“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” -William Arthur Ward
I remember my very first piano lesson. After begging my parents for piano lessons for long enough already, they supportively agreed and dropped me off at Mrs. Baker’s house on a Tuesday after school. I was an awkward 8 year old sporting mom jeans and a turtleneck. I was nervous and shy, and I remember her house smelled like vanilla. I sat down at her well-loved upright piano as she explained with a sweet smile what to expect from piano lessons…
“We are going to have a lot of fun together! I’m excited to teach you how to play the piano! Don’t worry, I won’t get upset if you make mistakes, but I do expect you to practice. Are you willing to practice regularly?”
Sheepishly, I nodded my head in agreement.
For the next 5 years, Mrs. Baker developed in me a love for music, along with a strong foundation of note and rhythm reading and performing. She required at least one recital per year…which I dreaded like having shards of glass in my eyes. In fact, I would have CHOSEN the shards of glass over playing in front of a room full of people. But like all hard things worth doing, these disciplines and skills set the groundwork for the next 3 decades of my life.
After Mrs. Baker, I had 2 other excellent piano teachers that took me from playing intermediate songs to memorizing advanced pieces to competitions to making audition tapes for college. The lessons got longer and tougher and more expensive, but I had decided that piano was my path and I was committed to it. After getting my bachelor’s degree in music, I continued teaching piano lessons (channeling my inner Mrs. Baker) into the first 10 years of our married life. It was a nice home business and I even taught my own children how to play.
But eventually, life with 4 kids got too busy for me to continue teaching. So after 18 years of giving piano lessons, I took on the role of searching for a piano teacher for my own kids. I knew what I was looking for, both from the perspective of Mom AND piano instructor. So what were my criteria? I narrowed it down to these 3 qualities…
This may be the least “musical” quality to start with, but it is the MOST IMPORTANT one for kids just starting out. From the first impression to 5 years down the road, finding a friendly and cheerful teacher will put your child at ease and make them like (maybe even LOVE!) coming to music lessons. Nothing will sour a lesson (and maybe their entire opinion of music!) more than a grumpy teacher. Especially for beginners. Finding a friendly teacher that your child LIKES is important because it’s difficult to be inspired or to learn anything in a state of frustration, fear, or boredom.
- Are cheerful
- Are patient
- Use positive reinforcement
- Reward progress (candy is always a win!)
- Laugh and make the lesson fun
- Are sensitive to the mood and needs of each student
2 . Focused
The next thing to look for in a piano teacher is their actual ability to TEACH. Just because they are nice, doesn’t mean they have the right technical skills to pass onto your child.
Here are 3 main things I would want a teacher to be focused on…
- Teaching note-reading, not learning “by ear”
- Correcting even small technical details like posture and hand position
- Giving attention to “musicality” (dynamics, phrasing, voicing, feeling, etc.)
Of all 3, teaching note-reading is the MOST IMPORTANT, especially for beginners. In the same way a kindergarten teacher starts with the alphabet, a music teacher starts with the notes on the staff to teach note-reading. Many kids are good at hearing a song and imitating it without actually reading the notes. While playing by ear is a good skill to have, relying on it is a HUGE disservice and limits potential. It would be like reading books to a child but never teaching him to read for himself. He’ll know some good stories, but he’ll never learn any new ones. A teacher should rarely play songs for her students, but should instead do the hard work of letting them figure out each note on his own with some friendly guidance.
The last thing I would look for in a good piano teacher is their ability to be flexible. And I don’t just mean with their schedule (Although every mom will tell you how helpful that is). What I mean by “flexible” is being varied in their choice of music curriculum and methods. Show me a teacher who uses the same music method books year after year after year and I’ll show you a student who’s about to get BORED. But a teacher who custom-tailors sheet music and lesson books to each individual student, keeps students engaged and inspired.
I hope these tips are helpful if you are searching for a piano teacher, or any instrument instructor. A teacher who is friendly, focused and flexible could make all the difference in developing a love for music in your child that will last the rest of their lives.
As each one has received a special gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”— The Apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:10)