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Piano teacher professionalism.

Posted By: Mark I.

Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/22/04 05:23 PM

I am not a piano teacher -- I'm a beginning (2 months of lessons) student, but I have some concerns with my teacher and I thought I might be able to get some feedback from other teachers.

I began taking lessons October of last year, and took a hiatus for basically the month of December. Things were too crazy with the the holidays for me to find time to attend my lessons. A couple of weeks ago, I called my teacher to restart lessons and we agreed on a time for our lessons, which were to be held in my home.

Last week, he did not show up. After waiting a half an hour after the scheduled time, I called his home and learned that he had a new baby that was born the previous day. No problem, I can definitely related to that (3 kids with number 4 due "any day now"). He apologized for not letting me know he couldn't make it and we rescheduled for this week.

Again, he did not show up. I did the same thing as last week and called his home, but there was no answer this week. Frustrated, I sent him a polite email, informing him that I was going to find a new teacher, and thanking him for the time he'd given me so far.

Now, to my question: Is this normal for a piano teacher? I'm starting my search today for a new teacher, and I want to know what to look out for. I can understand that things come up, and schedules will sometimes have to change, but I expect and demand to be treated with professionalism. At the very least, the courtesy of a 2 minute telephone call to let me know he was not going to be able to make it for the lesson would have been very nice.
Posted By: iteachlifeskills

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/23/04 03:50 AM

Hi, Mark;

Sounds like you have the reverse of most piano/student relationships. It's more often the student who is inconsiderate of the teacher's time. Not only is this unusual, but it certainly is most unprofessional.

A couple of things that would concern me as a teacher based on what you wrote:

You are only a couple months into your studies and already taking time off

You are taking lessons in your own home

As a full-time private music teacher of 32 years, both of those indicate a lack of commitment on your part. Probably NOT what you wanted to hear, but my experience has proven this many times over.

Remember the old saying, "To have a friend, BE a friend." This could also apply to your situation, "To have someone commit to you, BE committed yourself!"

You may be interested in a free report I offer on my website, "Top Ten Things to Consider When Choosing a Music School". It will help you look for a good teacher, and it will also tell you what a good teacher will expect from you.

This could be one of the most important things you read as you embark on your music studies. Getting off to a good start could literally save you years of frustration and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in unnecessary expense. See my sig-file below to download your copy.

I also posted the entire report elsewhere on this forum. Look for "Top Ten Things to Consider When Choosing a Music School"

All the best in your search.

From cold and snowy Toronto,
Posted By: Mark I.

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/23/04 06:38 AM

Hi Russ, thanks for your insight. I took a look at your "Top 10 Things...", and it was very helpful. I feel much better armed to find a new teacher now.

I can see where you're coming from being a bit concerned about my commitment level, and based on what I had disclosed in the initial mail you were right to be. Here is a little more insight:

1. When I began my lessons, I was travelling to my former teacher's home -- a very small two bedroom apartment. I was using his digital piano with a broken key (A above middle C, if I recall correctly). At my first lesson, he had the keyboard sitting on his coffee table and had me sit on the couch to show what I had already learned.

As you might imagine, this detracted from my motivation to go to my classes just a little bit. At the time, I only had an inexpensive keyboard (not even with weighted keys) because I wasn't completely certain that I was going to stick with the lessons, so even using his somewhat sub-optimal keyboard was an improvement over what I had to practice on at home.

Over the holidays I purchased a much nicer digital piano with a nice weighted keyboard (Yamaha P90), and decided that my home was a much nicer environment than his small apartment for me to practice in. Especially since I work from home and am able to take my lessons during the day while I am the only person home.

We never did actually have a lesson at my home, and one of the criteria that I will be using to choose a new teacher is the studio that they have for lessons. I would much rather take lessons outside my home for the reasons you list in your guide.

2. I see where you're coming from being concerned about me taking time off already, but unfortunately it's just a part of life. I have three small children with a fourth on the way, and between all of their school activities and everything else around Christmas I wasn't willing to make it enough of a priority to continue my lessons for December. Hopefully a new, much more structured, teacher will help keep me more motivated to continue my lessons despite the other demands on my time. It's something I'm aware of and I'll have to push myself so that I don't fall into the trap of missing lessons -- it's a slippery slope, and once you start sliding it's hard to arrest your progress!

