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What to consider when finding the right teacher? (Read 1007 times)

Offline uptick

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What to consider when finding the right teacher?
« on: July 01, 2018, 03:10:24 AM »
I'm thinking of learning piano and am currently finding a teacher. What are some things I should look for when finding the right teacher? :)

When it comes to learning the piano, the impression I get is that pretty much everyone start out learning classical - is there a reason for that aside for it being the genre that's most popular when it comes to classical training? As opposed to Jazz, Blues, and various other genres? Or is it because Classical has more depth and often times requires a lot more techniques, which lends itself to being a good candidate for budding pianists when learning the instrument as it builds a better foundation and exposes one to more areas in piano in terms of techniques, theories, compositions, etc?

Secondly, what if my interest in Piano isn't necessarily in Classical music? To be honest I'm quite fond of contemporary/modern classical/neoclassical type of minimal piano; the kind of piano that's often found in movie soundtracks. Some of the artists I enjoy are Olafur Arnalds, Michael Nyman, Philip Glass, Max Richter, Nils Frahm, ludovico einaudi, Fabrizio Paterlini, Erik Satie, and some of the slower chopin pieces. And a minor interest in Jazz, like all the jazz standards and stuff by hiromi, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, etc.

Should I still start out with classical if my areas of interests are different? Or is the time spent in classical an intergral part of skills building?

Lastly, should I find a teacher who is trained in the russian school method? I've heard so much about it. In addition, most of these russian school train pianists, their hands move in such a graceful and effortless way that it's really quite impressive to look at and seem to pay a lot of focus on the sound quality of each stroke. I wonder if it'll be easy to find a teacher like this though as I am no longer living in the u.s. :(

Description i found:
    It is all about beautiful tone, solid technique, and carefully graduated curriculum, they don't rush giving master level pieces played presto. There is a lot of work going into theory, solfeggio, duet playing all subordinated to one goal: musicality and expression.

Would love to hear what everyone thinks and thanks in advance!

Online lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #1 on: July 01, 2018, 03:18:04 AM »
Some teachers are employed by musical institutions who force them to teach a Syllabus set by the school. A good school will give you a vast choice and not force you to do a few select pieces, unfortunately you get some school who teach everyone the same way with the same music, it is not necessarily your teachers fault but the other in power of the syllabus.

I do not agree with getting the most expensive teacher. There are a lot of basic and intermediate skills that any teacher can teach you. You might save thousands of dollars learning the basics first from any teacher, then searching for a better teacher once you are ready for more. I say this to early beginners who want to learn with me, they are better off learning the basics from someone else cheaper then come to me once they can read the notes and play a few pieces. If the method of learning your music is not understood then its not worth getting a good teacher who teaches you a more efficient method. It is actually good to learn in an inefficient beginners mind then you will understand what it means to improve your practice.

Here are some good measuring sticks to determine if you have a good teacher

1) Look at the pieces you have been learning, do they all highlight something different or are they constantly repeating the same ideas? If they repeat the same ideas question whether these too easy for you. If they are and nothing is changing in your lessons, you have an inefficient study program. Doing every single piece in a volume of Czerny (or years and years on any other one composer) is ridiculous imo, you can always go back and do it if they interest you that much.

2)If you take in music you would really like to learn and your teacher makes time in lesson and also increase the learning rate for you to learn it.

3) What is the method your teacher is using for you to learn your music? Are they helping you to memorize your music or merely making you do brute force repetitions, only focusing on fingering and dynamics? A good teacher will help you visualize your music, help you to memorize it, help you to understand it, they will talk in a lot of words describing pattern. If you find you are mindlessly repeating phrases and they scrutinize only a finger number, it's not enough. They shouldn't say only "Use 4th finger here", they should say"Use 4th finger because this controls this entire group of notes, or prepares you to do this or that etc" There is always a logical reasoning behind the fingering not just the numbers. This is the same for their advice adjusting technique.

4) They should focus on Technique, Memory work and Sight reading work. Too many teachers do not separate these. I don't like the idea of teaching all three with the same piece, if you find this is happening ensure that it is effective enough for you. I personally do not find for example teaching sight reading with pieces you are trying to master very effective.

5) Ensure that you teacher is stretching your ability. I do not like the idea of everything being controlled and perfect all the time. Some teachers will not let a student move on until something is done picture perfect. I like teachers who move on and let you mull over your problems yourself. Often you will solve them automatically after a period of time. So I find it a waste of time if a teacher works on a single idea over and over again until you master it, teachers should be confident to show a student path then be happy they will travel on that in their time. The student should also feel confident they can solve the problem themselves eventually.

