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What to look for in a teacher

Posted By: ChiralSpiral

What to look for in a teacher - 07/15/19 07:49 PM

I am a beginner, with practically no experience. I played for a few years as a kid, which was 20 years ago. I want to make sure I build the best habits from the start, so I am wondering, what should I look for in a teacher? Are there things I should ask about specifically? Having no recent experience I don't think I have the right vocabulary, and am very interested in playing classical. Should I make sure they have some sort of curriculum material, like Alfred's, as well?
Posted By: Serge88

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/15/19 08:54 PM

How many years of experience ? How many students ? Does he have a diploma ? What method is he using ?

Does he have others adults students ?
Posted By: bennevis

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/15/19 09:27 PM

Originally Posted by ChiralSpiral
Having no recent experience I don't think I have the right vocabulary, and am very interested in playing classical. Should I make sure they have some sort of curriculum material, like Alfred's, as well?

If classical music is your prime interest, it behoves you to learn and master all the basics properly - that means note reading, rhythm (note values, beat counting) and developing both hands equally well. What your RH learns, your LH must also learn equally - I cannot emphasize how important that is for classical music.

Which is why I don't approve of Alfred's and other method books of its ilk, whose aim is to get adults playing recognizable tunes and harmonies right from the start, based on RH melody and LH chords (otherwise they'd be bored and give up, right?), at the risk of lop-sided hand development and giving short shrift to essential basics. (Children's beginner primers tend to be much better.........). Ideally, your teacher is used to teaching serious adult students who want to learn everything properly (i.e. don't want to just learn what they want to play - Moonlight, Für Elise.....). Unfortunately, many - probably most - teachers don't want to teach adults, and those who specialize in adults often just teach them what they want to learn, no more and no less.....

I'd look for a teacher who teaches along traditional (classical) methods and depending on where you live, most teachers will fit your bill or hardly anyone. In the UK (and quite a number of other countries around the world), almost all teachers teach that way, because almost all students do ABRSM exams, which is about as traditional and classical-orientated as you can get. This is the ABRSM syllabus for piano (each grade takes on average a year):

https://us.abrsm.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDFs/Piano_Syllabus_2019___2020_complete.pdf

If you're in North America, you might prefer to look at the RCM syllabus; in Australia, the AMEB.

In matters of qualifications, in the UK, almost every teacher has a teaching diploma or equivalent. Not so in the US, but remember that it's no use having a conservatory-trained concert pianist as your teacher if he doesn't know how to teach. And don't rely on what you see in 'student recitals', for obvious reasons. If you can get recommendations from other students who have the same goals as you, that might be your best bet.

Ask your prospective teacher if they will ensure you learn all the basics based on classical music (not pop or jazz) - and preferably, follow one of the syllabi mentioned above. (You don't need to do the exams, but I'd recommend them). The good thing is that once you have grasped the basics, there is no lack of original piano/keyboard music (for all skill levels) by great composers to learn from, without having to resort to rubbishy arrangements.

But don't forget - learning is a two-way street. You need a good teacher but you also need to be a good student, and practice daily and purposefully and with intent. And you need to be very patient, which is where many adults fall on. Progress will almost certainly seem very slow, but slow and steady always wins the race when it comes to mastering the piano. Your brain will certainly skip ahead of your hands (whereas with kids, it's often the opposite) but what you think you can do isn't the same as what you can actually do, so be guided by your teacher and don't be tempted to push too fast, just because you think you can. Teachers may let adult students push them in directions they wouldn't allow child students to do.....
Posted By: MichaelJK

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/16/19 01:25 AM

Originally Posted by ChiralSpiral
I am a beginner, with practically no experience. I played for a few years as a kid, which was 20 years ago. I want to make sure I build the best habits from the start, so I am wondering, what should I look for in a teacher? Are there things I should ask about specifically? Having no recent experience I don't think I have the right vocabulary, and am very interested in playing classical. Should I make sure they have some sort of curriculum material, like Alfred's, as well?


