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Learning to Play the Piano

 

by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D and Nancy L. Ostromencki
Rio Rancho, NM  USA

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he first steps are always the hardest, with the piano as with anything else. Here we offer you general information intended to make those first steps easier and more efficient. We've included our thoughts on finding the best teacher and teaching method for you, some general tips to aid in your development as a pianist, a little guidance on buying and maintaining a piano or keyboard, and a lot more. A separate page, Learning Without a Teacher, covers self-teaching with software and videos and lessons offered by many piano dealerships. In the end, many of these choices are highly personal in nature, but the information on these pages should at least provide you with a starting point in making informed decisions. Below we have linked many of the most important and popular articles for students and parents. However, this is a small fraction of the content on PEP. Please see PEP's various search tools to find other articles which may be of interest to you.

 

keyinfo.gif (1045 bytes)Parents and students may also find some of the articles in The Teaching Studio useful, even though they are directed at piano teachers.

 

Starting Lessons

Why You Should Consider Private Lessons

Before You Start Lessons

Finding Piano Teachers

Choosing a Teacher

How Much Do Lessons Cost?

Paying for Lessons

A Teacher Interview Checklist

Picking the Right Children's Teacher

In-Home Lessons

Taking Piano Lessons

Studio Etiquette

What To Expect From Your Piano Teacher

Talking With Your Piano Teacher

Changing Teachers

Learning Without a Teacher

Piano Dealer Lessons

Internet Piano Lessons

Learning to Play on Your Own

Special Articles

A Midi Sequencing Tutorial

Other Voices on Piano

What is Good Music?

 

Information for Parents and Students

Piano Teaching Methods

Tips for Parents and Students

Resources for Impaired Piano Students and Their Teachers

Some Common Misconceptions About Piano Lessons

Pianos

Pianos and Keyboards

Keyboards, Digital Pianos and Piano Lessons

Purchasing and Caring For a Piano or Keyboard

Reference

The Musical Reference Shelf

Listening List and Composer Resource

Downloadable Musical Graphics

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Piano Education Page Top Ten Lists

Music and The Home Computer Series

Nuts and Bolts of Music Series

Technique Matters Column

The Teaching Studio

Why You Should Consider Private Lessons

With all the pedagogically sound software and method books that are available now and with more that are surely on the way, one could ask the question ‘Why have a piano teacher?’ Of course, anyone can understand that a private teacher can give a more personal and personable approach to learning the piano, but the reasons for having a private teacher, even if you use software or a good method book, go deeper than that.

As a student, you can benefit greatly from the total awareness on the teacher’s part of the student’s personality. A teacher can assign repertoire and/or approach technique in a way that fits best not only your physical but emotional needs. This is something that computer piano/theory software cannot do. For developing technique, software is almost always inadequate. Although many software programs cover basic issues such as holding the hand in a rounded form when approaching the piano, how to sit correctly at the piano, and even more technical matters like how to move about a scale or arpeggio figure in a piece of repertoire, they cannot take into account each student’s different physiology. It takes the careful eye and ear of a good teacher to make sure that distracting and physically dangerous tension does not develop when trying to deal with a scale or arpeggio configuration.

Experience is a hard thing to place a numerical or monetary value upon, but most of us recognize that experience is irreplaceable in any field. You can benefit from the experience of a teacher in many ways. One of the hardest things for students to recognize is that there are often many ways to accomplish a difficult passage in a piece of music. Students rarely have the knowledge or experience to choose the best fingerings for themselves. Even a well-edited score may give fingerings which simply will not work for you. Similarly, a teacher can help you identify repertoire and challenge you to improve your abilities by choosing just the right piece for your interest and level of ability. It is also difficult to continually motivate yourself to practice when you reach challenges that seem beyond your capabilities. Here again, a teacher has faced these issues themselves many times and can help you work through the problems in a sound and safe fashion.

