Picking a teacher for yourself or your child can be a little tricky. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Learning to play can be a very personal experience, and you want the right mix of personality and process. Here are questions I believe you should ask teachers. You might be looking for specific answers – for instance: my house or yours? Other questions may be a little more open ended. Listen to how the teacher speaks to you. Are they rigid or flexible? Too mean or too nice? Trust your instincts. No questions are “dumb”!! If their response leaves you feeling foolish, consider that you may feel the same way as you are trying to learn to read music. I have listed my answers as this is my website, but you might not agree. That is fine. There are a lot of great teachers and students out there and I am not criticizing anyone. These answers are only my methodology and philosophy. I have taught music for nearly 30 years and have had a lifetime of music education. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I do it well, but it is still MY STYLE – for better or worse. Most of all, if it is not working, think about switching teachers. You need the right match.
1. How would you describe your style? How are you different? What is your strength? My lessons are an hour long. Students have an individual lesson within a very small group. Everyone takes a turn at the piano with me and spends the remainder of the time working on theory, music history, ear-training, and a little socializing with music friends. I want their experience to be both educational and fun. Some weeks are noisy and others very quiet. I hope my students feel comfortable and relaxed but still understand that they own the responsibility to learn while they are here. I work really hard to be sure my students can read the music. It is very difficult for some of them, but I don’t give up.
2. Do you make students perfect pieces before they move on? I base our progression on learning. If the skill is mastered, we move on. I think repeating a dull “kid’s piece” just to perfect it, is boring, tedious, and promotes memorizing instead of note-reading. Kids will perfect the pieces they like on their own. I encourage them to look back and play the pieces they like, again… for fun.
3. Do you teach theory alongside playing? I believe that is essential as it gives an intellectual base on which to build. It is a great skill that can be transferred to many other instruments and voice and helps you appreciate music as a listener.
4. Do you have student recitals and if so, how many weeks of lessons are used for preparation? You need to determine if your child will enjoy this performance aspect and how many weeks will be spent preparing for a concert instead of teaching. I have two “student concert parties” a year – students and me – no parents. Each student chooses a piece and works on it along with their regular assignments.They do not have to memorize the piece. It is very low key. Some kids love performing and others do not. We celebrate afterward with cookies and popcorn. Some of my students perform in other venues – church or school. If they let me know, I help them with this differently so they feel prepared. Performance requires a tough mindset similar to sports. If you make a little mistake you have to be able to keep going and keep your head in the game.
5. How much practice time each week do you expect of your students? The more you practice, the better you will be. There is no way around this. How busy is your child? Do you want them to be exposed to music or be a virtuoso? Most of my students are very “well-rounded” kids. I like that about them. We figure it out. Parents almost always have to be part of the solution. Also, I need them to tell me the truth about how much practicing is happening. There are a lot of variables in learning and no teacher can be sure how much a student practices.
6. Do you offer make-ups if I need to cancel a lesson? I try to reschedule within the week. If that is not possible, I give credit to the next month, within reason. If your child misses too many lessons, reconsider if you really want them to learn to play.
7. Why do you teach piano? I am passionate about music. I love playing the piano myself, but most of all I really love kids. They are interesting and fun and genuine. As a piano teacher, I usually have them over a span of time and I get to be a part of their growing up which is both a joy and a responsibility. I love my job.
AnnBeth, did you carry these 7 tenets down from Mount Ararat on stone tablets? Wow!! I couldn’t have said it better myself!! Friendly, non-aggressive and to the point!! Who would want more for their kids? And I always thought I INVENTED the non stressful “recital-coffee house-love fest!!” I simply thought of everything I hated about my recitals growing up and trashed it. I guess in a way my whole teaching philosophy centers around what I learned NOT to do!! I’m so thrilled you’re here in Wilton teaching piano to children and loving every minute of it. It makes me not feel like such a weirdo. Maybe we should open a school one day where we divide up the kids according to whether private or class atmosphere works best for them. Imagine hundreds of kids loving to learn piano even though their mean teachers insist on teaching them the basics? And the parents aren’t allowed at the recital?? Scandalous!! And brilliant!!
Thanks for writing this. I’m going to print and bind it and keep it close to my piano.
You’re the best.
Thanks Kyle. I could definitely relate to your experience. It is funny what shapes your life.