I wish there were a way you could guarantee that you will build the best habits from the start, but I don't think that's possible. You're going to make mistakes, and you will learn things wrong. That's part of the fun, you know...

There's only so much a teacher can do about this. I mean, you're spending at most an hour a week with this person. Unless you can afford to pay a teacher to come and live with you (like in the good old days), you should recognize that you are mostly doing this on your own.

What this means is that the personality and habits that you are bringing to the table are really important. That is, you want to find a teacher who will click with those. Somebody who you feel inspired talking to.

Think back to teachers you've had over the course of your life, in any subject. Or mentors of any kind. What did you admire about them? What did you find helpful, or not helpful?

That stuff is way more important than what specific curriculum material the teacher uses.
Posted By: JoanneD

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/16/19 02:48 AM

I recently acquired a teacher through a local piano academy and I am very happy. Below is the blurb I wrote from which they assigned me a great teacher.



I am wanting 30 min piano lessons for myself (41yr). I have some prior piano experience (advanced beginner) and was a strong French Horn player through high school and college. I am seeking a teacher with a solid background in piano pedagogy, who has the patience to allow me to recognize and correct my mistakes. I am interested in classical repertoire, but an interested in being pushed in different directions. I am also interested in composition.
The best times for me would be 4pm on Monday or Tuesday, or at 2pm on Fridays
Posted By: Purkoy

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/19/19 04:06 PM

Originally Posted by bennevis
remember that it's no use having a conservatory-trained concert pianist as your teacher if he doesn't know how to teach.

This in particular. There's an old saying - which I shudder at every time I hear it - that 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach'.

Teaching is a great skill, and I've never appreciated this so much since I became a pupil of my piano teacher. Only the day before yesterday, I was having trouble with a particular piece, where my sight-reading skills weren't up to the job, and I was making a hash of the rhythms. She stopped me, analysed the problem, devised an off-piano exercise, and used it to coax my eyes into pattern recognition on the page and my hands and fingers into co-operating. It worked brilliantly, so well that by the end of the exercise and the lesson, everything flowed so well I wondered why it had been a problem at the start. It's that analytical ability to 'see' things, strip away the clutter, get to the roots, and devise learning strategies, that is at the heart of good teaching. Just knowing how to do something isn't enough, it's being able to transfer that to someone else that makes a teacher.
Posted By: mimi9

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/19/19 04:11 PM

Purkoy, sounds like you have a terrific teacher.

I have had 3 piano teachers and wasn't thrilled with any of them. Actually, the first one was probably OK but I was 7 or 8 and playing beginning pieces and the only thing I really remember about him was that he had a flamboyant signature and that my mother said that he didn't brush his teeth.
Posted By: Purkoy

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/19/19 09:51 PM

I was more fortunate than I realised when I turned up at her door. When I stood at her door for the first time, an adult beginner about six years ago, I thought, "about ten lessons should do it, then I can continue on my own". I'd no idea how much piano is a lifelong learning experience. By the time I left, I knew I wanted to be her pupil for ever. It was one of the simplest (now!) things : I'd prepared a simple piece to show her where I was at on my own, and there was one measure where I always had difficulty getting an arpeggio. She stopped me, and showed me the technique of finger substitution, which allowed me the reach down the keyboard on the left hand. It seemed brilliantly simple, yet I'd never thought of it. She has a passion for music, and it shows. She took a couple of us (adult students) to Spain to hear her favourite pianist (and her own teacher) play Beethoven in a concert. I loved the delightful nuttiness and sheer spontaneity of it.

I can sympathise over your disappointing experience with teachers. (The not brushing teeth thing is one of those things that, once you've noticed it, you can never not notice it again!) When my daughter was at school (long before I ever though of taking up piano), I wanted her to have music lessons, and she chose the flute. One day, she came home, in tears, giving up. A music class must have gone badly, for the teacher told her she'd never be any good at it, and from that point, she lost heart. I was furious, a teacher's job is to persuade, not deter, but my daughter was beyond it by then. She now has a daughter of her own, who has taken up clarinet, loves it, and now has my old digital piano. So bennevis's comments about the value of a good teacher struck a loud chord with me (sorry, I never meant that pun!).

