Finding the appropriate teacher for yourself or your child is as important an enterprise as selecting the right doctor or dentist. One size fits all does not apply here. The teacher that works for you is a subjective, personal choice. He/she is someone with whom you’ll spend a considerable amount of time. And if you’re not careful, the wrong teacher can derail your enthusiasm before you’ve really even gotten started. Since learning the piano can sometimes feel like a daunting and difficult task to begin with, and requires a great deal of focus and discipline, removing any unnecessary obstacles can prevent many future headaches. So take your time and do some research before settling on just anyone.
There are many things to take into consideration--budget, location, philosophy and chemistry. The first step is to:
Ask For Recommendations – Start your search by chatting with your friends, neighbors or colleagues whose opinions you respect and trust. They may provide more personal insights over professional ones, including what kind of instruction was or wasn’t effective. A recommendation can be more desirable than soliciting a teacher directly, if you value the opinion of the source.
Next stop are universities or colleges. Often, students will teach or have teachers that have served them well. Plus, the academic setting will offer an advantage for those serious about studying music or music theory in the long-term, and has solid ties to the local community.
Music stores may also have lists of teachers who have been their patrons, or provide music instruction themselves.
Another resource is your local teacher organization/association, such as TMTA (Texas Music Teachers Association), which has a list of vetted teachers with biographies.
You can even attend a recital that a prospective teacher is holding to see how the students play and comport themselves, as well as the teacher’s engagement. If you see a teacher you like, perhaps talk with one of their current or former students.
Next, Consider Your Needs – It is useful to ask yourself some questions in advance that will aid in narrowing down your search finding the right pedagogue for you. The answers may even surprise you as you begin to think more specifically about the purpose and goals you want to set for you or your child.
• What are your particular goals in taking piano lessons?
• Are you interested in learning technique and music theory?
• Would you rather focus on the more social aspects of music with a less formal type of lesson, such as Recreational Music Making?
• Do you have a preference for group classes or private lessons?
• Do you have a school of thought in mind?
• What musical style(s) do you want to learn (i.e. classical, popular, jazz)?
• Are you interested in performance, such as piano recitals?
One of the final steps is to:
Interview The Teacher – This is an opportunity to not only ask pertinent questions but also help determine if you have a good impression of this person. The mutual rapport between teacher and student is just as essential as reviewing credentials or verifying technical skill. After all, you or your child will be spending a lot of one-on-one time together and you want to ensure that you are genuinely comfortable.
Kawai [ 3 ] recommends a teacher who: empathizes; exhibits patience; has a positive attitude; uses positive reinforcement; knows how to push when necessary; knows how to recognize and reward accomplishment; and knows when to “lighten things up.”
Some further inquires:
• What is your professional and educational experience in music?
• What is your teaching experience? What are your certifications?
• What age groups do you teach?
• Do you participate in any ongoing professional developments? If so, which ones?
• Where do you teach? Do you have a written studio policy?
• Do you have exams or an evaluation program? Do your students compete in contests or go to the Guild?
• What instructional materials do you use? Do you use a standard teaching method, a mix of methods, or do you use your own materials? Do you teach music theory?
• What kinds of music do you teach?
• Do you offer group lessons or opportunities for students to perform with each other?
• Do you require students to perform recitals during the year? Do you offer other performance opportunities for your students, such as festivals and competitions?
• Do you use technology in your studio, such as computers, music instruction software, and digital keyboards?
• What do you expect of your students? How much practice time do you require each day?
• What do you expect of the parents? How involved or not involved do you want us to be?
• How do you help encourage students to stick with it?
• How long are the lessons? What is your fee? Are there additional fees for supplies, etc.?
• Do you have references?
Finally, Make A Choice. You’ve labored, tolled, did endless amounts of percolating—so now, choose your teacher. (In the end, if it doesn’t work out—your expectations were not met or it wasn’t what you thought—you can choose to go a different direction and pick someone else.)
Learning to play the piano or any instrument is an enriching, fulfilling experience. It is an activity that you will invest time, effort and money in. The environment created by the teacher should be a safe, relaxed atmosphere that fosters learning, creativity, motivation and enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your teacher if something is not working well for you.