Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Find a Good Piano Teacher

I've been trying to find a piano teacher for my daughter for the last 2 years and so far I've been unsuccessful. I don't feel as though this is because I am being extremely picky (although there is definitely a little of that), but rather, the timing is not right, the teacher's schedule is full, or it just doesn't feel like a good fit. A week or so ago I took her to meet a piano teacher in the area. After the meeting we had several great follow-up conversations via email. The piano teacher asked me a variety of excellent questions. Just in case my answers may be of help to anybody else I've decided to post the questions/answers on my blog. Although we decided not to sign on with this particular teacher, I appreciated the opportunity to vocalize answers to these questions. For now, we've decided that I will try harder to continue teaching our children myself until the right teacher comes along :) So here are the things that I am personally looking for and perhaps this might help a few other parents as well...
  1. What sort of teacher are you hoping to find for her? What things specifically are you looking for? What qualities and characteristics are you hoping she'll posses as a teacher? What expectations do you have of what will be accomplished during a typical 30-minute lesson?
    One of the most important things is that we find a teacher who will foster our daughter's love for music. She has a natural love for music of all kinds. She was born just days after my last public solo recital and so even in the womb she was constantly surrounded by the sounds of the piano. That continued throughout her childhood not only because I continued to study and record music but because my wife also loved to have music in our home. Piano, singing and dancing has always been a normal part of our daughter's life. So a teacher that can foster that natural love and harness it for her growth is paramount. So we have no expectations for a 30-minute lesson. Each day and lesson would be different and as long as the teacher shares a natural passion for music (and especially piano music) we would only expect that our daughter's love for music grow and be guided by additional skill and knowledge.

  2. What are your future "piano" goals for her? Are you hoping she'll become a concert pianist? Are you expecting/wanting/encouraging her to go on to study music in college?
    I believe very firmly that a life without good music is a life that has been robbed of one of God's most beautiful creations. At the same time, a life that has been pushed into this divine art so far that the beauty is replaced with bitterness is an even sadder tale. So long-term goals will be a delicate balance that we will need to find with each child. However, we do have a minimum standard; just as we will require all of our children to be able to read any average novel, we will require our children to be able to read any intermediate score. Beyond that, we will only help to guide our children as they decide on their own what role music (on any instrument) will play in their lives.

  3. Has she expressed to you what she'd like to do with her music? Has she shown interest in playing the piano, on her own, without your encouragement?
    One of the first objects that she reached out to while she was just an infant was the piano. She has always sat at my lap to play or danced to the sounds of the piano. Now that she is older we will find her standing at the piano or sitting at the bench just playing around and experimenting with the sounds of the piano - everyday. She loves to play! Several years ago I learned the A-major Chopin Polonaise and she just adored that piece. She would dance and play pretend and ask me to play it over and over again. That was about the same time that she started to ask me to teach her to play the piano. She has been asking at least a couple of times a month ever since.

  4. What types of experiences are you hoping that your piano teacher will provide for her? What things were you hoping to see in the teacher's program? Are you wanting your child to be in competitive performances? Non-competitive? Festivals? Would you be satisfied with a teacher who didn't offer these things in her program, even if you saw that your child was receiving a thorough education and was learning and progressing and developing a love of music?
    We don't really have any specifics that we are looking for except that the teacher be able to connect with her easily and that the teacher have an unquenchable passion for piano literature. If I were to take cooking classes, I would seek out a chef who loves food, who is always trying new things, and who has a talent for making others love and appreciate fine cuisine. If I were to study poetry I would seek out a poet who is familiar with fine literature of all forms (classic and modern), who actively composes, and who can instill a love of literature in others; and in both of these cases, I would need to connect with the teacher personally. I would expect something similar in a musical educator as well. Without a natural love and passion for the art and without a personal connection with the student it would be more difficult to share that common love for music.

    At this point, competition is not a concern. I believe that good competitions are extremely valuable for students because it encourages them to play at their very best. They teach discipline and broaden perspectives. Competition is a natural way to get a person to comprehend their own peak performance. That is a powerful tool that can allow a student to expand their capabilities even more. So a teacher who understands the true value in competition (not the superficial value) would be essential, but I would not expect our daughter to actually compete until further down the road (if she ever even wants to).

  5. What are your expectations of her in terms of the amount of time it should take for her to be achieving certain things, ie: advancing from one level of her method books to another, or playing a certain level of music, or performing in certain events?
    She is an extremely fast learner. She is constantly surprising us. So I don't really know what to expect from her. I am afraid to set any expectations for fear that I may either end up pushing or limiting her natural abilities. I would take the advice of one of my own past teachers and would simply try to "stay 5 minutes ahead" of her. That would be enough to keep her moving at the pace she is capable of. So if her teacher could "stay 5 minutes ahead" and dangle the proverbial carrot in front of her, then she would be able to progress at a pace that is naturally comfortable to her; and based on her past performance in other areas of her life, I imagine that would be substantially faster than the average piano student.

  6. During her younger years (about ages 6-7), she will need parental help for the first couple of days after her lesson (during her practice hours) if she's to achieve the most success possible. Are you willing to commit to spending whatever time is necessary to achieve the best success working with her at the piano?
    We already spend time each day nurturing our children's talents. My wife is especially wonderful in this respect. Especially where music is so important in our home, it would only be natural for us to commit time to her musical education on a daily basis.


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