Top Ten Steps in Choosing the Right Teacher


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


hristmas, birthdays and similar family occasions are times when families consider piano lessons, often to accompany the purchase of a piano. You can find a short sketch of how to proceed when buying a piano in my article, Top Ten Considerations in Giving the Family a Piano. However, once you have the piano, how do you find not merely a good teacher, but the best one for you or your children? In this article, I'll give you the "bottom line" version of how to go about this important process. The article includes lots of links to other articles on the site where you can get more detail, if you need or want it.



  1. Private Lessons or Learn at Home? - For most people, private lessons from a good piano teacher are the best and fastest way to learn piano, because you get personalized help and the knowledge of someone who knows piano and how to teach it. For more on the advantages of private teaching, see Why You Should Consider Private Lessons. However, some individuals may lack time, funds, mobility or motivation to learn to play from a private teacher and will seek to train themselves, perhaps with the help of software, videos or other modern learning aids. Learning at home requires more dedication and effort, but it can be a good way to get started for those with special considerations. You can find out more about the options in our article, Learning to Play on Your Own.
  2. Do you and your children have the time to learn piano? There isn't much point in beginning to learn, no matter how you do it, if you and your kids are so busy that you can't devote the serious time and effort required to learn to play. Most piano teachers would say that you need an absolute minimum of a half hour per day of effective practice. Many would say you need an hour of practice. You also have to allow for time to take and travel to lessons and other piano studio events, unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in an area where there are teacher(s) who will teach in your home. Even if you're learning at home, you'll have many of the same constraints on time and environment that you'll have in a teacher's studio. We have discussed these issues more fully in our article, Before You Start Lessons.
  3. Finding teachers to interview - You can find teachers by looking in the Yellow Pages, getting recommendations from others, contacting the local music teachers association for recommendations, checking the Web for teachers in your area sites, or, if you have a college or university in your area, contacting the music department there for faculty who may teach privately. However you might find candidates, be sure you have more than one and that you allocate time to visit the teachers' studios (see below). Take your children with you if they are to take lessons. For more detail on this topic, see Finding Piano Teachers.
  4. Interviewing teachers - Keep foremost in your mind that all teachers are not made equal; a good teacher for someone else may not, necessarily, be best for you or your children. Take the time to interview the prospective teachers in their studios. You can find an extensive list of possible interview questions in my article, A Teacher Interview Checklist. This list is extensive, but you can choose those question which matter most to you to ask of the teacher. Be open and honest in the interviews and expect the same from the teacher. In particular, tell the teacher what your expectations are and ask the teacher what his/hers are for the student.
  5. Get personal - Because taking lessons is such a personal interaction with a teacher, you must feel comfortable with the teacher and her approach. If you don't, find another teacher. If you're looking for a teacher for your children, the ability of the teacher to relate to and motivate them is critical. For more on the topic of choosing the right children's teacher, see my article, Picking the Right Children's Teacher.
  6. Avoid mistakes - Don't assume that the "cheapest" or closest teacher is the right one for you. Make your choice based on the knowledge, training, experience and personality of the teacher. An extra 5 minutes or an extra $5 are well worth it to get the best teacher, rather than a merely acceptable one. My article, Choosing a Piano Teacher, has more detail on this topic.
  7. Expect more - 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.  The teaching atmosphere should be as free from outside distractions as possible. Your teacher should keep records of student progress so that, should questions arise, records will exist to answer them. 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. However, a great teacher will offer much more than these basics. A short list of extras might include performance opportunities, music appreciation training, competition participation, a computer learning lab, a music lending library and many more. For more on what you should want from great teacher, take a look at the article, What to Expect from Your Piano Teacher.
  8. Be reasonable - Your teacher should be the person you go to for piano lessons, not free child care for students outside their appointed lesson times. The teacher should be paid for extra time given your student. Most teachers these days are degreed people, many with advanced degrees. They deserve respect, just as you would expect it from the teacher. Many of the misunderstandings which lead to improper or unreasonable requests and demands that people make of teachers are described in my article, Some Common Misconceptions About Piano Lessons. This article will help you understand not only what requests may be unreasonable, but how to interact most effectively with your teacher.
  9. Observe studio etiquette - Most teachers will tell you what they expect from students in terms of practice, preparation, attitude and behavior. Many will have those expectations in a written studio policy. Either way, if you can't or won't observe proper etiquette and behavior as defined by the teacher, it would be best to find another teacher whose views are more like your own. For more, read the article, Studio Etiquette.
  10. It's the music! - At root, lessons for most people should be about more than learning to press the right keys at the right time. If playing is the only thing you learn from music lessons, you've been deprived of much of the joy and wonder of music! Lessons should be about having a knowledgeable person lead you into the larger world of understanding and appreciating music of all types. Find a teacher whose attitude, approach and motivations are consistent with teaching and exciting you about good music. You'll find the lessons more enjoyable and you'll take away something that will last, even if you never play piano again.
Page created: 11/27/12
Last updated: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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