So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and learn to play the piano? Or maybe your child has asked to learn? How do you know how to find a teacher who is the right fit? Where do you start?
How To Choose A Piano Teacher
When beginning the search for a piano teacher, some people will focus on a teacher’s credentials. It’s a good thing to check, but keep in mind that being a highly educated musician and being an effective teacher are two very different things. A brilliant pianist may or may not be a good teacher. It’s really more important to find the right teacher for you or your child, rather than the most highly qualified.
A good teacher inspires, encourages, ignites a passion for music, and leaves a student feeling confident and excited about getting home to practice. A degree in music doesn’t cover those things because they’re part of the teacher’s persona and comes from their life experience with music rather than any curriculum.
Finding teachers in your area is easy. There are many online sites that list teachers by area. They will usually have a profile that gives their background, teaching experience and their lesson fee. Keep in mind some teachers specialize in beginners to intermediate, and some teach intermediate to advanced. Some do teach the whole spectrum.
Music and piano stores usually keep a list of teachers and are often familiar with all the local piano teachers so it’s worth asking if they can recommend a teacher to you.
Perhaps you know somebody who is taking lessons? If so, this is an obvious way to learn something about their teacher. The student is likely to tell you quite a lot about their lessons which can be very useful information, giving you a clue as to whether they could be a good fit for you.
Find as many teachers in your area as you can, then narrow them down to location, experience and price. If possible, go to at least two or three different teachers for an introductory lesson to see which teacher you feel most comfortable with. It’s important to compare teaching styles and see which one you feel will suit you best.
Check with your shortlisted teachers what their terms and conditions are. Some will expect you to buy a block of lessons up front while some will be fine with pay as you go. Are make-up lessons available if you miss one? What if the teacher misses a lesson? You need to know what days/times they teach and if that fits with your schedule. Do they teach the style of music you want to learn?
If you are looking for a teacher for your child, ask to sit in on the first lesson so that you can gauge how well the teacher interacts with your child. Does he/she put your child at ease? Does the teacher boost your child’s confidence? Is he/she patient? Does he/she explain things clearly and listen when your child asks a question? Is the lesson enjoyable, and does your child come out full of enthusiasm?
All of these things apply equally if you are looking for a teacher for yourself. Do you feel at ease with this teacher? Does he/she listen when you ask a question and answer it fully? Are they patient and encouraging? Are you excited about the next lesson?
If you’re an adult and learning the piano purley as a hobby, you need a teacher who will help you to learn the songs you love and imagine yourself playing. If a teacher is ignoring your requests to learn certain songs and instead insisting that you play songs they themselves choose, or insisting that you do scales when you told them you don’t want to, then they may not be the right teacher for you.
It’s good to have a clear idea of what you’d like to accomplish on the piano before you even take your first lesson. Make a list of songs you’d love to be able to play. Even if you feel they’re difficult, put them on the list. There are easy versions of most songs. A good teacher will source a version of a song you love that’s the right level for you.
It’s normal to have one lesson a week, either 30 minutes or an hour. Half an hour should be plenty to start with, especially for young children. However, for adults, if you want to move along faster, you might want to go twice a week or have a longer lesson.
Many piano teachers present a concert with their students once or twice a year. Find out if they do and attend. This will give you a very clear idea about the teacher’s ability. If lots of young children – and adults – cheerfully get up and play in front of an audience, the teacher is doing something right!
Some piano teachers will do house visits. This does cost more as they have travel time and expense to account for. If your piano teacher is going to come to your house for a lesson, make sure you have your piano area clear of clutter. Have the music you’re working on at the ready and a good chair or stool beside the piano for the teacher. Turn off any devices that might be a distraction during your lesson and tell any family members to stay out of the room for the duration.
Going to the teacher’s house is usually more productive as there are fewer distractions for you. Also, the teacher has all their resources to hand.
What if you are in a remote place and can’t physically get to a piano teacher? Luckily, we have teachers who use Skype! Skype lessons have come a long way and piano teachers are investing in good quality cameras and microphones so they can give really good online lessons. Of course, you also need to have a good Skype setup in your home so that the teacher can see you well enough to assess how you are playing.
One of the benefits of this is that you can take lessons with a very high-level teacher if that’s what you’d like to do. For instance, you could take lessons with a teacher who lives in New York even if you live on a hill in Scotland (as long as you have a good internet connection!) Considering all the time and money it saves you from having to travel, it’s something to consider. The other benefit is that you take your lessons on your own piano which is nice and familiar to you.
During lessons, teachers often write finger numbers, dynamics or memory aids onto the music. During a Skype lesson they can either instruct the student to do this directly onto their score, or they can share a score on an iPad with Forscore. Forscore is an app for iPad which allows you to download virtually any printed score and write on it with a computer pen. You can save your score and written notes as a PDF and share it online.
Building a relationship with your piano teacher takes time, but can be wonderfully rewarding. Remember to take stock now and then to make sure you’re working on pieces you love and that you’re making progress that you feel proud of.