudes that will make students happier and more successful in all areas of life. But I have allowed the shambolic attitudes of some parents go on for too long. I feel at a certain point, after I’ve tried all of my “tricks” and strategies, I want to have the courage to tell parents (politely) that by allowing Susie to elect not to practice; by allowing her to think that taking lessons means a once a week workshop outside of which she has no responsibilities; by bringing her late to every single lesson; by sending her to lesson with no materials – we are teaching her the wrong lessons. Therefore, at this time, I think it is more logical for your family to take a break from lessons until you feel ready to take the real journey. Most important, how will Susie feel is she takes lessons for 3 years, her friend takes lesson for 3 years, and her friend is far above her in skill and performance level. Susie may assume she is “not musical” or worse, “not smart,” when in fact, we have set her up for failure. Sorry this reply is so long. I guess I’m rehearsing my speech!! Please feel free to offer any advice or courage you can provide. I have tried making every lesson fun, and teaching practice games, using fun charts, encouraging students to record themselves, etc, etc, etc. This works for most students, but I have 2-3 stubborn holdouts, including parents who passive aggressively REFUSE to require their child to practice. I would have already “fired” them from my own studio, but they I teach this family at an off-site music school.

    • Beth,
      I think your speech is a fine one. Don’t feel guilty because you are not allowing these parents to waste your time. I find it very effective to give a non productive student a thirty day notice. Do it in front of the parents, and tell that student that he has thirty days to prove to you that he is interested in continuing with you. The way he is going to show you this is by practicing a minimum of 15 minutes a day for at least five days a week. If, at the end of thirty days, practice has not improved, then you will ask him to leave in order to make space for someone who IS interested and is willing to make an effort. Do this without emotion or drama, and tell them that is isn’t personal, you like them just fine, and if they decide not to continue you won’t be upset with them, but you have other people waiting for the opportunity to take lessons. People do not give you respect, you have to earn it. Good luck.

  11. Laura Traum

    My goal this year is to use more technology in my piano and voice lessons for the students.

    I started using the teenage girl voice students cell phone to record their warm ups and technique exercises so they can practice wherever they go and with their friends so maybe it will encourage new students also.

    Any other great ideas to use technology would be greatly appreciated.

    • Susan Paradis

      Laura, I think your goal is great. The best way is to start with one idea and then gradually progress, just like you’re doing. And make sure that the technology is actually going to improve some aspect of your teaching. I think recording and emailing the recording is the number one way. For the younger students I text the recording to their Moms. I’m a big fan of YouTube and I use Piano Maestro on my iPad.

  12. Great stuff Susan! Thanks for the continued inspiration.

    I would add “They are organized” to the list.


    • Susan Paradis

      Andrew, You are correct! Organization takes time setting up, and then will more than make up for the time spent!

  13. Wendy Payton

    Thank-you, Susan, for your perspective and for these inspiring words. Also, thanks so much for your generosity in sharing so many delightful and effective pieces and materials. I hope you and your students have a wonderful 2015!

    • Susan Paradis

      Wendy, You’re welcome. I’m so glad to share my material, especially if it helps students understand a love music more!

  14. Susan, You are the best! A beacon of inspiration for all of us!