Still, we're here, and that's what counts!
Posted By: earlofmar

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/19/19 11:30 PM

it is hard to find the right teacher on your own, but as an adult you have a few more options. Go talk one on one with a teacher at the local conservatory if you have one, they can be very receptive. Even ask the students hanging around the conservatory. Additionally, ask at a good piano store because they have a good idea what is going on in their area, (but I would avoid the group classes some of those stores run).

A good teacher nowadays will generally have a website and while a good teacher may have a poor site, a good site can tell you a lot about the teacher. Importantly, you are looking for a teacher who aims to have students take classical exams and promotes experience in getting them there.

Price per lesson is important, cheaper teachers in my limited experience were much poorer at helping me achieve my goals, and I eventually left them. Although I have to say that in the long run, those less than ideal teachers were not crippling to my advancement. They got me to a point where I was ready for better teaching. For that reason I don't see a need for finding the best possible teacher first up, although that is preferable.

Not all teachers are available, a good one may be too busy to take you on. However phoning or emailing a number of teachers may result in more information about teachers in your area.
Posted By: mimi9

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/19/19 11:32 PM

What an awful thing to do to a child. It's easy to lose confidence when learning anything new but to have a teacher discourage a child like that is unforgivable.
Posted By: Hotstrings

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/25/19 12:38 AM

If at all possible start w U tube videos and see if they have a video where you can watch prospective teacher. Also Wikipedia, google reviews. My interest is jazz and had opportunity to hear teacher play at a club.
After two years I’m quite satisfied. Not great bedside manners, gruff and demanding but extremely knowledgeable.
I also take a full hour of private lessons weekly . Never believed in half hours. By the time you get settled it’s time to leave.
Posted By: Utkonos

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/28/19 10:39 AM

I've had a variety of teachers. I don't think any of them were as good as the teachers people seem to have on these forums. Witness:

Teacher 1 was a hip-hop pianist who was very keen for me not to attend any of his shows or hear him play. I worked through part of Alfred's Adult Piano book 1 with him. Although my memories of him are not too fond, I also don't think he was a bad teacher. I was doing a lesson with him every week, but I definitely needed more than a week's worth of practice to keep up.

Teacher 2 had three keyboards in his piano room and was what might be described as a "Or you could do it like *this*..." kind of teacher, who had no concept of the existence of a skill level lower than his own. Lessons with him were a waste of time.

Teacher 3 was a silent film pianist. I worked through about 2 method books with him, and he was by far the best. I would have liked to have stayed with him but I left the country.

Teacher 4 had an excellent website but was quite a weird guy and the piano he was teaching on had some broken keys. He also insisted that I work through the RCM syllabus, which I had absolutely no interest in at all, so I only worked with him for a month.

Teacher 5 was teaching at the local music school, which was mostly for small children. He was more of what might be called a jazz cat, and again it was difficult for him to get down to my level. He would say things like "Just let the music flow into you" and ask me to do three things at once and "Oh, by the way, you're playing on the beat, not behind the beat." I haven't yet met anybody who could explain to me what that means, but I wish I knew! Anyway, he was quite nice and he also gave me a lot of free sheet music. Unfortunately it's mostly lead sheets and all of it is above my level.

Teacher 6 was another chilled-out local who was quite nice but didn't seem to be able to sight-read music (like Teacher 5). She also couldn't remember what we were working on, which seemed to fluctuate from week to week. However, I'd definitely have taken more lessons with her if I hadn't left the country again.

At this point, I don't have access to an instrument and I'm not sure whether I'll be taking more lessons. I do miss it and I hope that I will be able to buy an instrument if I can get a long-term lease on a place. I was going to move to a new place, but it's in an area in which random passers-by just got attacked by Triads, so I am thinking it is maybe not such a good idea after all!