Music is not merely the playing of notes on the page, but the ability to understand and interpret those notes in an emotionally meaningful fashion. If you have ever heard a player with competent technique, but no real understanding of MUSIC, you know what we mean when we say music is more, much more, than the notes on the page. A good private teacher can help you not only learn to correctly play the notes, but understand the emotional language of the piece in a way that will make your playing more enjoyable to do and more compelling to hear. This is one of the reasons that many professional pianists take lessons themselves occasionally and one of the best reasons to take lessons even after you have learned to play proficiently. We all need someone to share and help us refine our musical ideas; the private teacher may be the best person to to that with, because they know you and your musical abilities better than anyone.

In the end, the most important thing a teacher can give is an awareness of and a joy in music. You may be able to accomplish that yourself, but you'll find the teacher's experience, empathy, and knowledge will get you there faster and more enjoyably. Software and books are very valuable, but we think you will find they are no replacement for a dedicated teacher.

Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

Before You Start Lessons

If you or your child plan to learn to play the piano, you will want to consider a few things prior to starting lessons so as to assure that your time and money are not wasted. First and foremost, consider carefully whether you or your child have the time and commitment necessary for lessons. To make progress at a reasonable rate, you'll need to commit at least an hour a day to practice. In addition, you have to allow for travel time to and from the studio of the the teacher and time for studio events like concerts, recitals, and other studio activities. This may sound like a lot of time, but if you consider that your child will spend several hours a week in practice for any sport like soccer or basketball, plus the time spent at games and associated travel time, the time demands of piano training are well within the range of those of alternative activities. You can't reasonably expect a teacher to rearrange continually a teaching schedule to accommodate your sport or other activities anymore than you would ask a coach to move practices constantly to accommodate your child. Beyond the time required for lessons and studio events, we would strongly advise you to make time to attend concerts, recitals, master classes and so forth. These events are not only enjoyable in and of themselves but give you the opportunity to focus on enjoying music while you are learning to play it. If you or your child have something going on virtually every evening of the week, you need to ask yourself if you have the time for piano or, alternatively, what you are willing to give up to learn a skill that can give you pleasure for the rest of your life.

While it is possible to start piano lessons with a digital keyboard or MIDI keyboard attached to a computer, you will probably find that you will need to get an acoustic piano after about a year, if not sooner. Pianos range in price from about two thousand dollars new for an inexpensive upright to over $80,000 for a concert Steinway grand. Think carefully about how you can budget to buy a piano down the road, if you don't already have one. Try to find an appropriate location for it as free from distractions and interruptions as possible. If you do have a piano, you need to invest the money required to keep it tuned and in good working order. Of course, you will also have to budget money for the lessons themselves and for music and learning materials. Don't expect any teacher to teach for free, no matter how talented you or your child might be. If cash is in short supply, you can try to work out a trade for services arrangement with the teacher in which you do home maintenance or some other mutually agreed upon service in return for lessons.

Parents of child students also have the responsibility not only to encourage and support the student, but to provide a home environment in which practice is facilitated and learning rewarded. In our article, Being a Supportive Parent of a Piano Student, you will find a number of tips to help you help your child become a better student of the piano. As a parent, you can be a major factor in the success of your child's studies of the piano; it does not take a lot of time, but does require some commitment on your part. Like any skill worth learning, playing the piano takes effort, but if you are willing as a student or parent to make a little extra effort, you will be rewarded with a skill and knowledge that you can carry with you and enjoy for the rest of your life.

Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

Finding Piano Teachers

Below we list a number of ways to find suitable piano teachers to interview. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. In fact, we encourage you to use several of these sources to make sure that you locate the best teacher for you or your child.

