Taking Piano Lessons


by John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
Rio Rancho, NM USA


aking piano lessons is easy and fun most of the time. This page provides some information and tips about how to make your lesson experience as pleasant and hassle-free as possible, while providing due consideration and respect to the musical professional you have chosen to provide the lessons.




Studio Etiquette

Once you've found your teacher, remember that the teacher is a highly trained and competent professional. Treat him or her with the same amount of consideration that you would expect if you were in a teaching role. Be prompt at lessons and with payments for lessons. Don't ask the teacher to cut you a "volume discount" if you have more than one student. If you cannot attend your scheduled lesson, show courtesy by calling as far ahead of time as possible to notify your teacher and arrange for rescheduling. Do not request or expect constant rescheduling or make-up of piano lessons to accommodate conflicting family events (sports, vacations, etc.). If you are a parent of a piano student, do not expect the teacher to accept responsibility for children who are not students at the studio or for any student of the studio outside their scheduled lesson time. Pick up your children punctually at the end of the lesson time. If you are waiting in the studio for your children's lessons to be completed, remain quiet and do not interrupt. This will assure that your child gets the maximum benefit from the allotted time with the teacher. Finally, make it clear to your child that the piano teacher's time (and your money!) are valuable and neither should be wasted on poorly prepared lessons, improper behavior, truculence, or a generally bad attitude from the student.

Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Learning 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

What to Expect from Your Piano Teacher

There are some "basics" that a parent or student should realistically expect from their piano teacher and some additional things we think are highly desirable. Some essential basics that the teacher with a studio should have include a tuned acoustical piano or a full sized electronic keyboard, with all the keys and pedals in good working order. If your teacher travels to your home, you should make sure that your piano is in appropriate shape for teaching. The teaching atmosphere should be as free from outside distractions as possible. Parents and students should expect the teacher to be on time for the lesson and to finish at the appointed time. Conversely, when the lesson time is finished, the student should know that it is time to leave and be picked up promptly. Your teacher should keep records of student progress so that, should questions arise about that progress, adequate records will exist to answer them. We believe that the student should receive regular practice and study assignments for the piano, just as he does for school. Also like school, the student's lesson preparation and performance should be "graded" so that standards for preparation and accomplishment are set and regularly evaluated. The teacher should, at a minimum, provide a list of music and lesson materials to be obtained for lessons or provide these either on a loan or purchase basis. The teacher should be readily available for and encourage consultation regarding progress or other matters directly pertaining to the piano lessons. Although some teachers might disagree with us, we believe that the teacher should allow parents to attend lessons, so long as their presence is not clearly disruptive.

We would hope that you would want and demand more than the most basic of training for yourself or your child. There are a number of other services which we think are essential to producing a well-rounded musician and still others which are highly desirable because they help speed the learning process. Of course, if you receive more value, you should expect to pay more for the lessons in accordance with the extra value received. On the whole, you'll get better value for your money if you invest in the teacher who is truly committed to providing the best teaching possible, even if they have to charge you a little more for it.

Even for those students who don't plan to perform professionally, we believe that piano lessons without performance opportunities are a little like the difference between plain vanilla ice cream in a dish and a banana split; both are great, but the banana split elevates the ice cream to a higher level. The best teachers offer a range of performance opportunities, like home concerts and/or recitals to their students. Home concerts/performance classes are usually held on non-teaching days, so the teacher must give up precious free time to organize and do them. For recitals, the teacher may have to charge an additional fee to cover the rental fee of the recital hall, programs, and so forth. Other performance occasions could include contests, music festivals, master classes, chamber music, piano ensembles, and accompanying. A quality teacher will try to provide as many and as varied opportunities as possible to serve the individual student's needs. For example, not all students like or want to enter competitions, but do like the idea of performing as an opportunity to 'strut their stuff'. For this student, recitals or non-competitive festivals might serve the student better than competition. Work with your teacher to identify those performance participation modes that best suit you or your child. If your teacher is willing to take the time to provide performance chances for you or your child, by all means, take advantage of them!

Many teachers offer a "lending library" filled with books related to music, CD's, tapes or records to listen to, music journals, classical music videos and even software. Since all of these items are expensive to purchase, yet highly desirable to fill in the gaps in musical training produced by instrumental training alone, a teacher who can provide these to you for loan, even at a slightly higher lesson fee, will save you money in the long run. This is particularly true if the teacher also makes available copies of the beginning lessons materials for loan. These items can often run into hundreds of dollars if purchased new and are rarely used for more than a year before the student moves on to more advanced materials.

It is very difficult to have students understand all the nuances of performance and develop into being an active participating member of an audience without attending live performances. Some teachers will load up as many students into their private vehicle as they can manage and take the students to the concert as a "studio outing"; others will have a bulletin board, newsletter, web site or other vehicle for communicating the concert news to their students. If you find it difficult to get to these kinds of live performances on your own, look for a teacher that is willing to mount studio outings on a regular basis or at least keep you advised of such performances.

As we've implied, there is a lot more to music than learning to play an instrument. In fact, if that's the only thing you learn from music lessons, you've been deprived of much of the joy and wonder of music! As the schools have cut back or eliminated music training, it increasingly falls upon private teachers to provide their students a vehicle through which they can learn some music appreciation and/or history. Although books and videos can and do provide this kind of information, we find from actual experience in the studio that students generally learn these areas better and faster and have more fun doing it with computer-aided learning tools. Modern multimedia music appreciation software is so entertaining and well-designed that most people would use the software even if they weren't learning from it. More and more private teaching studios use computer teaching to supplement private lessons because it is so effective in so many areas (theory, ear training, practice, music appreciation) and can effectively leverage the private lesson times. Whether a teacher charges extra for the computer time or includes it in the lesson fee, we think you'll find it a valuable "extra" well worth your money and time.

