forum: finding a teacher
Finding a teacher is not a difficult
task, but finding the right teacher can make the process
very stressful. Naturally we tend to ask friends and neighbors
for recommendations. This is usually satisfactory for beginning
students but you should also keep in mind that the wonderful teacher
your friend's child has is not necessarily going to produce the
same results with your child. Having compatible personalities
is a critical factor in having a successful student-teacher relationship.
But it's just as important to know what your expectations and
the student's goals are.
No matter what these expectations
and goals are, your foremost concern should be finding an instructor
who will provide your child with a positive learning experience.
This requires not only a dedicated teacher but also someone who
can instill and foster the love for the instrument and music.
How do you define your student's goals? First,
you must know your child's interest level. Second, is this a 'recreation'
or a 'life-long' learning. Third, what do you want your child
to get out of the experience. Fourth, your expectations. As parents,
we have to remember that whatever guidance we give our children
while they are young will stay with them for life. Think about
how important it is to have music in your child's life. Do you
want your daughter to just know how to play the piano? Or do you
want her to appreciate music to the fullest? It is of course impossible
to predict how far your child will go in music education, but
goals can be adjusted as children mature. By setting goals now,
you will be better prepared to commit the time and effort necessary
to help your child reach them. This will also help you find a
teacher who fits your criteria.
Define Your Goal
I have divided achievements (goals) into two
major stages - Musical Foundation
(MF) and Total Musicianship
Children who complete Musical Foundation will
acquire a substantial amount of knowledge in performance, music
theory and music appreciation. Children who reach Total
Musicianship will build a solid understanding of performance,
music theory and music appreciation. You will find a complete
description of both achievement stages in Setting
Your Goal. I have further divided each achievement
area into two phases - MF I & II, TM
I & II. These are defined in Reaching
where you will find specific skills your child needs to fulfill
that level of study. Once you have determined what your child's
goal might be, then you will be ready to find
the right piano teacher for your child.
Thoughts When I realized there was a great
need to educate parents about music education, especially
for parents with no musical background, I thought a step-by-step
guide would be very helpful. This guide was created based
on 36 years of personal experience and I hope it will steer
you in the right direction and help you make informed decisions.
Finding a Teacher
Once you have a goal in mind for
your child and you know what commitment is required to reach that
goal, you will now be able to identify a teacher whose teaching
style and philosophy fit your criteria. Teachers are not expected
to provide every area of study listed under Setting Your Goal.
Parent involvement is necessary to fulfill areas outside a teacher's
Finding a teacher is a personal task. You want
the teacher to have all the qualities that would enhance a positive
education for your child. Some of the qualities I believe are
essential are: nurturing, an optimist, exerts positive energy,
dedicated, patient, encouraging, has a compatible personality,
organized, and has realistic expectations. Yes, it would be impossible
to find any person with all of these qualities. You will need
to make compromises and weigh the pros and cons. You must decide
what is most important for you and your child.
I had once encountered an extremely dedicated teacher who
could never keep her schedule organized. It was very frustrating
for us, having to constantly rearrange our schedule. But that
frustration soon dissipated when I watched her pour her heart
and soul into the lessons. I decided to overlook her shortcomings
and savored every lesson.
The following topics will answer some of your
preliminary questions and the Step-by-Step
Guide will help you through the process of finding
a music teacher, including my Top
10 Questions to Ask and Top
10 Things to Look For.
need to know:
Distance: I would
drive any distance for my children to study with the right teacher.
This may be difficult these days with our ever-increasing after-school
activities. Fortunately, we have an excellent pool of piano teachers
within a 20-mile radius. You should not have much trouble finding
a good teacher in our area. I would be very skeptical of those
teachers who come to your home.
- Private Lesson: Private lesson fees
range from $40 to $60 per hour depending on the teacher's qualifications
and what teachers feel is fair compensation for their services.
- School and Conservatory: If you choose
to take lessons through a music school or conservatory, each
private lesson generally averages around $50 per hour. Some
schools may include weekly classes and other related activities
without additional fees.
- Activities: Fees for auditions, competitions
and examinations are additional. Teachers who offer studio classes
may charge extra for each class. Parents may also be asked to
share the cost of renting a recital hall.
- Other Costs: Students are expected
to purchase their own music, unless the teacher offers music
for loan. Aside from the cost of purchasing
a piano or renting a piano, you also need to have
regularly. Accessories such as a metronome or a foot stool
may be necessary to meet your needs.
need to look at piano education as an investment, not just financially,
but in terms of your energy, time, and effort. And because it
is an expensive endeavor, serious commitment to daily practice
is necessary to get the most out of your money. Having the right
piano teacher will save you valuable time and benefit your investment
in the long run. Music education is one of the most valuable gifts
you can give your child that lasts a lifetime, so invest wisely.
Note:You will come across teachers who
charge quite different rates. Don't be swayed by the fee they
charge. A higher fee does not mean a better teacher. Teachers
set their fee based on what parents are willing to pay, how much
they feel is fair compensation for their time, and how much is
needed to cover their expenses. I would never sign up with a teacher
based on the fee alone. You will end up saving a lot more than
$5 a lesson if you've found the right teacher. Remember, bad habits
will take more time to correct later.
Schedule: If you
wait until September to start looking for a teacher, you may be
too late. The best time to look is in the Spring for the following
school year. By that time, most teachers should know the number
of available spaces for the following year, and you might even
be able to jump start with summer lessons. Most teachers also
offer recitals at the end of the school year, providing another
opportunity to 'check-out' the teachers.
