How do I Choose a Piano Teacher?
Many parents are really excited about the prospect of their musical daughter or son expressing an interest in piano lessons, but they have no idea where to start when it comes to finding the right piano teacher. This article will give you the guidance needed to get your family on the right path!
At the Maestro Musicians Academy, a school that offers in-person Piano Lessons in greater Boston and Online Piano Lessons to the world, we are of the belief that the most important requirement for musical success is the fostering of the relationship between a student and his or her teacher. Music lessons are really a form of mentorship and this form of mentoring can start with children as young as 4 years old. As a result, when looking for the right fit for your child, here are our top five recommendations (we will further elaborate on these questions after!):
1. Is the teacher able to communicate effectively and meaningfully with students your child's age?
2. Is the teacher qualified to instruct students? (And no, having a performing degree isn't always enough!)
3. Are the teacher's policies going to work with your family's schedule?
4. Does the teacher have the right temperament for your child? Or, does your child have the right temperament for the teacher's style?
5. Is the teacher planning to be around for at least 2 years?
Teachers must be able to communicate effectively and meaningfully with their students
Although it seems obvious when you read the headline to this paragraph, not every piano instructor has the skills to teach children. There are many teachers out there who are particularly suited for a given age range, but not others. How would you know? For one, you can ask the teacher or the school if the instructor has had experience teaching students your child's age. Find out what method books the teacher uses and even better, find out if the teacher has reviews or references from parents who have been in your shoes. Many parents wish to have trial lesson. Although there is some benefit to a trial, we at the Maestro Musicians Academy do not particularly advocate for this approach because it does take time to develop a relationship, and first impressions, while very important, can be misleading. What we do advocate for, however, is a trial month, and we offer either to switch instructors or refund any unused lessons in that first month if a family is not happy with the teacher. Although this requires a "leap of faith", it is actually an educated "leap", because the reviews on Google or from parents of current and former student are much more powerful, as they speak to the long-term aggregate quality of education by an instructor or the school that hires the instructor.
Teachers must be qualified to instruct their students
This point actually closely ties in with the above paragraph. How so? It is easy for well-meaning parents to get confused by fancy degrees and think that because a teacher has qualifications from a prestigious conservatory or university music program, she or he will be a good teacher. While this could certainly be the case, the converse can also be true - One can have a degree from a lesser known college and be an amazing teacher for kids. Again, do your homework - ask the right questions about experience and if possible, find reviews or speak with parents who were in your shoes!
The teacher's policies have to work with your schedule
Many well-meaning parents get really excited about starting lessons, only to find out that because their child is overscheduled with other conflicting activities, they are not able to hold on to a regular weekly time. The family will then miss lessons and expect individual private make up classes. While some teachers can accommodate families in these instances, it is a very difficult model to follow from an economic standpoint, because teachers and schools often rely on a regular pre-determined set of hours at specific times in order to run the business smoothly. Once the schedule gets disrupted with individual private make up classes, extra commuting and time has to be invested and is multiplied by large factors during sports and flu season. This can create unhappy teachers who feel disrespected and overwhelmed, if there are no firm parameters in place. Some schools offer one private make up class during a particular week of the semester. Other schools, such as ours, offer a recurring group class calendar where students can sign up for unlimited make up classes, as needed. Then, you have some private teachers who really do not mind being flexible - particularly if the teacher, himself, or herself, is often performing, and offers lessons on an "as-needed" and "as-available" basis. Just beware - a teacher who is out of town for seasonal gigs will leave you hanging for long periods of time!
Do the teacher and student have complimentary temperaments?
We often get requests from parents for a specific type of teacher. Some parents want an instructor who is highly sensitive, to match a sensitive child. Other parents want a teacher who can be more firm - particularly if a student needs help focusing or redirecting. If a school is well run, the director will be attuned to the teaching style of the piano teachers on staff. Again, this is a great question to ask references of the teacher you are considering.
Is the teacher planning to be around for at least 2 years?
Many parents, particularly those considering getting a student-teacher (persumably for a "bargain"), are unaware of how important it is that the teacher they are looking to serve as a mentor for their child be around for at least 2 years. Why is this important? Because the best piano teachers do not "sell" lessons. They cultivate relationships. This relationship with the piano instructor and your family will shape the experience that your child has. Ultimately, we want our children to stay with piano lessons long-term, and not get put off by a teacher who leaves after 6 months, making your child feel abandoned. I cannot stress this enough - if you are considering hiring a student in a university program, find out if this student intends to stay in town for at least 1 or 2 years. Also, try to make sure that you are not just a "side gig" to make some extra money. Ideally, you want your teacher to respect your time as much as he or she values his or her education.
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians Academy
Greater Boston and the World Wide Web