Sunday, August 30, 2015

7 Characteristics of a Good Music Teacher

I am a music teacher. I’ve taught lessons for nineteen years. Doesn’t that make me sound, like, Really Credentialed? Cool. I have also been a music student myself, studying under a variety of teachers. This also makes me Really Credentialed to talk about today’s topic: 

What makes a good music teacher?
I’m going to skip the discussion of whether or not your child should even take music lessons and assume that you’re already planning on it. Actually, wait, I’ll have a very short discussion - your child absolutely should take music lessons. The end.

Good music teachers come in many forms, but they have several key elements in common.

1. They are gracious. I know from personal experience that studying with an abrasive, patronizing, or autocratic teacher can sap the joy from learning quicker than you can spop a seed out of an orange slice. (SPOP!) I also know from personal experience that studying with a teacher who is kind, patient, thoughtful, and tuned in (bad pun!) to the student makes for an outstanding learning experience. It’s great to read a prospective teacher’s resume, but if possible try to talk to one of their students and see if the student recommends them enthusiastically. Simply having a credentialed teacher does not automatically guarantee a good learning experience for the student, especially when the student is a beginner and a child.

2. Good teachers are not slaves to method books or approaches. I can’t tell you how many times people have poured out frustrated stories about previous teachers who forbade them to learn pieces they were interested in, insisted they had to learn certain songs or play from certain books (even if the musical genre was one that offended the family’s standards), or even reprimanded the student for daring to learn a piece on their own. What a travesty! There are a thousand and one ways to teach music without letting a particular method become a dictator. While good teachers provide guidance and help to select books and songs that are appropriate for the student’s ability level, they are not dogmatic. If a song offends the student, they skip it. (They might even skip it if it bores the student.) If the student wants to learn a certain piece, they help them find an arrangement of it suitable to their ability level. If a student experiments on his own, the teacher applauds the effort. The good teacher serves the student, not the curriculum!

By the way, if your children are currently taking lessons from a teacher who is inflexibly tied to a curriculum and you think that you’re the one with the problem, let me clear that up for you - you aren’t. They are. Good teachers are always willing to customize for their students’ needs and interests.

3. Good teachers give focused attention to your child. Just because a teacher spends thirty minutes of one-on-one time with your child doesn’t necessarily mean the teacher is focusing. Good teachers make sure their students understand what’s being discussed. They don’t assume that because they explained a concept once that the student remembers it forevermore. They review.  They reassess. They spot problems, even small problems. They try to stay aware of the student’s frustration level. They ask for feedback. They are alert with more advanced students, making sure that they’re not boring them by covering old ground or assigning busywork.

4. Good teachers respect your time. They start and end on time. They don’t take chatty phone calls or text during your lesson. They don’t eat into your lesson time with endless small talk or long drawn-out anecdotes. They notify you of schedule changes far enough in advance for you to adjust your plans. 

5. Good teachers are encouraging. They realize that cultivating a love of music in their students is the overarching goal. They know that the person who loves to play music will continue to pursue it, so they fan this love into flame. They critique in a tactful and constructive manner. They praise progress, even if it’s small. They are patient and polite.

6. Good teachers aren’t in it to glorify themselves. They don’t show off or try to overawe students with how talented or important they are. They don’t force students to perform just to make the teacher look good. They don’t use their students. They don’t feel threatened by advanced students who begin to equal them in ability.

7. Good teachers do a good job of passing on technical knowledge. They teach good technique. They teach musicality - that is, how to play music like a musician, not a robot. They help their students learn to sight read well. They teach students the theory of what’s behind the written page so that one day the students can branch off the written page if they want. They teach an appreciation for a variety of genres. They familiarize their students with basic music history. Some of these things take time and won’t be covered in the first three weeks of lessons, but if you plan to stick with the teacher for a length of time, it’s worth asking if they cover all these topics. (Hint: If you ask a teacher if they teach music theory and they say, “Huh?” look for someone else.)

If your child is currently with a teacher who does not seem to fit these criteria, listen to your instincts and change teachers. Your primary goal should be to instill a life-long love of music in your child. A bad teacher can discourage or blunt your child’s love of music. A good teacher will fan it into flame.  

Raquelle and her sister Heather have taught music lessons to hundreds of students over the past 19 years. They offer lessons in piano, violin, harp and music theory. If you're interested in discussing lessons with them, visit their website at

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Should Children Be Our Evangelists?

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

These are pretty strong words from Jesus about causing children to sin. Some people interpret this verse to mean actual children, and others say it means those who are children in the faith – new believers. Either way, I think we would all agree that purposely placing such vulnerable people in the path of sin is a wrong thing to do.

But I wonder if we don’t slip up in this area without realizing it? I considered this subject one Sunday as the pastor was preaching about staying true to the faith. He mentioned that children especially are in the “danger zone” at school. Most of their peers are either non-Christians or immature Christians who are hardly the best people to encourage someone in their walk of faith. Those peers are more likely to discourage the Christian child from following Christ. Have you ever heard a gaggle of kids or teens talking and then one of them say, “Hey, we should stop talking like this. It’s gossip and it’s not right.” Or how about this scenario – “Wait guys, we shouldn’t do that because our parents told us not to and we should respect our parents.” Sounds a little unlikely, doesn’t it?

