With so many people and options available today — almost too many — Piano Motivator contends that the best place to start your “How to Select a Piano Teacher” challenge is to: (1) realize there is only one you; (2) Figure out as much as you can about who that person is; and (3) use that knowledge to shop for candidates, methods – and opportunities.
What is your best learning style?
The three primary choices are visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Even if you have figured out how to make yourself learn in all three ways, there is likely one that predominates. In the music realm, a strong visual orientation will serve you well in learning to read music with ease and efficiency. If your best method is auditory, then you will probably become adept at playing by ear (if you’re not already). Everyone who plays any instrument will automatically demonstrate at least some kinesthetic learning ability because, sooner or later, you have to actually play your chosen instrument.
Each teacher brings his or her own set of biases to the overall learning equation. Some hyper-traditionalists will have no interest at all if you are not diligently seeking out and learning sheet music. If you are lucky – and are already a play-by-ear person who struggles to read anything sufficiently complex to match your playing level – you might find a teacher willing to provide audio tapes (or some contemporary equivalent) to help you along.
Of course, some teachers, particularly those who might teach you a specific (perhaps colloquial) style may not read at all and may have never organized their playing style into teachable modules. In that case, you may have to just listen and imitate as best you can. If you are lucky, they may let you record them so you have a reference for later.
As for kinesthetics, some teachers will have methods and resources specifically geared toward developing your “chops” so you can take on music that is more complex or requires more speed. Some will use the Hanon Virtuoso Exercises mentioned in a prior Piano Motivator post while others will provide exercises of their own. Of course, the best teachers will continue to emphasize the best rule when it comes to conquering pieces that require special speed and agility: S-L-O-W D-O-W-N.
What music do you want to play?
When selecting a piano teacher, it is important to know what kind(s) of music they particularly like, and even favorite artists and composers. This is even more true for the returning piano student than the absolute beginner.
And don’t be fooled by familiar but over-generalized labels, like “classical,” “rock,” or “jazz.” Specific styles – and even specific artists/composers – have separate rules and approaches. 19th century romantic
enthusiasts may have no clue how to play J.S. Bach. Someone who specializes in playing Jelly Roll Morton may not be able to show you how to play Bill Evans.,
What are your weaknesses?
This is the biggest difference between those who remain stuck in the same place and those who continue to get better – winners confront their weaknesses. Then, they hammer those weaknesses and marvel at how they turn into strengths. The more you can tell your prospective instructor about your weaknesses, the more easily s/he can design a program to help you overcome them.
Students, Piano, Music
Teaching is a remarkably misunderstood task, skill, profession, calling, and so forth. Teachers are used to getting trashed by super-performers – “those who can’t do, criticize and teach” voices a familiar prejudice.
For your purposes, the question “what do you teach?” is a trap. People rattle off assorted subjects – English, history, music, construction technology, computer graphics, estate planning and so forth.
Bah humbug! At least that’s how you have to approach instructor shopping at the onset. The correct answer to the question “What do you teach?,” if you want to be a good teacher, is STUDENTS. That includes reaching the student wherever s/he is and however far that is from where you are. The zen secret about teaching students is that almost all well-taught students will come away better than their teachers. Some humans just can’t handle that reality.
Your chosen instructor must embrace it Otherwise, keep shopping (or as your kids might say, “Next!”).
Objectives and Milestones
This is the payoff section for all of the hard work you put into identifying your learning preferences, favorite composers and weaknesses. The more soberly you are able to identify all of these, the more productive will be that occasion when you sit down with your instructor, map out a game plan for what you will study together and agree on particular pause points or “milestones” so you can measure progress in a manner that is meaningful to you both.
Keep in mind that a good instructor will have a lot of specific input for this meeting. Be suspicious of the prospect who just lets you talk (like a good salesman) and then only responds with, “Yeah, cool, no problem.” Instead, you want someone who says “I’m glad you brought that up. Let me tell you about a, b, and c concepts I like to go through with my students to address exactly that objective.”
A good teacher shows enthusiasm when talking about your progress and positively bubbles whenever you achieve that progress – and yes, that includes the “quiet ones.”
Teaching Methods and Chemistry.
This is another payoff section. The more you know about you, the better you will be able to gauge whether this teacher’s methods will work for you.
The legendary business author Robert “Avis” Townsend used to describe chemistry between people as “good, bad or not there at all.” The same is true for teachers. As self-help author Napoleon Hill pointed out throughout his works, the word “education” comes from a latin word – “educere” – which means “to draw out.” Your well-chosen instructor will constantly draw out new ideas, enthusiasm and commitment to hard work from you in each lesson – and you will come away feeling “jazzed.”
That’s how you both get better.
You cannot select the right teacher until you first verify that you are the “right” student to gain the most from his or her learning background, teaching methods and teaching focus. If you are brutally honest in this initial process, your chances of selecting the right piano teacher for you will increase dramatically.
At Piano Motivator, we wish you the best success – and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!