I had a wonderful time last weekend adjudicating piano classes for the Leamington Spa Music Festival. I have written about music festivals before on my blog explaining the format and concept. For the competitors, they are both great fun and instructive; allowing the (generally) young performers to enjoy their music making in a supportive atmosphere as well as receiving constructive criticisms about their playing. During the classes there were three or four piano teachers who were perpetually around; listening to their students, encouraging them and playing duets with them (particularly during the very popular teacher and pupil duet classes). It was inspiring to observe the effort and care they lavished on their pupils and it made me realize yet again, the importance of selecting the right piano teacher from the outset.
I have spoken many times about the influence a piano teacher can have on a student. They are the single most important factor in a piano student’s success or failure. A pupil will see their teacher every week, be guided by them musically and often emotionally too, which is quite a responsibility, so any teacher must be really up to the job otherwise very little will be achieved. They are essentially a coach, a motivator and a friend.
When selecting a teacher always check them out first. You can probably find their details online via their website. There are several elements to bear in mind. The first is a teacher’s résumé. What have they done? Where have they studied? What have they achieved? This might seem irrelevant and many argue a good teacher doesn’t need to have been a performer or have studied anywhere, but I don’t subscribe to this belief. Your prospective teacher should ideally have been formally trained at a good music conservatoire or university. Teachers are more effective when they have performed and know how it feels; a teacher who has played in public will know how to prepare pupils for the difficulties they face when taking a music exam or playing at a festival. They will also know the standards required to pass exams too.
Check out a teacher’s qualifications. Do they have the relevant performing and teaching diplomas? They do count and they demonstrate that a teacher has been trained to a level sufficient for them to coach way beyond Grade 8 (the final amateur exam offered by music exam boards). In my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, I list the relevant qualifications required for a piano teacher. When I say ‘required’ there are actually no qualifications required to be a teacher and therein lies the problem. It’s a completely unregulated profession and many teachers are not qualified at all, which means you need to be extra careful when selecting your tutor.
A good teacher will also have plenty of experience and hopefully a track record. They will be kind yet fairly strict and will have endless patience. Make sure you have a trial lesson with your new teacher and always meet them before commencing lessons. A good teacher will be able to teach piano technique properly, they will be adept at explaining all aspects of piano playing and learning from the beginning (and they won’t mind explaining it all a hundred times either!), they will instil a love of music in every student and will encourage pupils to think for themselves too.
They should be able to be flexible enough to devise many ways of helping students depending on the pupil’s ability and also introduce diverse styles of piano music; from classical to pop. Music theory should not be neglected and it’s a good idea to work at this from the start. A good piano teacher will also arrange concerts for their students, enter them for festivals or perhaps arrange other musical trips and outings too. And they will always be able to boost and inspire a student’s spirit.
It’s a tough job being a piano teacher isn’t it? I do hope those who have found the ideal teacher really are thankful and acknowledge their skills. There are many superb piano teachers working all over the world, something that is very evident when I adjudicate at festivals. They all do a wonderful job, let’s applaud each and every one. The teachers at the Leamington Spa festival were shinning examples, and I do hope they are appreciated too. A good piano teacher will work for hours helping a pupil to grasp the many complexities of playing the piano and they are worth their weight in gold, so do take time selecting someone suitable.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.