Learning to play the piano to a reasonable standard takes time and commitment so it’s vital to do your research. Here’s part 2 of our article for parents on how to choose the right piano teacher.
In Part 1 of our blog on this topic, we suggested that the first important step is for you to consider the long-term goal of the piano lessons. Are they building the piano as a long-term and life-long skill or is it a short-term activity whereby the end you’ll have a wall of certificates but little ability to play anything except exam pieces? With that in mind here are some more top tips for parents.
THE CONSULTATION LESSON
It can be difficult, if you are entering the world of instrumental lessons for the first time, to work out how to choose the right piano teacher. Many teachers will offer a consultation lesson so that you and your child can meet them. It’s only when you meet a teacher for this initial lesson that you can begin to get a feel for whether this is going to be a relationship that works for everyone.
Although every teacher will have their own way of organising these some sort of consultation meeting is vital before you commit to anything more long term. Be very wary of any teacher who wants you to commit to anything long-term without an initial meeting. Consultation lessons are often free but sometimes you will need to pay. That depends on the individual teacher.
Many consultation lessons have two parts to them. The first part will probably be held at the piano and will be roughly similar to a piano lesson. The second part will be an opportunity to talk to the teacher and find out more about their teaching studio and style of teaching.
PART 1 – AT THE PIANO
During the consultation lesson Here are a few suggestions of what to listen out for and what to be wary of.
On the positive side listen out for:
- a 2-way interaction and discussion between the teacher and student?
- a good balance between playing the piano and talking
- space for your child to talk whilst the teacher listens.
- signs of the teacher ‘tuning into’ your child.
- lots of piano playing and opportunities to make music
Also, questions such as:
- ‘Can you play anything on the piano already?’
- Shall we make some music together?’
- ‘How does that make you feel?’
- ‘Why do you want to learn the piano?’
Be wary of:
- lots of one-way talking from teacher to child
- the appearance of a tutor book with most of the consultation focussed on a book
- be even warier of a teacher who introduces your child to middle C on the piano, played with the thumbs and on notation!
- limited amounts of playing the piano with talking dominating
- very little opportunity for your child to talk
As the consultation lesson goes on the teacher will be gathering information about the child’s musical responses. They will look out for a sense of pulse and/or rhythm, an ability to listen, the child’s willingness to sing, their level of confidence in talking to others or trying out sounds at the piano and their ability to co-ordinate. Teachers with experience deal with different youngsters all the time. Those who bound into the room and exude confidence, or those who creep in and just want to sit with you.
PART 2 – DISCUSSION & QUESTIONS
Towards the end of the consultation lesson, there should be time for further discussion and questions. Professional and well-organised piano teachers will have a contract for lessons that they will discuss with you. This will include matters such as lesson fees, how to make payments, lesson cancellation policy, health and safety policy, child protection policy, equality, diversity and inclusion policy. They should also have any certification readily available such as degrees or diplomas, enhanced DBS, their membership of professional associations, recently completed Continuing Professional Development.
Professional piano teachers will also have a piano studio curriculum or scheme of work that they will be happy to share with you and your child. This will give you a sense of what to expect from lessons and learning in the short and longer-term.
Many teachers will discuss with you and the child practising at home. Although this article is all about how to choose the right piano teacher unless practice at home happens regularly progress will be very limited. For more on the parents’ role in the Practice Triangle check out our free ebook 7 Practice Hats for Parents CLICK HERE.
QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK THE PIANO TEACHER
We recommend that you have a list of questions so that you can check whether or not they have been covered during the consultation.
These might include:
- What do you charge for lessons and how is this organised?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- Where can I park when I come?
- Am I expected to sit in on lessons?
- How much music will need to be bought each year?
- Do you have an enhanced DBS?
- Do you hold any studio concerts and how regularly?
- Am I expected to help with home practice?
- What happens if my child is ill and can’t attend the lesson?
- Would I be able to talk to a parent of a current pupil?
Piano teachers are also very used to answering questions about instruments and equipment so don’t be afraid to seek their advice.
- we don’t have a piano – will I need to buy one?
- we only have a keyboard – does that matter?
- our piano hasn’t been tuned in a long time and is very old – does that matter?
- we don’t have a piano stool – does that matter?
By the end of the consultation lesson, you should have got a good feel for whether this particular mix of personalities – your child and the teacher – is going to work or not. Most experienced piano teachers will make the consultation lesson feel like a real joy and delight for your child who will be fizzing with excitement!
Remember that if you do decide this piano teacher is for you it will hopefully be the start of a long and fruitful relationship. We hope this article helps you take that first step in how to choose the right piano teacher.
This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-found and author of The Curious Piano Teachers.