6) Your lessons should be enjoyable, you should feel encouraged every time you are in the lesson. The teacher should excite you to do more work, the teacher should make studying piano exciting and wonderful. Any negativity, indifference, inability to deal with your failure/lack of practice etc is not fun to deal with. A good teacher knows how to discipline you giving your encouragement to work harder if you have been lazy.

7) You should feel a sense of responsibility/pride for the work your teacher sets you.  If you are not excited to show the work you have done that your teacher sets you, this is no good. If you do not respect the pieces they have agreed to set you then you are somewhat disabled to fully understanding what they are trying to teach you. What they are trying to teach you might in fact be not what you are interested in.
       A very recent example of this happened to me recently, I had a student who came to me who was taught by a "Jazz" teacher and she really wanted to learn Classical. This is an unusual case for me because usually its the other way around (a classically trained who really just wants to learn the "Jazz" style). But she worked with this teacher for over a year yet all that was taught was not really appreciated because it wasn't what she wanted and thus a lot of it will be wasted because of lack of application.
       I have also had students come to me who cringe at the mention of Classical music. Then I find their hatred for this music has come because of countless hours spent on early exercises all sounding like C major scales! So I really find if the student is not enjoying the music they are learning and have no respect for it but only negative thoughts, then the teacher has given them the wrong music. There is absolutely nothing wrong with learning music that might be boring for you, but certainly it shouldn't contribute to a majority of the pieces you learn!
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."

Offline progman

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #2 on: July 01, 2018, 01:26:14 PM »
Speaking as an adult beginner (59 yo), I think having a teacher right at the outset is a great idea. No matter how smart and diligent we think we are, having an experienced Teacher is incredibly valuable to focus your practice on your most important weak points right away.

So I would say first look for a teacher that has some level of experience, and if you are an adult, look for someone that has experience teaching adults.

I can tell you i have not developed a taste for classical music and have no desire for it....yet. It is important for me to get to playing music I love as a form of motivation for practice. It might depend where you live, but my teacher is not married to classical only. The only real thing she demands is to learn sight reading. And of course she expects me to practice every day and show up for lesson prepared! It is a great experience.

Kawai ES100
Alfreds AIO Bk 1 + Teacher
Long live ELP

Offline lizzie3

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #3 on: July 02, 2018, 01:56:11 PM »
I think there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a teacher including practical considerations.

1) What is your availability like? I work shift work and the only day I have consistently off are Tuesday mornings so that was a deal breaker for me as well as most teachers want a consistent time slot for each student.

2) Personality of the teacher. When I restarted lessons a year ago I interviewed a women who was very over-enthusiastic and juvenile. It would never have worked out. I also had tried a teacher years ago that was very quiet and didn't seem to have a lot of confidence. A couple of times I deliberately used very poor technique and she didn't have the gumption to correct me. If she can't correct my technique what am I paying her for? I also wanted someone who understood my challenges as an adult with a full time job and responsibilities/priorities. Some weeks I have little time to practice and I don't need a teacher to make me feel guilty for it (we usually work on more theory when that happens). I can be very self critical of my playing so I needed a teacher to help me accept my mistakes and stop being so embarrassed about them.

3) What education are you looking for? I wanted somebody who had a degree in music. Some teachers only have there grade 8 RCM which wasn't enough for me...and I didn't really want someone with a masters as their rate would likely go up and I am not planning to be a great concert pianist.
4) Someone who is flexible in their style to suit their student. Every learner is different and teachers need to have the skills to adjust their style to you. This includes encouraging the genre you are interested in, but pushing you out of your comfort zone now and again.

All that said, I think most teachers will use a method book to start you out. I learned off of faber and faber accelerated piano for the older beginner. I was 17 at the time (I'm 33 now) and with my teacher I have a very solid foundation. The lesson and repertoire books had a variety of simplified pieces to learn - classical, lullabies, children's songs, popular, jazz, etc. It was great to be exposed to different genres. Most of the pieces you will want to learn will be too difficult for you to learn immediately and you will sometimes have to learn pieces that don't interest you to gain valuable skills that will help you with your long term goals. For example, think of learning to read in general. Imagine trying to read The Lord of the Rings when you are just learning the alphabet? You must learn from See Jane Run and then Clifford the big red dog etc. and then one day you'll be reading the bigger, more interesting books. You just have to be patient.

All that being said, you don't have to have a teacher teach you all classical. I use the RCM books and half of the pieces aren't classical. I also have purchased many many supplemental books along the way to mix in other songs. I am currently learning a grade 3 classical piece by Johanne Sebastian Bach, a grade 4 20th century piece by Yoshinao Nakada, and today I will be adding a simplified piece from the Pride and Prejudice movie that is probably at grade 2 level. My teacher encourages me to play a variety of pieces and sometimes pushes (*cough* forces) me to play a piece that I don't care for. She states that I need to learn a variety of styles to become a more well rounded pianist and develop my skills. When we pick those pieces I do not learn it to the same level as the pieces I love, we just learn it enough to get something out of it and then I move on.

