What do you really need in a piano teacher?
Is your piano teacher taking advantage of you?
What is standard etiquette for piano lessons?
I’ll answer those questions and more.
Here’s how to find the perfect piano teacher for you.
Classical Musicians Can’t Play Jazz
For my last year of high school, I became the Jazz pianist for our Jazz Band. I considered myself a capable pianist– I taught piano part time at the school and I was working towards my diploma.
But I wasn’t prepared for Jazz.
As a Classically trained pianist, my technique was perfect.
And the perfection was the problem. There wasn’t any jazziness in my jazz. My playing, while impeccable from a classical perspective, was all wrong from a jazz perspective.
My rhythm was off, I didn’t know how to improvise, and I was too nervous to have much fun at first. The notes and chords were the only things I got.
How I Learned Jazz
My band teacher was a saxophone player who breathed jazz– he didn’t really know how to teach jazz to someone like me besides tapping along with me.
He recognized my technique and offered me the chance to act as a pianist in our upcoming musical.
A practicum from UBC worked with me on those solo jazz pieces almost every lunch hour for a few months– she explained the rhythm, the improvisation and the entire jazz business, in Classical music terms.
I worked on jazz at home and at school.
Somewhere along the way, I really got jazz. My playing started to sound natural and I became confident onstage. The production was memorable and we all enjoyed it.
The big lesson here is that your piano teacher is so important– he or she is so influential to your growth as a pianist and artist that he or she actually shapes your playing.
- Out of the three music teachers I had, only one was able to really help me improve in jazz because of our similar musical backgrounds.
- All three individuals are amazing and they all have great strengths in music, but the practicum from UBC was the most helpful to me as a Classical pianist attempting to play jazz.
You need to find the right piano teacher for yourself.
But how? Read on…
What if I told you that in ten years, you would be exactly the same as you are today? How does that put things into perspective?
Just imagine yourself ten years from now, exactly the same as you are right now.
What would you want to change? What would you want to achieve?
Chances are, if you don’t start changing your mindset, you are going to end up exactly the same in ten years.
Right now, decide what you want to achieve in piano. You can change it along the way, but have a goal in sight first.
- What do you want to be able to do? E.g. Read music, articulate accurately, improve phrasing, touch, and tone, etc.
- What type of music do you want to play? E.g. Jazz, Classical, Pop, Country, or even a mixture.
- How do you want to approach piano? Do you want to learn the songs you like, as a hobby? Do you want to advance in the piano exam system? Do you want to train as a Classical musician?
- What do you care about? E.g. Time (are you pressed for time?), the pieces you play (i.e. are you picky about your music?), details (are you a perfectionist?), etc.
- What can you contribute to your piano education? Think about a piano, practice time, weekly lessons, private or group lessons, etc.
Sum up your big goals in one or two sentences, then write your goals on a piece of paper to keep somewhere safe. Here’s how to achieve any goal once and for all.
Have a chat with your piano teacher (or prospective piano teacher) about these goals and make sure that his/her skills line up with your goals.
That is, make sure he or she is capable of guiding you along the path that you want.
Piano teachers have their own way of teaching and their own internal curriculums, so if you don’t tell them what you want to learn or how you want to improve, you’ll be wasting your time and money.
And like I said above, Classical musicians can’t necessarily play Jazz.
You want to take piano lessons in a comfortable studio that promotes learning.
Generally, you don’t want to be in a dark, stuffy basement with an out-of-tune piano.
Prospective piano teachers will usually give you a free interview before your first lesson.
This is when you can evaluate the studio and decide if you’re comfortable.
Some piano teachers may be willing to teach at your home, so discuss this with your piano teacher if you’re interested.
General Guidelines for Studio Environment
- You shouldn’t hear distracting noises when you’re in the studio. Generally you want a quiet, inviting studio.
- The studio should be well-lit, especially by the piano.
- The piano should be in tune.
- The piano doesn’t go out of tune in a single second– it takes days and months before the off-tuning is extremely noticeable. You should be on alert if the piano teacher tries to tell you otherwise.
- “I don’t have time to get the piano tuned” isn’t a valid excuse. Like I said above, it takes months for the piano to become severely out of tune.
- If the piano teacher ‘doesn’t have time’ to tune the instrument on which he/she has built his/her career on, then he/she isn’t very serious (or, chances are, very good) and you’re better off with someone else.
- The piano teacher should provide any equipment you need when you’re at his/her studio. For example, you shouldn’t need to bring your own metronome.
- You should have your own bench to sit in front of the piano. In other words, except when the piano teacher is demonstrating on the piano, the piano teacher should be sitting (or standing) somewhere else, not on your bench.
In the next part of this series, I’ll be talking about pricing, etiquette, and attitude. Stay tuned for more!