It is perfectly normal to switch teachers, especially if you feel
the current teacher cannot provide further advancement for your
child or if your child's interests have changed. For whatever
reason, if you need to reassess your child's goal, follow the
same guideline described in setting your goal and reaching your goal.
need to know about teachers:
Teachers are considered business professionals and they should
conduct their business in a very professional manner. This means
keeping parents informed of studio rules and policies such as
lesson schedules, cancellations, late arrivals, payment schedules,
recitals, etc. Parents, on the other hand, must also respect the
teacher's rules and policies and comply accordingly.
Income: Find out
if piano teaching is the sole source of income. Most teachers
begin teaching in the afternoon after children are out of school,
so many often work during the day to supplement their teaching
income. Teachers who depend solely on teaching income tend to
put more effort into their teaching.
A teacher should provide the student -
- Repertoire: Students should have a
collection of music pieces varying in styles and composers covering
periods of Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and
Contemporary. ( see Composer
- Technics: Scales and finger exercises
should be included in daily assignment. (see Technical Skill)
- Music Theory: Whether the teacher uses
a method book or provide work sheets, there should be some music
theory incorporated into weekly assignment/lesson. (see
Music Theory). Most teachers are not able to cover
all the areas in Music Theory; parents should explore options
outside private lessons to include music theory as part of the
music education. (see Music
- Music Appreciation: Teachers should
provide resources for students, such as recommendations of CDs
and books or newsletters with current concerts and events. (see
Market Place for my recommendations and Calendar
of Events for concerts)
Resume: Here are
a few items you should look for in a teacher's resume -
- Where did the teacher
receive his/her music education? What degree(s) and in what
area of study? Having more or higher degrees does not
guarantee a better teacher but suggests someone who has a wider
range of knowledge in music education. I would be concerned
if a piano teacher's main area of study is not in piano (e.g.
choral music or conducting), or teaches a variety of instruments.
You want someone who is committed to the instrument you are
- How many years have
they been in teaching? Someone with a college degree
in music does not automatically makes the person an experienced
music teacher. An experienced teacher must know how to transfer
that knowledge to their students through their teaching. This
usally means someone who has been in the field for a few years
and has been exposed to many learning styles.
local organizations and professional programs does the teacher
participate in? Participation in music organizations
and programs is important to provide the students with opportunities
outside the studio. The degree of participation suggests the
level of commitment of the teacher.
- Does the teacher offer
regularly scheduled recitals, music theory classes or music
workshops or activities? Teachers should offer at least
two recitals a year. Most teachers don't offer separate music
theory classes but should at least incorporate music theory
during private lessons. Very few teachers conduct workshops
or organize concert outings, though teachers should keep parents
informed of these events.
Studio: It is important
to visit the studio where lessons will be given. If it's at a
private residence, find out if the studio is isolated from the
main house and what kind of piano is available for use. Does the
teacher make available other resources for students and parents
(CDs you might be able to borrow, a bulletin board with current
events)? Teachers are professionals and you should expect the
studio to look professional.
to Finding the Right Teacher:
With a wealth of information at hand, you are
ready to begin the final process.
- Check the Teacher Directory (coming soon) and ask friends
for recommendations. Find out if the teacher has a student recital
that you and your child can attend.
- You can be much more objective when you are
a guest at a recital. Not only will you have an opportunity
to hear the quality of playing; it is also a chance for your
child to observe a recital they may take part in later on. Things
you should look for at the recital:
- The ages and levels of the students. There
should be a good balance.
- The children's presentation and performance
skills ( see Attend
- The children's posture and hand positions
Foundation I Skill Guide).
- When you get a chance after the recital, try
to chat with other parents. Also observe the teacher's interactions
with their students and parents. There is nothing better than
10 questions to ask at the interview:
- Do you expect all your students to enroll
in auditions or competitions? (Is this your goal?)
- Do you encourage your students to participate
in these programs? (Encouragement is good without pressure)
- How did your students do in these programs?
(This indicates the level of teaching)
- What type of music do you generally teach?
(Classical is most popular but you also want diversity)
- What type of teaching method do you use?
(There isn't a single method that is suitable for every
child, the teacher must tailor each student's needs with
- Do you teach music theory? (It's a
- Do you use teaching tools? (some teachers
may use computer software, you are paying for a personal
lesson, you can do this at home)
- Do you help students acquire music appreciation?
(The teacher has books, recordings, videos, etc.. for
students to borrow or is affiliated with programs)
- Are parents allowed to observe the lesson?
(If the teacher has a problem with that, you might want
to know why, some finds it a distraction for the student)
- What other fees are there? (Besides
the costs mentioned above, sometimes teachers charge
for borrowing software, movies, etc.)
10 things to look for at the interview and later on:
- Does the studio have a separate entrance
and a waiting area? (If the studio is in a residence,
it's best if the studio is kept separate from the main house)
- Are the studio and the piano in good condition?
(An organized studio means an organized teacher, you
can't give lessons with a piano that is out of tune or falling
- How is the initial contact between your
child and the teacher? (Having eye contact is very important)
- What is the body language exhibited by
the teacher toward your child? (There should be some
physical contact suggesting the teacher is able to form
a personal relationship)
- Is the personality of the teacher compatible
to your child's? (There should be some chemistry between
- Does the teacher show patience when your
child makes a mistake? (Teachers should always allow
students to make mistakes a few times)
- How does the teacher approach the mistake?
(Hopefully with encouraging words)
- Is the teacher capable of explaining to
the child at their intellectual level? (If the teacher
can't explain at the level an 8-year old can understand,
it will not be too effective)
- Does the teacher award students for a
job well done? (Little things like Music Reward Stickers work very well for children or
even Beanie Babies for bigger accomplishments)
- Is the teacher sending the right message
to your child? (Winning is not everything)