I do find that learning classical has helped my overall skills though more than my other books, which are mostly popular movie books. I find the movie books at my level aren't in the original key/are very simplified and so I am not motivated to learn them since they don't sound "right." All of the pieces in my RCM books sound like "real" music if that makes sense.

I think it's great that you are thinking of learning the piano and getting a teacher is a wise choice. I would arrange a couple of "interviews." Just chat casually and get a feel for the teachers style and approach and be honest what your goals are. When you get the right teacher, you'll know it.

Offline Bob

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #4 on: July 03, 2018, 07:49:42 AM »
Look at the students the teacher is cranking out.  Is that what you want to be like?  It's likely there will be a recital or some kind of performance at some point. 

I think teachers who said this were still good but I considered it a bit bogus when a teacher said they had no plan or method that they followed.  They meant "no plan" as meaning they weren't restricted and could teach anything, any way, anyone, etc.  I took that to mean they were less aware of whatever teaching philosophy they were following.  You've got to have some ideas and follow through with some line of thinking, don't you?  There's some fundamental ideas you believe, right?  I also got the impression it was a way of letting them off the hook -- "There's no rigid structure or plan/path set in stone here."  ...So preparation for a lesson isn't needed.  Thinking ahead six months isn't needed.  Everything was just "whatever," whatever came to mind, during that one, individual lesson.  With one teacher, more on the beginner/intermediate side, I liked that they had a general path students were following.  Students went through types of pieces by certain composers, not necessarily the exact same pieces, but there was a general path their students were following.  So if a new student was starting and put in the work, you had a general idea of where they would end up after a few years. 
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline indianajo

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #5 on: July 03, 2018, 08:08:01 PM »
It is quite difficult to find a teacher who plays by ear or knows how to play pop or standards.  They are usually making too much money with gigs to deal with nasty incompetent students.  I've been looking for a decade, have asked a half dozen people who have the chops, and been turned down flat. 
So at least classical training will teach you to avoid the several ways to injure your hands/arms with a piano. Also increase your flexibility and even out the strengths of your fingers. 
One skill my teacher had was finding repretoire which was interesting and yet challenged me.  We got away from Mozart & Scarlatti rather quickly, since they obviously bore me to tears.  I learned a lot of South American classics, since my tastes run to flash. 
Russian methods probably are wise only if you have Russian (or Prussian) hands.  Ie 3rd finger about 7" long and about 2" longer than the other fingers.  (look at Horowitz, since youtube has the close ups now).  I don't have russian hands and use entirely different methods to fit my squarish hands (fingers 2,3,4 about 3 mm same length as each other).  My teacher allowed totally unorthodox fingerings, which worked for me but would never work for classically shaped hands.  She was ethnically greek, actually. 

Offline bernadette60614

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Re: What to consider when finding the right teacher?
«Reply #6 on: July 04, 2018, 11:58:15 PM »
I would ask:

What are your goals?

Do you aspire to be as close to a professional caliber pianist as you can be given your age, time available to practice and stamina?

Do you aspire to play easy listening music (be it pop or classical) well enough to play for yourself and sometimes in a nonprofessional setting?

If you aspire to the first goal, based upon my experience (I've had 6 teachers--one in childhood, one in a group adult piano class, one affiliated with a local university, one who was my son's teacher who really taught children, and a classical pianist who was looking to supplement her performing income )look for a career teacher...someone who was trained as a pianist, but who has focused on teaching.  My current teacher, who is by far the one who has been the best in helping to support my goal has a masters' degree in piano performance, but she is also a certified Suzuki teacher, as well as a member of the faculty of a local music conservatory, so she teachers children through adults.  She also teaches at the conservatory's adult "piano camp", and her total focus is on how to practice. She's amazing.  In 2 months I would say I've learned more from her about body mechanics, "touch", keeping the pulse of a piece and "working" a piece than I have from all my other teachers combined.

But, this is hard work. I have never practiced with greater focus and precision than I have with her, but in the last year I've become focused on passing a certain series of exams, and that goal requires this kind of teacher and this kind of focus.

My initial goal was just to play...well enough to enjoy noodling around on the piano at home and to play in front of an uncritical audience.  My preceding teachers were great for that.  I practiced about 2 hours a week (my current DAILY practice), I made progress, and I feel that given my personal circumstances at the time (work, young family, travel) that they were good choices at the time.

Bear in mind, you can change teachers.  Overall, I would say chose someone supportive.  Not someone who is saying good job at every second, but someone who instructs you with kindness. One of my teachers believed that the louder she screamed, the more I learned.  I was learning how to hate piano, but nothing more than that.