  • The simplest and most readily accessible source for teachers is the phone book. Look in the Yellow Pages under "piano instruction," "music instruction," "musicians," and "music." This will give you an idea of the numbers and types of teachers available in your area, and, in some cases, some knowledge of their backgrounds. Of course, not all teachers may be listed, especially those that teach limited numbers of students or have a well-established clientele. When you use the phone book to find a teacher, the best policy is to call as many teachers as you can within your area and talk with them about their studios, the types of students they teach, and their policies. This will allow you to make some decisions regarding which teachers you want to take the time to interview. Be sure to ask each teacher for recommendations for other teachers in your area. Any reputable, professional teacher should be able to provide you with two or three names of other teachers to call, both as a professional responsibility and in accordance with the policies of several national teachers associations.
  • You should also give a call to any local music teachers organization that you can find listed. This is a good way to identify those teachers in a community who are active in teaching-related organizations, which may help you locate the more committed teachers. Look under "[Name of your city, state or county] Music Teachers Association." or "[Name of your city, state or county] Music Educators Association." If you can't find a phone listing, you can also get this information from the Web at the Music Educators National Conference Web site. Such organizations maintain lists of their member teachers and local associations usually have some idea of whether a given studio is currently accepting students.
  • If you have a university or college nearby, contact the music department. Many university piano professors run private studios or can at least give you a recommendation for some good teachers in your area. The recommendation alone may not justify starting with a given teacher, but it should help you identify some good candidates to interview.
  • Seek recommendations from friends or from any pianist you may know. Again, you may not be able to take literally everything they tell you, but their knowledge and experience may allow you to find a better teacher more rapidly or at least reduce the amount of time you spend interviewing teachers.
  • A rapidly growing number of piano teachers have studio Web sites which allow you to find out about the teacher and the studio in the comfort of your home. The best sites will tell you about the background of the teacher, the way the studio is operated, the teacher's teaching philosophy, and the learning aids available to clients of the studio. Although the number of teacher Web sites is growing rapidly, their number is still relatively small and their informational value highly variable.
Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

Choosing a Piano Teacher

We would suggest never signing up with a teacher on the sole basis of a phone conversation or recommendation. Take the time to have an initial interview/mini lesson with the teacher. This way, the student, parents, and teacher have a chance to meet each other, evaluate the teaching environment, discuss the studio policy and generally make sure that all have arrived at a level of mutual understanding and comfort. Take time and, if you feel the need to interview more than one teacher, do so, until you feel truly comfortable with the choice you have made. Seek recommendations from friends or from any pianist you may know, but base your decision on the results of an interviews with teachers. Interview several teachers before making a decision. If a teacher seems to be pressuring you into signing up for lessons, be cautious.

Remember that teaching piano is a professional vocation. Most private teachers now have a minimum of a Bachelor's Degree in Music; many have more. The days of the little old ladies traveling from house to house are largely over, and parents should expect teachers to be highly qualified and trained professionals. Many teachers also incorporate use of computer-assisted theory labs to help amplify the private lessons. A dedicated studio will have fewer outside interruptions than one set up in a living room. Look for a teacher who is actively involved in participating in musical activities, such as giving solo recitals, participating in chamber music ensembles, or conducting/attending workshops, as well as maintaining active membership in musical organizations.

Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

How Much Do Lessons Cost?

Although typical lesson rates in the U.S. range anywhere from perhaps $15 per half hour to over $50 per half hour, we can't tell you specifically how much is an appropriate fee for lessons. The fee is determined, among other things, by:

  • the teacher's training and experience - established teachers and those with more formal training usually charge more
  • the studio location - Manhattan is likely to be considerably more costly than Rio Rancho, NM for the "same" lessons
  • the kinds and extent of services offered - does the teacher provide "extras" like performance opportunities or a computer lab or just teach lessons?
  • the number of students in the studio - a larger studio may have slightly lower rates, but the teacher may have less time for each student
  • local market conditions - a location where teaching studios have waiting lists is likely to be more expensive than one where studio vacancies exist.
  • The best way to get a sense of prevailing rates in your area is to call a few teachers and ask what their rates are, what their background is and what they offer with, or in addition to, basic lessons. Keep in mind that most teachers are tied up with teaching in the "prime" after-school and evening hours, so be sure to leave a message for the teacher to call you back if you can't reach him or her initially. See our Teacher Interview Checklist below for some additional questions you might want to ask when you talk with teachers. After a few such calls, you'll get a pretty good idea of what the range of rates is in your area and what your money can buy. You can also call the local music teachers organization in your area and ask there. Just look in the Yellow Pages under "Music Teachers" to find it, if one exists in your locale. Making a few phone calls may take a half hour or so, but you'll end up with a good sense of what it will cost for lessons. You'll also get a good start on the process of choosing a teacher.

