Let’s try to look at all the criteria for a good piano teacher. I will talk mostly about piano teachers, since this is my area of expertise but many of the considerations will be true for any instrumental teacher.
The first thing you should consider is the teacher’s educational background. Let’s compare these two possibilities:
Hi, I am a high school student and I recently successfully took my Grade 8 RCM exam in Piano. I have more than a year experience in teaching beginners and intermediate kids. I will gladly come to your house or you can come to mine.
-I am a College/University graduate with a music degree in Piano Performance/Pedagogy, with 3 years experience. References upon request.
-I have studied with [name of teacher]. I have performed at [place, event]
-I am currently working on my degree in Piano Performance/Pedagogy at [University you should have at least heard of]
I teach at my studio/at my school at [business address]
Of course, it is obvious. And yet, time and time again, I have students come to me after studying with teacher number one and either ask for help because their child is not progressing enough or has problem practising and learning new repertoire. Horrific, from my point of view, examples of negligence, non-caring, or just plain ignorance on the part of the “teacher”. I could probably dedicate more than one post on the multitude of bad teaching examples I come across on a regular basis.
Why do parents put up with piano teachers like that? The answer, to me, is quite obvious and two fold: convenience and price. To be more precise, I think price probably comes first in many people’s minds, then the convenience of the teacher being close or even coming to your own home. Don’t get me wrong. OF COURSE, the price of a piano lesson is important. It is not a free flying concept, something abstract. We all try to live within our means and many of us are on a tight budget, squeezed by all sorts of financial commitments. My personal opinion and also the way I think for my own family is this: I never economize on health products and related costs and I never look for bargains when it comes to my children’s education. Anything else I can live with being cheaper – accommodation, car, clothes, gadgets. I wouldn’t want to but I can compromise. Health and education, I try not to.I hope it’s quite obvious why I think this way.
Back to the teacher question.
Of course, consider both the price and the location/convenience of the teacher. But think about that – would a good teacher, with an advanced degree, who values their worth, willingly travel from house to house, spending many hours in traffic in the process, just to make it convenient for you? Not very likely. They will need to optimize their teaching time, so they can support themselves by doing it. Contrary to the way some people think, teaching private piano lessons, no matter how high the level of the student and the teacher, is not a very lucrative business. I personally do it because I enjoy the moments of pure music making, which happen unexpectedly after hours, sometimes months of hard work during lessons and at home. The moments, which bring a content smile on the faces of my pupils, when it suddenly clicks that all I have been telling them suddenly comes together and starts making sense.
Oh, that’s what you meant…I see now. Wow.
Back to the question of choosing a piano teacher for your child.
Beware: The Piano teacher as a hobbyist
Among those are the following kinds:
- “I once sat behind Billy Joel on the subway and overheard him talking about A minor”-guy (usually it’s a guy, WHY is it usually a guy?!?!);
- “I love playing the piano and helping other people. I have performed in many places with many people but don’t bother googling/google-ing/goggling me, can’t we trust each other from now on?” ) Forgot to mention the open mic night, where you had to BYOK (Bring Your Own Keyboard) and where three drunk guys and a motorcycle groupie girl slow clapped my rendition of Hello by Lionel Richie.
- “I teach guitar, ukulele, voice, drums, latin percussion, saxophone (not baritone though, my back is weak), music theory AND PIANO.
- and many, many others…. Variations and permutations are virtually endless.
and my perspective as a teacher
We could be sarcastic or snarky all we want. The truth? It is hard to choose a good piano teacher for yourself or your child. Our recommendations remain as follows:
- Research you future teacher. In the era of Google, Facebook and countless other online sources it should be easy to discover more about them.
- Word of mouth remains one of the best paths to finding a suitable teacher for you. As an owner of a private music school, yes, this is in a way frustrating, because it takes a long time and dwarfs any results I would get from advertising, but recommendations from your current and former students to their friends and relatives are the best tools to find teacher/students.
- Make use of any free trial lessons, trial periods, get-to-know-you interviews etc., which a teacher might offer. I used to look at those with doubt but after more than 3 years working in my own studio, they are invaluable. Don’t forget that the teacher is also choosing you. I offer a variety of them, depending on how the student came to contact me and what are they after. Sometimes we spend a month (usually that’s enough) with a student and we part ways. That is fine because the relationship between a music student and their teacher is a very personal one and there needs to be a great dose of trust between them. Regardless of age.
- Don’t be reluctant to give your teacher as much feedback as possible. Music teacher crave this because they only spend with the student a short amount of time weekly. For the rest they have to guess. And although I am scarily good at guessing how music my students have practiced during the week, the direct feedback of parents or students themselves telling how it went for them is invaluable. It is the first litmus test of how well I am doing my job and also the first indicator usually when student is about to loose interest.