Some teachers give back to the community in other ways as well. They may run free music appreciation classes as a means of introducing people to classical music. Others participate in the activities of local educational organizations, give free performances, or organize the appearances of performing artists in the community. It's hard to put a price on these efforts, but if your teacher does these things, chances are that teacher is committed to teaching beyond the level normally expected from a competent teacher. We can't tell you how much more you should be willing to pay for a truly committed teacher, but we can tell you that that kind of teacher is the one we would want ourselves!

You should want your piano teacher to provide the best music education possible. Getting a great music education does not necessarily mean that you or your student are or want to be headed for the concert stage; what it does mean is that your teacher is attuned to your individual learning process and, working within your interest and ability, is opening up as much of the world of music to you as possible. Even if you or your child never play a note again after lessons end, you will not have wasted your money and time if you've learned how to allow music to make your life better and more fulfilling. The teacher who can do that for you is well worth paying a little extra for his or her time!

Top of page! Why Lessons? | Before You Start | Finding Teachers | Choosing a Teacher | Lesson Cost | Interview Checklist | Right Children's Teacher | Common Misconceptions | Studio Etiquette | Expectations | Talk  | Learning 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

Talking With Your Piano Teacher

At your initial interview with your prospective teacher, take the time to establish an open door of communication. Read carefully through all copies of the studio policy and other important written information that you may receive from the teacher. If you have any questions, take the time before lessons begin to talk to the teacher about the questions. Once you or your child have started lessons, you should feel free to bring any concerns you may have to the teacher's attention. We think you'll find that the overwhelming majority of teachers will be receptive to and appreciative of your concerns.

As in any interpersonal relationship, there will be times when you may become concerned about your or your child's progress or just want to talk with the teacher about the overall course of lessons. This is normal and healthy. As long as you approach this with the teacher in a non-confrontational, constructive manner and follow a few basic guidelines, we think you'll find the experience to be a good one.

Since it is difficult for both you and the teacher to find the time during a busy day of lessons to talk at any length, it is always best to call the teacher and make an appointment to discuss matters at a mutually convenient time. Think through in advance what matters you want to broach with the teacher. Bring some notes to the interview if they will help you keep on track. You may want to tell the teacher what matters you wish to discuss when you set up the appointment. The teacher can then prepare whatever materials (progress records, grades, etc.) are needed for the talk so that your time is not wasted. Be careful in using e-mail to communicate with the teacher. E-mail is fine for setting up appointments and giving the teacher an idea of the topics you might want to discuss, but is too impersonal and, often, too immediate for productive discussions about lessons. Whether you or your child is the student, you'll find it much easier to communicate about lessons without a child being present.

At your meeting with the teacher, by all means, try to maintain the conversation on a professional and, as much as possible, dispassionate level. Avoid attacks on the integrity or judgment of the teacher. You can generally trust that the years of teaching experience that your teacher has established are helpful in knowing what is best for the student. Keep in mind that each teacher teaches in his or her own unique way and in response to their perception of the individual needs of their students. A good teacher will approach each and every private student as a unique person and will tailor their lessons according to each student's abilities, capabilities and aspirations. Try to avoid comparisons between what your child is doing relative to the progress of a friend's child. To the extent that you have specific concerns, state them as specifically as you can, listen carefully to the teacher's response, and continue to ask follow-up questions as necessary. Just as you should not try to intimidate the teacher, you should not let the teacher intimidate you from getting answers and/or action regarding your concerns.

Conversely, a call from the teacher should not be seen as an indictment of you or your child. You should congratulate yourself on your wise choice of teacher, when the teacher is committed enough to call you concerning a lack of progress of the student or sharing in the joy of the progress of a good student. Work with such a teacher to resolve problems and to encourage further effort on the part of a student who is doing well. Teachers put a lot of time and energy into the student's lessons. Both you and the teacher want the same thing: to make you or your child's lessons a positive experience. With just a little effort, the teacher, student and parent triangle can be a very healthy and happy one.

Changing Teachers

Sometimes you or the teacher will find that a certain teaching situation is not working as well as everyone might prefer. For example, the parent might want their child to learn 4-5 tunes per week, without much emphasis on technique, theory, and note reading. If the teacher is not comfortable with this goal, then you should simply suggest that a different teacher might work out better for the student. Not all teachers are right for all students and good teachers know and accept this fact of life. Sometimes, students just lose interest. There is nothing wrong with calmly telling a teacher that a student is no longer interested in studying; it happens all the time, but communicating this properly will end the teaching relationship on a positive note, without unnecessary rancor. There is no need to go through a litany of complaints, admonishments or attacks to "justify" your position to the current teacher. Most teachers will make a concerted effort to help you find a better teaching/learning situation for the student.  Seek recommendations of other teachers from the current teacher, if you want your student to continue lessons elsewhere. Most teachers will be happy to provide them. When you leave, leave on good terms by making sure that: you give at least a month's notice to the teacher, all outstanding billings for lessons are paid, and anything borrowed from the teacher is returned. If you fail to do these things, not only will you incur the anger of the departing teacher, but you may find it difficult to find another, as piano teachers have their own "grapevine" of communication.

Some of the best teachers will seek information, orally or in writing, from students and their parents about how the student viewed the lessons and the studio. If your teacher asks you for that kind of information, answer the questions, being as honest and forthcoming as possible. There is no need to be rude or heedless of the teacher's feelings in your answers, but you can help the teacher and her students if you take the time to give him/her honest feedback of this sort. If your comments are constructive and specific, you will help improve piano education for others and gain the gratitude of the teacher.

Page created: 5/27/07
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1, http://pianoeducation.org
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