    Everybody wants to get the best value for their money. That doesn't mean that the "cheapest" teacher is the best one for you or your child. One mistake you do not want to make is to choose a teacher based primarily or solely on the fee amount. While it isn't always true that "you get what you pay for" in a piano teacher, a committed teacher who offers a free computer training lab, newsletters, competition participation and support, and performance opportunities and charges $20 per half hour is probably a better "buy" than one who charges $15 per half hour and provides none of those extra services. Also, do not assume that because your children are very young, you can start them with a "lesser" teacher and go to a "better" one as they get older. It is often true that poorly done lessons do more damage than good. An improperly trained student will often have to start back at the beginning to undo bad habits and cover important principles that have been missed. Similarly, do not assume that the closest teacher is the best for you or your children. You will be far better served by a competent teacher you like and respect than by one whose studio happens to be five minutes closer to home.

    The per hour cost of lessons may seem "high" to some. Keep in mind that piano teachers are usually highly educated, talented professionals, deserving of a salary commensurate with the training and talent. In addition, people who work hourly or salaried jobs sometimes forget that their true salary is the "fully-loaded" salary, i.e. the nominal salary plus the cost of benefits and taxes (health and other kinds of insurance, Social Security taxes, overhead, retirement plan, etc.) paid by their employers. Typically, benefits run anywhere from 1 to as much as 5 times the nominal salary. Self-employed piano teachers must pay for all these benefits and taxes themselves from the hourly fee, in addition to supporting themselves. Seen in that light, the cost of lessons is usually quite reasonable, relative to the salaries paid to other professions, many of which demand less training and native talent than piano teaching.

    Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

    Paying for Lessons

    Piano lessons are typically between a half hour and an hour long for beginning students. Some teachers bill for their services by the lesson and allow their students to pay in cash or by check at the time of the lesson. However, it is much more common among teachers to bill by "semester" (typically, 12 weekly lessons) or half semester, with payment due in advance. Just as you will expect the teacher to teach all the lessons at the appointed times, you should make sure that you are on time with full payments for lessons. If you must be late with payment for good reason, notify the teacher as soon as you become aware of that necessity.

    For most situations and purposes, including paying for piano lessons, money is the easiest and best way to handle the transaction. If you are a parent of a student or a student who simply can't find the cash to pay for lessons, there may be another option, depending on the teacher and his/her willingness to consider alternate payment options. Barter, in which you propose an exchange of services with the teacher, can provide an option for a serious and committed continuing or prospective student, even when money is tight. Yard work, landscaping, cleaning, piano tuning, instruction in a language or on a different instrument, painting, house repair and maintenance and computer services are just some of the things that can sometimes be bartered for piano lessons. Not all teachers will agree in all circumstances to barter, as they may well need the cash, too. Generally, it's easier for existing students of a studio to strike a "trade-out" arrangement with a piano teacher than it is for new students.

    If you, as a student, are considering proposing an exchange of services with a teacher, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first and foremost is: don't overvalue your own services when you propose the exchange. You are asking the teacher to trust that you will carry out the agreement to trade services. Just as a bank requires a higher interest rate from those whose credit rating suggests they might not be a good risk, as a means of compensating for the extra risk, you should err in favor of the teacher when proposing the barter arrangement, to compensate for the extra risk to the teacher. You must make sure that you give the teacher good value in the exchange if he or she is to accept the risk of non-monetary compensation for lessons.

