How to Find a Piano Teacher: Questions to Ask!




Finding the right piano teacher starts by knowing where to look, then knowing the right questions to ask. Piano lessons are not the same with every piano teacher. Many piano teachers will schedule an initial interview with the student and parent. Knowing what to ask can help you find a piano teacher that is the right match for your piano lessons or your child’s piano lessons.



QUESTIONS TO ASK AT THE PIANO LESSON INTERVIEW

Education

Most piano teachers will have some training beyond their own private lessons. This could include a few college classes or a few college degrees.

Do you have a college music degree?

  • YES. What kind of degree do you have?

    • Bachelor of Music (BM). This is usually a 4-5 year degree. It could have an emphasis in piano performance or music education, or some schools offer a “Bachelor of Science in Education with an emphasis in music”. Most “education” degrees are geared more towards teaching in the public schools. The most common type of undergraduate degree for a piano teacher is a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance. This degree includes a minimum of two years of music analysis (theory) classes, one year of music history, several years of private lessons, recitals and other public performances, and possibly some piano “pedagogy” classes (these classes are specifically designed to teach pianists how to teach private piano lessons to pre-college students).

    • Master of Music (MM). This is usually a 2 year program that includes advanced training in performance (for performance degrees), music literature and history, music theory, scholarly research, and possibly piano pedagogy (advanced training about how to teach piano lessons).

    • Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA). The DMA is the most advanced piano performance degree available. Few schools even offer this degree. This is usually a 3-4 year program that includes the most advanced training in music history, performance, scholarship, and musical analysis.

  • NO. What kind of professional training do you have?

    • A few college classes: this could include two years of basic theory classes, private piano lessons with a collegiate teacher, music history classes, or music education classes.

    • Only private piano lessons. If the only training your potential piano teacher has had is their own private piano lessons, you may want to ask about the level of students this piano teacher has taught. Very few piano teachers without a college education can adequately teach an advanced student. Even if you are a beginning piano student, finding a piano teacher that can teach all levels is a good idea since this would keep you from having to find a new piano teacher once you begin playing more advanced literature in your piano lessons.

    • Workshops or other professional training. By attending many workshops and/or master classes, some piano teachers can acquire enough insight to shape their private piano teaching in a positive way.

    • Professional Certification. Some organizations offer “certification programs” to document a certain level of professional ability. You should research the requirements for any professional certification program before assuming that the certification is valuable.



Piano Teaching Experience

While experience alone is no substitute for a solid educational foundation, a music degree alone will not guarantee competency in the teaching studio either.

How long have you been teaching private piano lessons?

    • YEARS. Some teachers learn a great deal in a short time once they start teaching, while others learn very little from many years of teaching. Therefore this question is only slightly revealing. However the general assumption that more experience produces a better teacher can hold true when considered with all the other factors described here. Remember that decades of experience built on a poor foundation is often far less valuable than a few years of experience built on a solid educational foundation.

    • VERY LITTLE or NONE. If a piano teacher has no teaching experience, the ability to communicate complex subject matter to a younger child is usually the primary concern. Some piano teachers actually receive a great deal of practical experience during their collegiate studies (such as with supervised teaching). This is often the most valuable learning experience available for young piano teachers. So asking about “supervised teaching” (when a seasoned piano teacher observes a younger piano teacher then offers guidance) could reveal good preparation for actual teaching.

Have you changed much about the way you teach private piano lessons over the years?

    • Nobody has all the answers, and few piano teachers begin their piano teaching careers as “mature teachers”. A willingness and ability to grow and adapt is an important quality for teachers and students



Teaching Philosophy for Piano Lessons

A piano teacher’s “teaching philosophy” is a fancy way of describing what he/she believes is important about who they are as a piano teacher. You may simply ask your potential piano teacher to describe their teaching philosophy. This could provide you with some insights about what kind of piano teacher they are.

Below are listed some of the more common components of what many piano teachers consider to be an important part of their teaching philosophy:

  • PIANO STUDENTS SHOULD ENJOY THEIR PIANO LESSONS. This sure sounds great, but be sure to ask how this is accomplished. If the words “fun” and “good time” are the only responses you can get, then this might mean that the piano teacher makes lessons fun simply with an uplifting personality. Keep in mind that this alone rarely transfers into the student’s home environment since the piano teacher is not there to “keep it fun”.

  • PIANO STUDENTS ONLY PLAY THE PIANO MUSIC THEY ENJOY. How is this music selected? It is difficult for piano teachers to find only music that students are 100% in love with while making sure that all necessary principles are being taught.

  • POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. Most piano teachers and parents really believe in this idea and either do it through sharing verbal compliments, candy, stickers, or all of the above. Just remember that undeserved praise can produce a false sense of accomplishment which is quite detrimental in the long term. So try to ascertain if a piano teacher gives appropriate feedback.

  • CLASSICAL APPROACH. Many talk about a “Classical Approach”, but defining it is not easy since the term can mean many different things to different people. Usually, this description means that students learn music by the “great masters” such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin to the exclusion of more contemporary literature. Improvisation and “playing by ear” are skills rarely developed with a piano teacher claiming to use a “classical approach” though this will not always be true. Scales, arpeggios, Czerny, Hanon, and other technical drills and etudes are especially emphasized. Some of these piano teachers refuse to teach “arrangements” of “popular music”.

  • TECHNIQUE. Different piano teachers address the physical aspects of learning how to play the piano in many different ways. Some piano teachers simply hand out scale assignments without much instruction regarding the mechanics of playing the piano. Others may claim to teach a “healthy” approach or perhaps a “Russian” technique, but unless you are already an accomplished pianist yourself, understanding the differences can be quite difficult.

  • IMPROVISATION AND COMPOSITION. Very few piano teachers teach improvisation or composition since they are not proficient in these areas themselves. “Improvisation” is essentially the process of creating new music “on the spot” with very few decisions made beforehand.



Activities for Piano Students

Depending upon how much time you have and how active you want to be, you should ask your potential piano teacher if he or she has students participate in recitals, festivals, and competitions.

Do your piano students participate in recitals? How often?

  • Most piano teachers have one to two recitals featuring only their students each year. Many piano teachers also have select students participate in recital performances through local music teachers organizations.

Do your piano students participate in festivals and competitions? Do you require all of those taking piano lessons from you to participate? Which piano competitions and festivals do they usually do?

  • The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) has state and local chapters that hold various competitions and festivals throughout the year (each local chapter is different).

  • The National Federation of Music Clubs has festivals/competitions each year for piano students.

  • The National Guild of Piano Teachers (also called the American College of Musicians) is based in Austin, Texas and has many piano activities for students and teachers.



Personality

Don’t forget to consider if the piano teacher’s personality would be a good match. While a good personality does not make a good teacher, it can certainly help make your piano lessons or your child’s piano lessons go a little smoother.