Piano Lessons: 3 Tips to Help You Find the Right Piano Teacher


in Learning Instruments, Learning Music

Finding the ideal piano teacher can be a difficult process. The relationship between a piano instructor and student, like any other relationship, centers on how well the two personalities interact and understand each other.

Sometimes people lose interest in learning piano because their instructor is not the right fit for them. However, those who are fortunate enough to have a superior music teacher can often excel in the art of playing, and remain lifelong players. 

If you're one of these individuals seeking a professional and personalized piano instructor, then these three tips can make your search much easier.

1. “Hire” Your Piano Instructor

Before you decide on a piano teacher, try doing a little research to find out their strengths and experience level. Ask your piano-playing friends or family members if they have been helped by the instructor (or if they know anyone who has.) Also, check to see if there are reviews available online. Doing a little research will help you discover the general consensus on the teacher's abilities.

Next, when you contact the potential instructor don't be afraid to meet them in-person for an “interview”. After all, you are paying them to do a job for you. Tell them what your piano goals are, and ask if they have experience in those areas. If your main goal for learning piano is to play complicated classical pieces, you should ensure your instructor has plenty of experience playing Bach and Beethoven, and the like. And if you want to learn pieces that are more focal to jazz, your teacher should be able to explain the intricacies of improvisational playing.

If you have a specific reason for learning piano, they better be able to help you get there! Just like a company hiring an employee, if your piano teacher's experience doesn't match with your goals, you'll likely need to “fire” them at some point in the future.

Tip: Contact your local schools and churches for potential piano teachers. Many school music teachers provide private lessons on the side (especially during summer) for extra income. Also, many talented and experienced pianists volunteer or are paid to play for church services.

2. Assess Their Emotional Intelligence & Motivational Abilities

While you “interview” you potential piano teacher, take notice of how well they seem to communicate and respond to you. Are they distracted in any way? Are they talking too much about themselves, and not trying to find out more about you? Are they socially anxious? While none of these personality traits are a deal-breaker in themselves, if there are multiple red flags during your first discussion, you will probably not feel comfortable learning from them.

This is why having a high emotional intelligence is important. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own and others' emotions. So, a teacher should be excellent at reading your emotions and empathizing with how you may be feeling. Your piano teacher should sense how you are feeling and know just the right way to inspire you to keep you on the right track.

All of us have been discouraged at some point while learning, but the right type of encouragement can help us push through difficulties and remind us that hard work produces beautiful results. In order to motivate you, your piano instructor should use their emotional intelligence to tailor lessons to your individual needs and learning style.

Because each individual's learning style is unique, an ideal piano instructor will realize that everyone needs a different learning environment. To build your confidence and set the tone for your lesson, he or she should start off each lesson by creating an environment that makes you feel comfortable. Some of us like to practice scales at the beginning of a lesson because doing what's familiar gives us confidence. Others would rather jump right into a new piece of music, because we need a little excitement. Further, some of us would prefer to begin the lesson by talking through our piano learning successes and difficulties we've experienced since the last lesson.

Tip: Ask for a lesson trial period, and during this time take notice of how well your instructor can gauge your feelings, and whether or not they do a great job of keeping you motivated.

3. Check for a Musical Spark

When you meet your potential piano teacher, pay special attention when they talk about their craft. Does the instructor seem bored when he or she explains how they conduct piano lessons? While it's essential for a piano teacher to have a great amount of experience, sometimes an instructor can become disenchanted and lose interest in teaching. After listening to countless students missing notes or playing the wrong rhythms, a teacher can become frustrated and feel they are no longer meant to teach. Be sure that your potential instructor has a fresh outlook on teaching, even if they've been in the business for many years.

Not only does a teacher need a fresh outlook, they also should be freshening up their skills. Even though teaching piano helps teachers maintain their pianistic abilities, it many not help them gain new artistic techniques. This is why you should be sure your potential instructor is active in the musical community. They should be continually learning new pieces and playing concerts or recitals.

Check to see if your desired instructor plays in a band or orchestra, whether it be an informal hobby or playing professionally in the local orchestra. If your teacher doesn't play music outside of piano lessons, it's probably a sign that they no longer find playing piano to be fun, and they many have lost their passion for playing.

Tip: Find out if your piano teacher plays other instruments, in addition to pianos. This could be a sign that they love enhancing their musical skills and would make a passionate instructor who still has a spark for music.

Brad Chidester December 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Jillian, I have to give you kudos for your thoughts on finding a teacher/mentor for developing ones musical abilities. I was very fortunate to find a create teacher that fit me. And all those many years ago it was that experience that allowed me to create the theory course here at MLW.

The one thing I would add to your discovery is that the teacher have a great grasp of music theory and promotes that as a big part of the education you will receive. It was that very thing that ended up speaking to me and allowed my development to take the fast track.

One thing I would caution. Although finding a teacher that still plays and participates in activities is a great indicator of the spark of music and the passion, I’ve found that many times the need to make a living can out way the commitment to participation. Many teachers do participate, but as they get older find that the fulfillment of helping others achieve that stardom or just self satisfaction can be just as powerful.

Thanks for the great tips and thoughts.

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