    Consider a barter arrangement as a commitment to be honored at all costs, no matter what the circumstances. Keep in mind that progress in piano lessons is highly dependent on your degree of effort in practicing and learning. If you feel you are not making adequate progress, that fact alone is never a reason for you to default on the agreement. Instead, ask the teacher what you can do to increase your rate of progress.

    Remember that the overwhelming majority of teachers are not "rich". As with any other transaction, both parties must see a benefit before they agree to the transaction. If you default on the agreement, you can be certain that you will not be given another opportunity, by that teacher or any other. Teachers who are familiar with bartering services may ask you to sign a written agreement. Such an agreement is a very good idea for both parties, since it helps prevent misunderstandings and can provide helpful milestones for the completion of services. If you and the teacher can agree to barter, then ask for a written agreement. An article in our Teaching Studio section, Bartering for Piano Lessons, provides more information on bartering for piano lessons, directed toward teachers.

    Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

    A Teacher Interview Checklist

    Here are some questions, in no particular order, that you may want to ask of a prospective piano teacher in an interview. You can print these questions from your browser's File,Print function and take them with you to the interview. This list isn't intended to be all inclusive, but it should give you a very good starting point and help reduce misunderstandings later. All of these questions may not be of the same importance in all settings, but all are relevant. A "negative" answer to a few questions should not disqualify any teacher; if you start to get a large number of such answers, it is probably time to ask yourself if this teacher is really right for you or your child.

