What to look for in a teacher

What to look for in a teacher

Everyone who chooses to study the piano or another instrument has their own specific goals. Some may want to play for enjoyment, for example, to be able to sit down and play songs by ear at a party or gathering while other people join in singing. Others may want to play primarily classical music, the great masterpieces of Western music, and even try to make a career of it. While these two approaches seem very different, there are nevertheless common traits in a teacher that are important and apply to both.

First, will the teacher make the learning enjoyable? Even someone who is “serious” about music has chosen this field, hopefully, because of a love of music and an enjoyment in creating music. Unfortunately, many teachers have squelched this love and enjoyment through rigid methods, excessive repetition, mechanical and non-musical exercises, harsh criticisms, and so on.

Second, will the teacher help bring out the individual’s natural abilities and inclinations? No two people will play alike, and the teacher must not direct the student in how to express himself, but rather to give the tools to enable the student to express his or her authentic self.

Third, can the teacher teach more than one style? A true musician should have many tools in his or her toolbox, so to speak. This includes playing be ear, harmonizing songs, perhaps improvising, in addition to the traditional reading of printed scores. Many people are not aware that the great composers, from Bach and Beethoven to Liszt, were master improvisers, and they did so often in public recitals. This is an art we should all try to cultivate to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, many teachers have learned only one way to play and can only teach in the way they have learned.

Fourth, ask the teacher to play for you and ask yourself if you enjoyed the playing. If the teacher tells you she cannot play because she is too busy teaching to have time to “practice,” beware! Anyone who has played for a number of years should always be able to play something, even if it is not the highly difficult pieces. And how can the teacher expect the student to do what he/she does not do himself?

Fifth, the teacher should have an excellent piano, a baby grand or grand in good condition and of fine quality. A small spinet or otherwise deficient piano indicates either the teacher is not serious about his/her profession, or is not successful enough to afford a quality instrument. The studio should be neat, clean, free from distractions such as children's toys lying about, and pleasant to be in.

One last note: Many people would like to have lessons in their own homes. While it is understandable to desire this convenience, it is not usually a good idea for the following reasons. Teachers who travel to students' homes are usually new, less experienced teachers just starting out and trying to build up a client base. Or, they do not have a suitable home and/or piano for giving lessons. By having lessons at the teacher's studio, you have (hopefully) lessons with no interruptions or distractions. You also (again, hopefully) will have the opportunity to play on a fine instrument, which will, over time, help your playing improve.

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