?So, you are looking to enroll your youngster or yourself in piano lessons. How do you go about making the right decision in finding the right piano teacher? Just what can you do to ensure that you will hire the right person? What qualities should you be looking for? Should you necessarily go with instructor who closest to where you live? Should tuition be a primary consideration? What questions would be good to ask of a prospective piano teacher?
When it comes to finding the right piano teacher for your particular needs, consider the “why” first and foremost. What is your primary reason for wanting these lessons, whether they be for a child or yourself. What reward are are you looking to obtain for the investment of time and money? This is actually a consideration that so many people do not even give much attention to. “She likes music so I thought I would sign her up for lessons.” That’s a common statement a parent of a new prospective student is likely to say upon first contact with a music studio. It’s actually a good intention. Go a little deeper in a case like this one, we might look a little deeper into the matter. It’s great that your child likes music and you are to be commended for wanting to nurture that appreciation for music. That said, what do you want your youngster to actually reap from those piano lessons that you are about to invest in?
Upon being asked that question, most parents are likely to reply with something similar to, “Well, I want it to be fun for him/her.” That is plausible. So, what would make it a fun experience for this prospective new student? Failing to acknowledge this in the early stages of the game can actually be detrimental and causation for turning a possible wonderful future with music into a short-term venture that leads to utter disappointment. Let’s consider what often happens with a hypothetical example:
John and Mary have given some thought to having their 9 year old son Jason become involved with music, since he seems to really enjoy listening to recordings at every opportunity. They discuss it with him and the conversation leads to Jason expressing an interest in learning how to play the piano. There happens to be a piano in the living room that’s been virtually untouched for years, outside of having a piano tuner come once a year to maintain it. After dinner that night, Mary surfs the Web for local piano studios and learns that there is one just a few miles from the house. She locates the phone number and makes a call asking if there is availability for late afternoon on Thursdays, since that is a day where transporting Jason to and from lessons would not be a challenge. It turns out that the studio can accommodate Jason at 4:30. Mary makes the appointment, lets John know, and then informs her son of the good news. Jason is elated. He’s going to be playing the piano!
At about 5:45 on Thursday afternoon, Mary comes through the door with Jason, who hurries to the piano with his new book and starts playing an exercise that his teacher gave him to play every day. John quickly learns at the dinner table that the lesson went well, the teacher is very nice, and she had good things to say about Jason. Everyone is happy.
Nearly a couple of months go by. It’s almost 6pm, Mary enters the door and Jason follows with his head down. He slowly makes his way to the sofa, plops his book on the end table, and reaches for the remote control. The television gets watched for hours and the piano never gets touched that evening – or the following one. Actually, it’s been kind of like this for the last 2 to 3 weeks. The enthusiasm seems to have diminished. Two more weeks of lessons follow. At dinner on Wednesday, Jason whines, “Do I have to go to my piano lesson tomorrow?” Mom and Dad look at each other, not surprised but still curious. Upon being asked for the reason, Jason replies, “It’s boring. I just don’t want to do it anymore.”
John and Mary have sensed his lack of ambition for the last several weeks and decide that it’s not worth forcing those lessons on him. They don’t call around for another teacher for another opinion. They simply arrive at the conclusion that piano just isn’t for Jason. Ne never has another encounter with the piano and, whenever the topic comes up with others, it goes something like, “He tried piano but didn’t like it.”
There are so many versions of that same story. Sure the details vary to some degree but the general theme remains the same. The decision to not continue with those piano lessons was based solely on one experience with one teacher. If it didn’t work out with one teacher, it probably won’t work with another. After all, a piano teacher is a piano teacher is a piano teacher, right?
Referring back to our example, if John and Mary, upon first detecting Jason’s lack of enthusiasm, had taken the time to communicate with both him and his piano teacher, they might have come to realize that this individual had one way of teaching piano: The student enters the room, props up the book on the piano, plays what he/she can from this week’s lesson page, hears either approving or disapproving remarks, plays a scale or two up and down the piano keyboard, gets assigned another page in the book for the following week… and so it continues… week after week after week. Sure, the teacher was pleasant enough. But, when it came to having Jason realize some of his true musical potential, did she have what it took to really do that?
This type of situation is all too common. The reason? Because a significant number of piano teachers out there follow the same routine. Although they may have their strong points, getting the students to be in touch with their genuine individuality and capacity for musical creativity is not even something they possess the talent for. Is it a shame? Yes. So, why do so many of these teachers do what they do? Because it’s become the “norm.” They are quick to learn that following a procedure as described above is equated with a “piano lesson” (since that was how they learned), it’s proven to be good enough to hold the position and title of “piano teacher” and, in many cases their college degree that hangs on the wall “confirms” that.
But the proof is in the pudding. Ask any one of those piano teachers to play something original or creative and you’ll be quick to know that only a tiny percentage of them feel comfortable at the piano without having a piece of sheet music in front of them. If they can’t demonstrate it, how can they encourage it?
Again, they each likely have their strong points but how are they when it comes to being the right instructor for you or your child? What if Jason in our little story had been shown from his very first piano lesson that he was capable of making music at those keys without even having to look at a piece of music? What if, in addition to learning what those notes are on the music staff and their association to the piano keyboard, he was having fun playing music that put a smile on his face every time? What if, within that same period of two months, he could sit at a piano or keyboard and play something musical with confidence without even having to look at sheet music? Do you suppose Jason would have continued to enjoy his experience with music for a much longer period of time? Would his confidence and self esteem been the better for it? Could that kind of difference been responsible for Jason enjoying playing music for years and years to follow versus having one negative experience to look back on? Is this type of experience really possible?
You bet it is. The proof already exists. Don’t shortchange yourself or the youngster in your family of a good, well-balanced musical experience. If you have encountered a situation that was less than favorable, don’t base what happens next (or doesn’t happen) on one attempt – or even several. The fact remains there is a teacher who can make a positive difference. Communication is important. Everyone who is part of the picture should be sharing viewpoints. Based on what has been said here, perhaps it goes without saying that it’s not necessarily in your best interest to settle for the teacher who is closest to the house or the cheapest. That kind of thinking has resulted in greater losses over the long term.
Yes, there are some questions that you can ask a prospective piano teacher that just might lead to your making the best decision the first time. Here are a few. In addition to what you find there, use your intuition to ask more questions of a prospective teacher that will lead you to making a well thought out decision. If the piano lessons are for one of your kids, do not hesitate to ask the prospective instructor how he or she would respond to any specific characteristics your child has (since you know him or her better than anyone else). The quality of this person’s responses will give you clues that can be helpful in making a sound decision. Once you make the decision and the piano lessons have begun, keep the communication happening during the process. Ask to observe a lesson every once in a while if you do not accompany your son or daughter each time. A teacher with integrity will welcome that.
Looking at it realistically. If a person has an interest in music to the point of considering learning piano, then there are possibilities for that individual. It doesn’t have to be conditional. If, for example, you are adult looking to explore your potential with music and you have responsibilities that limit you to practicing short amounts of time during the week, be sure to connect with a teacher who can respect that and help you under those conditions. Whatever the situation, present the facts and questions at the beginning stages and monitor how things are progressing on a regular basis. When it comes to expectations including those of the teacher and yourself, let them be known up front. Finding the right piano teacher who has the experience, flexibility and desire to act and serve in the best interest of the student will be well worth your invested time and research.
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