It’s that time of year where my voicemail and inbox are filled with queries from parents looking for a piano teacher for their students. As a mom myself, I completely understand how important it is to make a careful match. Your child’s musical progression depends largely on what happens at home between lessons. However, so much of their overall love and desire to create music has a lot to do with their teacher. It’s so important to find a good piano teacher for your child.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of exactly what you should be looking for and where you should be looking, let’s lay the foundation with some important things to understand.
Just because someone is a fantastic musician, doesn’t mean he is qualified to teach music lessons.
In recent years I’ve begun teaching piano in a group class setting. I refer my students to private lesson teachers when I graduate them from our class at the intermediate level. One of the teachers I referred several students to is a local concert pianist. However, several months into his private lessons with my former students, I received tearful phone calls. The parents told me it was a horrible fit and their students had completely lost their love for music and desire to play.
Digging deeper, I learned there was an empathy component missing. The teacher seemed to be so focused on his performance career that he wasn’t providing many opportunities for his students. It makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? A person who plays with the symphony might be so far removed from the struggles of a beginner that he has difficulty relating at all to the student.
Your child’s first teacher may not be the one he’s with ten years down the road.
While you might want to find the most qualified teacher with the PhD and impressive resume, this teacher might be the better fit for your child when he becomes more proficient at his instrument. For early instruction, research shows that the characteristics shared by the first teachers of those who went on to be outstanding musicians were care, patience and enthusiasm (see the book by Benjamin Bloom, Developing Talent in Young People for more details). These warm and kind teachers instill an early love and excitement about learning an instrument. That love helps drive your child forward and increase his commitment to practicing.
Alright, now that we have some of those basic details out of the way, let’s get to some specifics and talk about how to find a good piano teacher.
WHERE DO I FIND A GOOD TEACHER?
Truth be told, you can find music instructors just about anywhere. You’ll see flyers on bulletin boards of the libraries or coffee shops, ads on Craigslist or the newspaper and long lists at the directory of your local music store.
But here’s a little secret for you: some of the best music teachers don’t advertise. I speak for myself and some of the finest colleagues in my area when I say that we no longer have to advertise. We are consistently full and often have a waiting list simply because of word of mouth. The teachers you are going to find through advertising are likely beginning teachers, unsuccessful teachers with high turnover, teachers who have just moved to the area or teachers who can’t find students on their own. Obviously this doesn’t mean that all those kinds of teachers who advertise are bad teachers. (Any teacher moving to a new area will likely have to advertise to build up a student load, of course). But you are possibly missing out on many excellent teachers.
I strongly suggest you ask around when you’re on the hunt. Ask your child’s school teacher if she knows of any students in the class who play an instrument. Go to those parents for an honest opinion of their child’s teacher. Check through the local chapter of Music Teacher’s National Association (MTNA). Ask the music teachers at the public schools, as many of them are “in the loop” with who is a good teacher in town. When you start to hear the same recommendation from a couple of sources, chances are that you’ve found a good one. And even if The Good One is full, she usually has recommendations for other qualified teachers.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEACHER?
It can be tempting to look at the degrees and performance credits of a teacher to decide if she’s qualified. However, I would argue that a teacher who brags more about the accomplishments of her students is actually the better choice. Of course you want to have a teacher who plays the instrument well. But you also want a teacher who is child-centered and not focused primarily on her own accomplishments.
I have also found that many of the best teachers are involved with local chapters of the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association). These local groups tend to sponsor recitals, festivals, workshops and masterclasses. Although it’s never a guarantee, involvement in such a group tends to mean the teacher is serious and professional about what she does.
WHAT SHOULD I ASK THE TEACHER WHEN WE TALK?
Ask for references! If you found this teacher through word-of-mouth referrals, you might skip this step. If you didn’t, ask if there’s a parent or two of another student you might get in touch with. I often invite my parents and students to attend a group class. They can make sure the group setting is a good fit, and observe my teaching style, ability and rapport with the students.
Ask the teacher what her plan is for your child. Does she have books that she uses or performance opportunities she provides for your child? Does she have experience or ideas for working with a student who might need a “out-of-the-box” approaches?
How does the teacher communicate with families? Will she write assignments in a notebook so that you are clear on what the practicing expectations are? Does she e-mail from time to time with practicing ideas or encouragement?
To Sum Up:
- To find a good piano teacher, seek out word-of-mouth references from school teachers and parents of musicians
- Look for a teacher who is focused on her students
- Teachers involved with professional organizations are often better teachers than those who are not
- The teacher should play her instrument well
- Lessons should be organized and she should communicate expectations and progress with you
- Teachers should have opportunities for growth outside of lessons: recitals, competitions, festivals or masterclasses
Do you have a music teacher in your life that you really love? What makes him or her a great teacher?