Thanks again for your thoughts, and I'll update this thread as my search continues.

Posted By: Kreisler

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/24/04 01:48 AM

If I may make a suggestion - I'd look for a teacher who has an established studio. That is, someone who teaches at a school or a room in their home set aside for music teaching. They should also have an acoustic piano. Many professional teachers will also have a set policy concerning cancelled lessons.
Posted By: Mark I.

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/24/04 02:32 AM


Absolutely! I don't intend on dealing with someone who isn't serious enough to have a proper practice area for the lessons to be held in. As far as lesson cancellation is concerned, I understand completely. When I took December off, I let the teacher know in the middle of November so that it wouldn't be a last minute surprise. Thanks for the suggestion.

Posted By: anacrusis

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/24/04 12:06 PM

Hi, this thread is quite interesting. However, you don't seem to be getting what some of the memnbers are trying to clue you in on.

A good, professional teacher does NOT allow people to just take time off from lessons, no matter what the circumstance, even if the student tells the teacher "in advance". Even if that time were approved, a professional piano teacher would make you pay for the time, it's your time. A good, professional teacher will show you the schedule in advance, showing maybe a week off for Thanksgiving,Christmas vacation, February school vacation and maybe a few days off for Easter. These only because there are so many kids away on family vacations at those times that resecheduling is impossible so it's easier to figure those vacations into the schedule in advance. A professional teacher collects the fee for the month up front, in advance, in one payment, no refunds if you don't make it. A professional teacher may have you sign a contract for the year. A professional teacher has a set policy about makeups, usually only allows 2-3 per person for the whole year, and any over the allowed number are forfeits to you and must still be paid for.

Keep in mind that it's not fair to the teacher when you take time off, even if you "tell her in advance". She has set that time aside for you and has based her own personal family economics on having her schedule filled. If only one or two people don't show up in a week, she's out her half-hourly or hourly rate times the number of students who didn't show. A professional teacher does not do this as a "hobby" or for "pin money" and can't afford to have students like you. A professional, highly regarded piano teacher would never put up with your professed antics, and wouldn't have to because she would probably have no room on her roster for you. A professional teacher gives each student a trial and if they are not committed, out they go. My children have a wonderful, talented, inspiring piano teacher and you would not make the cut at her studio....sorry! Get realistic and get serious or just forget about piano lessons for now.
Posted By: iteachlifeskills

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/25/04 12:32 AM

Anacrusis, were you ever in the teaching profession? You seem to understand the big picture totally. THANK YOU for cutting right to the chase.

As teachers, we sometimes have to use a lot tact and diplomacy because we don't want to be perceived as doing it 'only for the money' as we are sometimes accused. Believe me, my blood literally boils when people tell me, "I'll be back in a month or two... be a dear and hold my spot, will you?"

Then out comes the laundry list of "reasons" why I'm supposed to 'understand' and 'give a little'. The best one is always, "We've been coming here for X number of years. Is THIS the way you treat your loyal customers?"

And I have to tell them, "Geez, I'll just have to call the bank, and the phone company, and the electric company, and Revenue Canada, and explain to them that I'll be taking a couple months off from paying MY bills, because all of my students think it's only fair that I give them some time off."

As a small business owner, I also have office rent, taxes and utilites in addition to my home payments. I've invested in pianos - two in each lesson room, because we play along with our students.

For other teachers reading this, here is what we do for missed lessons. First of all, we get 12 post-dated checks up front. Once a check is deposited for any particular month, there is no refund. Otherwise, we will return any unused post-dated checks with a reasonable notice.

We give four lessons each month. We use the 5th week (29th, 30th and 31st) for missed lessons. If a student is missing a month, they double up the month BEFORE they go away and/or the month AFTER they return.

The day you stop paying for your classes, that's the day your time goes to someone else.

Just like in the REAL world. Ever miss a mortgage or car payment?

I guess what makes it hardest for most people to understand is that as human beings, music teachers are some of the most caring, compassionate people you might ever meet. Sometimes the bonding gets so close, they are even considered family. Here's one of my favorite testimonials:
Mr. Hamel,

Today marks the end of my life as a piano student. I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for putting up with an eight year old who practiced only occasionally. Thank you for putting up with a thirteen year old who practiced the piano rarely.