    • What is the teacher's "teaching philosophy"? Prospective students would be well-advised to ask a prospective teacher what she feels is most important in giving and receiving lessons. If the teacher gives an honest, forthright and specific answer, the student will have a pretty good idea of what ideas are foundational for the teacher and her lessons. The teacher may struggle a bit if you ask him/her for their "teaching philosophy", since some teachers may not think of their foundational principles as a "Teaching Philosophy". But, you should get solid answers from most teachers if you ask them what they think are the most important things one can and should learn in lessons. A mere statement that the teacher uses the "XYZ Method" is not a sufficient answer. If you get that reply, ask the teacher what it is about that method which makes it the one she chooses to use. If the teacher can't answer a question about her foundational principles meaningfully, the student would be well-advised to exercise caution. You can learn more about this topic in one of our articles intended for teachers, Piano Teaching Philosophies.
    • What are the teacher's expectations of the child's commitment to learning piano in terms of practice times, competition and recital participation, and time spent in lessons? One example of a potential source of friction is if the teacher expects all students to participate in competitions whereas your goal is simply to provide some cultural enrichment for your child or yourself.
    • What are the teacher's musical degrees? Degrees don't guarantee a good piano teacher, but they do suggest a teacher who has been exposed to a wider range of musical knowledge. Keep in mind that there are a number of types of piano-related music degrees (piano performance, piano pedagogy, general music, etc) which have different emphases and give different perspectives to the teacher. Some teachers will even have doctoral degrees in music (D.M.A. - Doctor of Musical Arts).
    • What experience does the teacher have in piano teaching? In piano teaching, as with so many other things in life, there is no substitute for relevant experience. A teacher who has taught for many years may be better able to find the best route for teaching you or your child. Experience isn't the whole story (e.g. see the section below, Picking the Right Children's Teacher), but it counts.
    • What professional organizations does the teacher belong to and to what extent does the teacher participate in their activities? Participation in musical or teaching organizations is suggestive of the level of commitment of the teacher.
    • Does the teacher ever perform on the piano? This is another indicator of commitment, as well as a suggestion of the teacher's own skills as a pianist. Poor pianists generally don't perform themselves.
    • Does the teacher require the student or parents to buy all their own music? This is important because music purchase can amount to a significant amount of money if the child is not committed to their lessons. Some teachers will loan at least some of the initial training books and music, saving you a lot of money.
    • What kinds of music does the teacher give instruction upon? If all you want your child to do is plunk out a few tunes, you probably don't want to have a teacher who emphasizes classical training, even though the classics are still probably the best vehicle for really learning the piano.
    • Does the teacher teach theory and technique or do they simply teach the playing of individual pieces in the absence of a musical framework? Teaching individual pieces may get quicker initial results, but there is then little or no learning to carry on to the next piece. In the moderately long run, a teacher who emphasizes fundamentals will give a better result.
    • How many students does the teacher have and do they teach all the lessons personally? Some teachers teach upwards of 100 students privately. With this many students, it's difficult to give much individual attention to any one student. There is no set number of students to watch out for because individual teaching styles vary and some teachers only teach part-time, but you should investigate more carefully if a full-time teacher says he or she teaches more than perhaps 60-70 students.  Similarly, some teachers focus entirely on piano training, both for themselves and their students, while, for others, piano may be one of a number of several instruments taught.
    • Is teaching piano a primary or secondary activity for the teacher? You'll generally get a greater level of involvement from a teacher who teaches as their sole or primary source of income.
    • What are all the fee requirements necessary to start a student with the teacher? You may be surprised with a number of "activity fees," deposits, contest fees, costs for a metronome, etc. All these fees may be well-justified and many may be one-time-only fees, but you'll want to know about them in advance. If the teacher uses computer teaching tools or provides other teaching materials for the student to take home to supplement the private lesson, you'll want to know if there is an extra charge for these.
    • Does the teacher have a written studio brochure and studio policy that you can take home and read? These documents are probably the best sources of information about how the teacher sees his or her teaching and how he or she conducts the "mechanics" of running the studio. Be cautious if the teacher can't show you these. Lack of such documents doesn't imply dishonesty, but does create the possibility for misunderstanding down the road.
    • Does the teacher use any computer-aided instructional tools and, if so, do they charge extra for access to them? Computer tools can be very valuable in "leveraging" the private lesson and giving extra practice. Some teachers include these as a part of the service and some charge extra for it.
    • What "method" does the teacher use, if any? There are many good teaching methods, but none of them is right all the time for every student. A good teacher may well use the best parts of several methods and the best teachers will individually tailor their teaching to you or your child. Be cautious about any teacher who seems to "proselytize" about any established or, worse yet, new "method".
    • Does the teacher encourage participation in competitions and other musically-enriching activities and, if so, how do his or her students do in them? Most teachers will tell you, correctly, that competition may not be right for all students and isn't the most important aspect of piano training. However, if your prospective teacher never places his or her students in competitions and seems anxious to persuade you that they don't play a useful role, then you may have a poor teacher whose students do poorly in competitions. Even if you don't expect or want your child to compete, success of a teacher's students in competitions is one indicator of a quality teacher and we all want the best teaching quality for our own children.
    • If your child is learning disabled in some sense (ADD, dyslexia, emotional problems), does the teacher have any experience/training in teaching students with that type of disability? A teacher will often become frustrated with this type of student, especially if they don't have background in teaching them. If this situation describes your child, you will want to be sure to tell any prospective teacher about the disability so that they can best deal with it.
    • Does the teacher require the student to have a keyboard or acoustic piano in the home to practice upon? Some teachers require an acoustic piano up front; others will allow the student to start on a digital keyboard.
    • Is the parent allowed or encouraged to attend lessons? While it's not something we would recommend, some teachers forbid parents from being present at lessons. Other teachers encourage it. In any event, you'll want to know in advance.
    • Is there an opportunity for you to observe, at no obligation, the interaction between the prospective student and the teacher? Effective teaching is such a personal thing that you'll want to know from the start if you or your child will "get along" with the personality and idiosyncrasies of the teacher. The converse is equally true.
    • Does the teacher just teach the lessons or are they committed to helping their students acquire an overall appreciation for music and the arts generally? Most of us will never become professional musicians, so it's important that the teacher be able to provide the keys to cultural enrichment as well as lessons. This can take the form of going to concerts, a computer teaching lab with music appreciation software, a library of books and recordings available to the student, and so forth.
    Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Paying for Lessons | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Changing Piano Dealer Lessons | Learning to Play on Your Own | Tips | Purchasing a Piano | Methods | Top Ten Lists | Reference | Resources for Impaired | Music and The Home Computer | Musical Graphics | Piano Education Home

