The best teachers make learning enjoyable.
4 Tips For Choosing The Right Piano Teacher
1 Jan 2019 | by Nabillah Jalal
Choosing a piano teacher can be a stressful exercise, especially if the parents have had nightmarish encounters with previous teachers. I’ve taught children who were scarred by the piano because of previous instructors who had approached them with an improper teaching strategy.
This article is for parents who have a list of candidates in mind, but aren’t sure how to screen them. How do you hire the best fit, or at least avoid hiring the wrong one?
I always recommend starting with a one-time trial lesson. It should be at least one hour long – you can’t really learn much about the teacher through just 15 to 30 minutes of interaction. One hour is also ample time to observe how long a teacher can maintain a child’s interest.
Hopefully, you’ll also be able to sit in during this trial lesson for a closer glimpse. Here are 4 tips you can use to inform your assessment.
1. Understand your objectives – don't forget your child’s objectives as well
Firstly, what does your child like, or what does your child want to accomplish? A child with a more developed taste may want to master classical piano and become a soloist. Another could be in it to master piano covers of her favourite pop songs.
Secondly, what do you want your child to accomplish? Are you content to let your child play the piano as a hobby? Do you want your child to go through grading for his CV? Do you have a timeline in mind?
During the trial lesson, a forward-thinking teacher will want to understand everyone’s expectations and preferences. This is important because the parent and child rarely want the same things. For example, if you want your child to pass Grade 1 within a year (it’s a common myth), at a point when your child only wants to experiment with music recreationally, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to voice some disclaimers.
Some parents may disagree. “My daughter doesn’t know what she wants or what’s good for her,” they may say.
That’s true to some extent. But it doesn’t mean they have no preference; it could be that they’re unwilling or unable to articulate it. That’s where you need an intuitive teacher who can draw this information out from a child. Because neglecting a child’s learning preferences almost always leads to ineffective teaching.
2. Observe her teaching persona
During your child’s trial lesson, these are some cues you can watch for:
Does the teacher show enthusiasm and a sense of humour? Humour develops rapport, and is important for drawing out children who’re more reserved.
Does the teacher show authority when she’s teaching? When it’s time to set boundaries, a teacher needs to know how to switch from being friendly to being firm.
Is the teacher interested in your child’s extracurricular hobbies? A teacher who wants to develop a relationship with your child will care about him as a human being, not only as a music student.
A piano teacher’s role is not only to educate their students on playing technique. It’s also to excite them about learning the piano, which requires a charismatic persona.
Parents like to focus on the piano teacher’s credentials, but these won’t matter if she has an unpleasant character in the classroom.
Yes, there are times when a teacher has to be a disciplinarian. But it is one thing to be stern, and another thing to be rude, mean or boring. When a teacher is likeable, her student will naturally be more motivated to learn.
3. Find out if she varies her teaching approach
A versatile piano teacher should be able to vary her teaching approach based on her students’ learning style and interests.
Visual learners respond to texts and illustrations, and perform well when it comes to reading music. Auditory learners respond to ear training, as they are more sensitive to differences in beat, pitch and volume. Tactile learners respond to a hands-on approach.
Does your piano teacher have a range of audio-visual learning tools at her disposal? Can she teach using concepts and ideas that cut across various fields? That could mean that she’s flexible with different types of learners.
Your child’s interests are even more dynamic, and will certainly evolve with time. Does your teacher specialise in only one genre of piano music (such as classical, contemporary or children’s music) or several? If it’s the former, then she may not provide the best mileage in the long run.
Find out if your prospective piano teacher works well with students of various ages, skill levels and genre interests. If you have the opportunity to watch a recital performed by her students, use it to find out how diverse her student intake is.
4. Find out about her projects or hobbies outside of teaching
This may seem off-tangent, but it gives you some insight about the person whom you’re handing your child to once or twice a week.
The piano teachers who inspired me most didn’t invest 100% of their waking moments on private teaching. They volunteered. They worked with schools. They performed in recitals and concerts. They had ongoing projects with various organisations. They were collaborative and participated in the world as a member of a community.
These teachers were inspirational because they lived a full life, which as any musician and artist can attest to, is important for creating art. Furthermore, a teacher who’s conscientious about her professional and personal growth will set a good example for your child.
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These tips aren’t 100% bulletproof, but they are a fantastic starting point when you’re making up your mind about a piano teacher. If your child enjoys a piano teacher’s company, that is half the battle won. Most importantly, be patient. If you have to, make time for trial lessons with more than one teacher to compare their standards.
NJ Studio specialises in the narrative teaching approach, using storytelling to transform how children interpret and relate to music. Speak to us about our piano lessons today.