In terms of piano education, I would say the hardest technical part for me was rhythm and also being able to move from place to place without looking at the keys, which I never managed to do in even the simplest of songs. Also, it was almost impossible to find a teacher who understood what kind of music I wanted to play (jug-band music) and, while I do also like other styles of music, a very large proportion of the pieces I worked on were of no interest to me at all, making learning the piano a bit of a chore at times.

Most of all, I wanted to play with other musicians, but I never got to the level where I could.
Posted By: PianoStudent88

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/28/19 11:42 PM

Originally Posted by earlofmar
A good teacher nowadays will generally have a website

I wouldn’t count on this. It may be true in your region, but it’s very much not true in my region.
Posted By: zillybug

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 12:01 AM

It is also not true in my area. Some of the best teachers in our area do not have websites. It is mostly the music schools that have the websites where I live, not the private teachers.
Posted By: ebonykawai

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 12:49 AM

Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
Originally Posted by earlofmar
A good teacher nowadays will generally have a website

I wouldn’t count on this. It may be true in your region, but it’s very much not true in my region.


Nor mine. Only music schools tend to have websites here I can't think of any local teacher here that has a website.
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 12:45 PM

Originally Posted by ebonykawai
Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
Originally Posted by earlofmar
A good teacher nowadays will generally have a website

I wouldn’t count on this. It may be true in your region, but it’s very much not true in my region.


Nor mine. Only music schools tend to have websites here I can't think of any local teacher here that has a website.


Not in my area as well.
Posted By: gwing

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 02:51 PM

Website ???? My piano teacher doesn't even do emails. Nor digital payments, just cheques or cash. And uses a paper diary etc.etc.
Posted By: WeakLeftHand

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 02:54 PM

All of my teacher's administrative stuff is done via a website - invoicing, scheduling, makeup classes, cancellations, notices, etc. Payments are by e-transfer if that's what the student wants. She's not a part of a school; that's her private studio.


Posted By: Charles Cohen

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/29/19 11:33 PM

Originally Posted by Purkoy
. . . It's that analytical ability to 'see' things, strip away the clutter, get to the roots, and devise learning strategies, that is at the heart of good teaching. Just knowing how to do something isn't enough, it's being able to transfer that to someone else that makes a teacher.


Amen!
Posted By: johnstaf

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/30/19 11:49 AM

Above all the teacher should be kind. A teacher who isn't can turn you off the piano.

The last teacher I had was a successful pianist. However, I found him a nightmare. I used to feel belittled and dreaded my lessons with him. I left after the first academic year. I learned later that he has many of former students who detest him.

25 years later, I sometimes see him at concerts, and the knot in my stomach still returns.

The last time I saw him I think he recognised me. If he ever says hello, I don't know how I'll react...
Posted By: Animisha

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/30/19 12:13 PM

Originally Posted by johnstaf
Above all the teacher should be kind. A teacher who isn't can turn you off the piano.

The last teacher I had was a successful pianist. However, I found him a nightmare. I used to feel belittled and dreaded my lessons with him. I left after the first academic year. I learned later that he has many of former students who detest him.

25 years later, I sometimes see him at concerts, and the knot in my stomach still returns.

The last time I saw him I think he recognised me. If he ever says hello, I don't know how I'll react...

Hi John! I heard this question in another context, but I'll adjust it to fit to your situation. "Who would you rather be? Would you rather be the teacher who treats his students badly, or would you rather be one of his students, who was treated badly?"
My answer to this question would be that I rather would be the student, and that would change my reaction if I ever saw him again.
Posted By: johnstaf

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/30/19 01:26 PM

Thanks Animisha! I agree. I always think belittling behaviour comes from some sort of unhappiness. I actually think there's something very sad about these people.
Posted By: Animisha

Re: What to look for in a teacher - 07/30/19 03:33 PM

Originally Posted by johnstaf
Thanks Animisha! I agree. I always think belittling behaviour comes from some sort of unhappiness. I actually think there's something very sad about these people.

You are very welcome John!
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