    Picking the Right Children's Teacher

    Children generally live "in the moment." They have a hard time seeing the value or benefit of something that they will appreciate "when they grow up," especially when it takes hard, steady work over an extended period of time to master it, as piano lessons do. As a result, many kids want to quit piano lessons before they come to any real proficiency or knowledge or, at least, become unmotivated in their lessons. Thus, it is particularly important to choose a teacher for your children who can make lessons fun, interesting and fulfilling for them. A teacher who can engender sufficient excitement in your children about piano that they want to go to lessons is the one who is likely to get the best results, all other things being equal.

    Most teachers, prior to signing up a new student, will conduct a free "mini-lesson" through which he or she can judge the child's general readiness for lessons. This mini-lesson is also an opportunity for you to judge how well the teacher is going to "connect" with a child and whether he or she is likely to enjoy lessons from that teacher. If your child enjoys the lessons, your job as a "piano parent" becomes much easier. You'll have less trouble with motivating the child to practice and a lot less trouble with them preparing properly for the lesson.

    Every child is different, so it's virtually impossible to advise parents on what they should look for specifically for their children. However, there are some issues that transcend individuality to a sufficient degree that a parent can meaningfully evaluate them during the mini-lesson. First, is the studio welcoming for the child from a physical standpoint? A studio that teaches primarily children should look something like a schoolroom, with bright items on the walls that will interest children or a section of the room especially for children. If you plan to attend the lessons with the child (recommended), you'll want to have available in the studio a comfortable place where you can sit within sight of the piano.

    When you talk with the teacher, look for some flexibility on the part of the teacher in choosing repertoire and teaching materials for your child. A teacher who says she will only teach classical repertoire and with one, and only one, approach may lose your child's interest pretty quickly. That doesn't mean that the teacher should give sole control of repertoire or the teaching approach to you or the child. After all, you want her to teach because she knows more than you or your child about piano! However, the teacher should talk with the child in order to hear what interests him and show a willingness to indulge those interests to some degree, within the bounds of a solid teaching curriculum which gives the student a thorough grounding in theory and technique.

    Watch the interaction between the prospective teacher and your child, especially if your child isn't all that "thrilled" about taking lessons. Look for a teacher who shows lots of patience. When they sit down at the piano, the teacher should present a smiling, encouraging demeanor to the child, praising success and not getting upset over "failure." An effective teacher for your child will have the child interested and actively participating in the learning process within a few minutes time at the piano. Even though that first mini-lesson is introductory in nature for all of you, the child should come out of it with a sense of having succeeded at learning something.

    Because we all learn best in different ways (visual, tactile, aural, etc.), a teacher who can quickly understand how your child learns best and adapt her approach to his strengths will likely be most successful with your child. If there is something during the lesson that your child is having trouble with, is the teacher able to find a way to communicate to him effectively to work through the problem? The better the teacher is at identifying and adjusting to your child's mode of learning, the more successful he will be in lessons. The more successful your child feels in lessons, the more likely it is that he will stick with them and make the best of them.

    Ask the teacher what kinds of aids she uses in teaching, beyond just the piano itself and lesson books. Many of the best teachers will have either devised their own teaching aids or will have available a substantial selection of them which she can "mix-and-match" to meet the needs of individual students. For example, some children have such a good ear for music that they learn music by ear, but have trouble or an outright lack of interest in reading music. Others learn to read music well, but have trouble discerning tones and intervals. A good teacher will have aids to help both types of student. Many teachers will use some of these in the initial mini-lesson.