Most of all, thanks for your encouragement and belief in me, especially in the writing department. If I get anywhere in life, whether I'm a journalist or not, know that you hold an important stake in it.

These past eight years, you've been a lot more than just a piano teacher. You have also been a friend and second father to me. Thank you for all the skill, advice, experience, insight and time you've shared with me.


So, I can understand it when people want me to give them "extra-special" treatment and consideration, because they already feel so special with us.

However, this is how I, and other full-time professionals eat and shelter ourselves. Lay us off (by taking time off) and we're immediately looking for your next replacement. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Thanks again Anacrusis. BTW, if you know any other people like yourself in the Toronto area, send them to ME! I'd LOVE to have more people like you!

It's a bone-chilling 15 below zero today in Toronto,
Posted By: Mark I.

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/25/04 08:56 PM

That's a fair response, for the most part. The fact of the matter is, my former piano teacher was not the "good, professional" piano teacher that you describe. Had he had rules about missing lessons or scheduling I would have followed them. My first ever lesson was last October and I was not sure whether or not it was something that I was going to stick with. Now that I've decided that it is definitely something that I'm going to pursue for years to come, I decided to get more information about what to expect from those "good, professional" teachers, and I definitely appreciate the information in your response. I wish I had gotten more advice like it before my initial start last October.

That said, I found a new teacher who does indeed have a formal policy like you describe where missed lessons still must be paid for. In addition, he has an outline of the syllabus for beginning adult studens like myself, and he is up front about the time committment that students are EXPECTED to give to their studies. This is precisely what I was looking for in a teacher, for similar reasons to him: My time is limited as well; I want to get as much out of my lessons and practice time as I possibly can.

I absolutely understand where you're coming from as well -- I would never expect a teacher to hold a spot open for me that I wasn't paying for. If my former teacher had not had an opening for me when I came back after my break, it would have been my own problem and no blame on him. I definitely understand what it's like to be a small business owner, having been down that path before.

Thanks to everyone who responded. It definitely helped me with my criteria for choosing a new teacher, and I think that I'm going to be very happy with the one that I chose. My first lesson is on Thursday afternoon, and I'll post back to this thread with my first impressions about my new teacher, if anyone is interested in the final outcome.

For those who might be curious, my new teacher has a very informative web site that answered quite a few of my questions before I even contacted him:
Posted By: Mark I.

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/29/04 06:08 PM

Well, I just got back from my first lesson, and am very pleased with the results. Thank you all for your insight into the process of finding a teacher, and for the (somewhat) gentle prodding about my level of commitment. It was much appreciated.

Contrasting my new teacher to my old, the differences are striking. To begin our first 30 minute lesson, my teacher asked me to play a couple of pieces for him so he could get an idea of my level. We spent the remainder of the time going over basic excercises, posture, hand positions, and the study material (Alfred's Adult Course). This was a far cry from my old lessons which were very much a "shoot from the hip" affair where my teacher didn't seem to have much of a goal in mind.

I have been given a number of assignments for next week -- more than I think I can actually accomplish, to tell the truth, but I'm going to buckle down and get through as much of it as I can. Maybe I'll surprise myself with how far I get before next week.

In any case, thanks again for all the help.
Posted By: iteachlifeskills

Re: Piano teacher professionalism. - 01/30/04 03:39 AM

Way to go Mark!

You have a great attitude, especially after the FIRE we put you through here with all the 'straight talk'. I guess if you can make it here, you can make it ANYWHERE! smile

Yes, a good teacher will S-T-R-E-T-C-H you. My adult students come to class with their 'weekly woes' and most of it just goes over my head. If they didn't get a good practice during the week, at least they get a great workout when they come to class.

It's not that a good teacher is insensitive, or being tough on you, or whatever. For me, I want to be able to sleep at night knowing that I did MY BEST to get the BEST out of my students. I like to think that I EARN every penny I charge my students.

Being an amiable person in a fun subject such as music, I know it is VERY EASY to get into "CHAT" mode, especially with my adult students. Because of the odd working hours, a private music teacher's job can also be a large part of his social life. I count my students as some of my best friends, and even extended family!

But we have a job to do, too. Sounds like you found yourself a keeper. Trust his guidance and leadership and in a few short years you will be more than pleased with yourself and your rapidly developing skills.

All the best from cold and snowy Toronto,
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