But wait, you might say. Jesus also told us we would face opposition in our Christian walk. Isn’t this normal for a Christian? Shouldn’t our children learn early to be strong in their faith and be salt and light to those around them?

Jesus' Choice for Missionaries 
Consider this. Jesus sent out missionaries to be witnesses for Him while He was here on earth. His choice of witnesses is very interesting. First of all, He didn’t even send them out until He had spent a great deal of personal time teaching them every day - for years. Secondly, He sent them out in pairs – not by themselves. And thirdly, He chose grown men. This was not cultural. Jesus repeatedly broke cultural barriers concerning women and children. This was Jesus’ purposeful plan to send out missionaries who were strong in the faith and could hold their own against the violent opposition of the world.

Who Do We Choose for Missionaries? 
Now think about this. Muslims who follow the Koran believe that the infidel must be killed. And we have seen with horror that in some countries, those Muslims actually use children to accomplish this task. The children usually die in the process, thus provoking us to rightly condemn the grown men who would send a child to do their violent job.

But are we Christians any different? We believe that the “infidel” or unbeliever should be evangelized, not killed. This is good and scriptural. But why do we send our children out to do our work of evangelization? They, too, often suffer great casualties in the process. Recent studies and books have noted that children from Christian families are leaving the church in droves when they reach adult age. Perhaps this is because we send them out to fight a battle they are not prepared for?

Nurturing Children in the Faith 
The Bible says that even Jesus was careful not to break the “bruised reeds” or snuff out the “smoldering flax.” (Matthew 12:20) Young people in general and young Christians in particular need nurturing and strengthening, not grueling opposition every single day from those who are their friends. God in His providence sometimes allows this to happen to young Christians. But we should be very cautious about taking such a burden onto our own consciences.

Evangelizing the world is a good thing. We should teach our children to do so. But while they are young, they should be accompanied by parents who are strong in the faith and can support and encourage them in the process.

Forcing a child every day to a place where he must stand alone against ranks of those who would tear down his faith is putting a child in a place where he is pushed to sin. Rather than smugly enjoying the fact that we’ve sent our children out to be salt and light, perhaps we should instead be on our knees repenting for actions that merit millstones around our necks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Consulting the Dead

"When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." - Isaiah 8:19-20 (NIV 1984)

The pagan experts of Isaiah’s day were the mediums and spiritists. These people supposedly predicted the future. They claimed to have deeper understanding of the present. If a pagan needed wisdom for a decision or insight on an issue, he consulted a medium or spiritist.

The problem was that God’s people started doing the same thing. Isaiah rebukes them with divinely inspired succinctness. "Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!" The Israelites had the written Word of the God of the universe. There was no need to go to pagans for "wisdom."

Do we ever do the same thing? Do Christian homeschoolers ever fall into the trap of consulting spiritually dead pagans instead of God’s Word for wisdom in raising their children? Naw, certainly not us!

Have you ever refrained from correcting your child’s erroneous views because you didn’t want to damage his self-esteem? Where did that idea come from? Not God’s Word! God tells us to train and discipline the foolishness out of our children. Self worth should be derived from how God sees us, not from how indulged we are by others. No, guarding a child’s self-esteem to the detriment of forming his character is a pagan idea. Since unbelievers have rejected God, they only have themselves left to worship. Hence, self-esteem becomes very important to a pagan.

Did you ever let your children go to foolish or silly youth events to get some "socialization?" Who gave us that idea? The pagans! Children are basically good, they reason, and they need to be around other children to be "properly" socialized. The Bible, however, declares that "he who walks with the wise grows wise but a companion of fools suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20) It also tells us that "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." (Proverbs 22:15) Should foolish, young children hang around often with other foolish, young children? You draw the conclusion!

Maybe you feel that since your children are receiving such a superior education at home, they are qualified to make most of their own decisions themselves. After all, it’s easier for you that way, and they seem pretty responsible kids. I’ve seen many parents allow their children too much autonomy in decision-making and then bewail the stupid decisions their kids make. Why? The Bible tells us that children think, act and reason like... children! (I Corinthians 13:11) It is therefore futile to expect children to always act like little adults — or to give them the responsibility of adults. But the pagans would have us believe that since man is basically good (remember that?) children should be allowed to "express themselves" however they please.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest pagan ideas Christian parents often embrace is that children should be educated by "experts," not their parents. I challenge those parents to search their Bible to find one Scripture out of the multitude concerning child-raising that tells anyone besides parents to train and disciple their children.

The Bible is a marvelous book, full of wisdom, instruction and insight — straight from the mouth of God! Why do we Christians run after the teachings and opinions of spiritually dead philosophers, experts and professors? "If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." We must compare everything to God’s Word.

"Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!"

Written by Heather Sheen