    While we live in an unfortunate world of harassment litigation, which tends to discourage contact in teaching environments, a teacher who genuinely likes children and expresses that to them will be more effective than one who is more "distant" or "authoritarian." Look for some contact between the teacher and the child. An arm around the shoulder, a touching of hands, and a hug at the end of the lesson are some indicators that your child will feel comfortable going to lessons with that teacher.

    Finally, ask your child! Most kids will tell you if they liked a certain teacher and if they had fun at the mini-lesson. While the child probably shouldn't be given ultimate authority on the decision, your child's input can help you in making a final decision. The important thing to keep in mind is that people are so different in their approaches to teaching and ways of learning that you can't expect every teacher to be successful in motivating every student. Take the time to interview teachers until you find one your child seems to like learning from. If you have a teacher who can't seem to make a connection with your child, find another! If you're having trouble motivating your child to stay in and learn from piano lessons, you may also want to read our article, My Kid Wants to Quit Piano!?!?

    In-Home Lessons

    Fifty years ago, the traveling piano teacher was a fixture in the life of just about any up-and-coming American family with a "parlor piano". The teacher would arrive, teach the children and move on to the next house. Private teaching studios were relatively rare then. Societal changes and the need for a more controllable teaching environment slowly convinced most teachers to stop giving in-home lessons. Today, the majority of piano teachers teach in their own studios, to which students must come for their lessons.

    However, today's frenetic pace and the needs of potential students have encouraged some piano teachers to take up again the traveling life. If you can find such a teacher in your area (inquire when you call the teacher), in-home lessons can save tremendous amounts of time and money.

    There are some things students and parents should know before they undertake lessons in their own homes. First, they, not the teacher, are responsible for providing a usable learning environment. Of course, this means having a tuned and fully functional piano, as well as a working metronome, available for use. Some teachers may allow a keyboard at first, but will eventually insist on a piano. Your teacher may identify some problem with the piano of which you may not be aware. If that happens, fix it as quickly as possible. Any music and/or teaching materials that your student needs should be at hand.

    Beyond that, in-home lessons require a quiet room, free of interruptions from TV, telephone, other siblings, unnecessary foot traffic through the room, or any other sources of distraction. If you cannot provide such an environment, you should take lessons in a piano studio. You must also assure basic safety for the teacher (lighted and safe access, parking, escort from her car in some neighborhoods, removal of clutter that may be hazardous, etc.).

    Keep in mind that the teacher may have other appointments on her schedule, so, if you need to talk for more than 5 minutes with the teacher, arrange a time to do so outside the lesson time. If your children are taking lessons in your home, you should assess with the teacher whether your presence at the lesson is desired or not. In most cases, it isn't a requirement for the parent to attend all lessons, although occasional attendance is usually valuable, just as it would be if your child were taking lessons in a piano studio. Also as with lessons in a piano studio, you and/or your children will be expected to adhere to any lesson or studio policy that the teacher may have.

    Because the teacher is saving you time and money by bringing lessons to you, he or she may need to charge you a somewhat higher rate for lessons or an additional fee that covers travel costs, etc. This is both standard and appropriate in these days of high gas prices, expensive car maintenance and costly time. If you have multiple students in your home, you may be able to negotiate slight reductions in some rates or costs, not because the piano teacher's time is worth any less with multiple students, but because she will consume less of her day in travel.

    In-home lessons can make a great deal of sense for those with particularly busy schedules or commitments that keep them in the home, so long as they understand the extra responsibilities they must accept in return for the convenience of lessons at home. If you would like to learn more about this topic, our article for teachers, Piano Lessons Delivered to the Home, may be useful, as well.

     
     
     
     
     
    Page created: 8/2/95
    Last updated: 01/07/14
     
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    Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 9, No. 2, http://pianoeducation.org
    Copyright 1995-2014 John M. Zeigler. All rights reserved.