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Topic: What to look for in a teacher  (Read 633 times)

Offline sarahlou

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What to look for in a teacher
on: January 17, 2023, 03:58:35 PM
Hi,
Iím fairly new to piano as an adult (and I love it) and have been learning for one year. I have a teacher, who is perfectly pleasant, but Iím starting to wonder if we might not be a good fit. In posing this query, I am in no way criticising my teacher, and I understand that 99% of me making any progress will be down to me making time to practice. Can I just describe a typical lesson and Iíd be really grateful if anyone could say whether, yes this is standard piano lesson stuff or whether I might expect more? I should add, Iím not expecting to ever be great at piano, but I would love to became to feel confident-ish on the instrument and play to say, grade 5/6 level if thatís not too ambitious. I do make time to practice each day, 30 minutes to 1 hour (Iíd like to do more but itís hard to fit in). SoÖeach lesson involves me playing a piece, with inevitable note errors on occasion which my teacher calls out (I can hear I played them wrong, so itís not correcting what I cannot hear). My teacher sometimes tells me to pay closer attention to dynamics or pedal, which I try to do but canít always get it right in the next play through. After we have played a piece twice, we move onto another piece which I attempt to sightread (so donít play it well), then I practice that for the week and return with that piece next time and the same format. Iím increasingly worrying about tone (or lack of) and thinking I need to do more on technique. I have asked, but my teacher says not to worry or overthink and it will come with time. But I feel as an adult learner (I need to accelerate a bit to get anywhere). So, does that sound standard or am I missing technique or am I not really at the level where technique can be taught if only playing for one year? I really love the piano and want to make progress as fast as I can, but realistically given other commitments. I have only ever had one teacher so really donít know what to expect. Thank you so much.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #1 on: January 17, 2023, 04:08:37 PM
A good teacher will help you to practice the piano more efficiently, teach you actual practice methods not just critique your playing. Technique can be formed through appropriately learning a lot of material, this to me represents intrinsic understanding of technique that is flexible and can deal with given situations, it is not learned separated from a lot of playing experience, being fixated and inflexible. You should be taught how to sight read better too, and learn about fingering logic. You should be taught how to memorise your music easier.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #2 on: January 17, 2023, 04:43:15 PM
I have a bit of a personal grudge against poor piano teaching, so I may be a bit biased. I think a teacher should do much more than assign a new piece each week. You illustrate the problem quite well: they point out mistakes that are very apparent, and it doesn't really help with anything.

I personally found actual teaching of piano technique, such as that of the Taubman method, to be very useful. Even if it's not taught explicitly, I think there needs to be quite a bit of guidance. I feel like adults pick up on piano technique less naturally than children -- but even if that's not the case, I think that a certain amount of guidance for technique, to mold it over time, is absolutely necessary.

I do not think 99% of piano practice takes place due to making time to practice. Maybe 50% or 75%, but certainly not 99%. I progressed faster with a good teacher than I did on my own, and I tried everything to be very efficient on my own. There's a reason you don't see high-level self-taught pianists imo.

If possible, try to take a lesson with a really good piano teacher: someone with credentials affiliated with a university or something is a good bet although not all will be that good. I found a very clear difference in how things were taught, and learned faster and better. I found my gut feeling regarding teachers to be quite accurate. With a good teacher, I found that I was getting something new from every lesson and often feeling overwhelmed by just how many things could be tweaked, improved, and how much they could observe both in the sound (exactly which notes are bleeding over with the pedal etc.) and technique. There's also an entire art to the interpretation side of things.

I will say that while you may not necessarily need a teacher who teaches technique explicitly, you absolutely need someone who knows technique inside out themselves. If their idea of technique is -- play the notes and it will take care of itself magically: run. Guiding you towards feeling more comfortable at the keyboard is at the very least a must.

Online brogers70

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #3 on: January 17, 2023, 05:08:49 PM
A good teacher will help you to practice the piano more efficiently, teach you actual practice methods not just critique your playing.

Absolutely. A teacher who just assigns pieces, listens to them and says "You made some mistakes in there, better practice that bit more," is not doing a great job teaching. If nobody teaches you how to practice, your first instinct is likely to be that practicing a difficult passage just means playing it again and again until you get it right. Sometimes that actually works, sometimes it doesn't, but even when it works it is very inefficient. A good teacher will give you a bunch of ways to approach things that are difficult for you, and after a while the fun part of practicing will be figuring out the best way to work on something that's giving you trouble.

Offline sarahlou

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #4 on: January 17, 2023, 05:40:08 PM
Thank you so much ranjit, brogers70 and lost. What you say really resonates with me and gives me a bit of confidence to trust that my hunch is right and that I could be getting much more from lessons. Currently, I occasionally get a tip from a lesson but I have to really push for it, and I find it is not that satisfying playing a new piece each lesson but not getting it to a standard I would feel confident in playing. I appreciate that my repertoire is expanding a bit, but I donít feel secure. I wonder if teachers who donít usually teach adults might find it difficult to teach adults? Perhaps I need to be more explicit either with this teacher or a new teacher about what I would like, but itís hard to know what I do want as a beginner and what is too ambitious.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #5 on: January 17, 2023, 05:52:22 PM
A teacher who just assigns pieces, listens to them and says "You made some mistakes in there, better practice that bit more," is not doing a great job teaching.
Right. In addition an experienced teacher should also be able to hear past silly mistakes or mistakes because the student is nervous to play in front the teacher. I often don't feel the need to really correct everything unless the student is clearly unaware of it, if the way it is approached is done well (good practice method with mindful practice) it will correct itself once the effort resolve and if it stubbornly does not then you can start paying attention to these small parts which are not resolving (but they should be more obvious to pinpoint beforehand anyway)

 If there is just brute force repeat until it's done until the teacher can no longer complain you have students learning the same pieces for extended time and it gets so boring! There are certainly pedagogical skills to be implemented to make the entire process much more rewarding and richly educational!

If nobody teaches you how to practice, your first instinct is likely to be that practicing a difficult passage just means playing it again and again until you get it right. Sometimes that actually works, sometimes it doesn't, but even when it works it is very inefficient.
Yes! (If though we consider the sight reading/memory synergy of a more advanced practice methodology merely repeating multiple times is a good way, but it is mindful brute forcing lol, it is different to what we are considering in this thread when there is no real concept of practice method) Often with new students I teach who have had lessons in the past I ask them to show me how they would learn a passage and it immediatly reveals a lot when I ask them what they are thinking about while doing it, some cant even put in words what they are doing other than they are trying to find the notes and fingers and coordinate the hands together, just a dry, inefficient way of thinking every step of the way with no efficiency.

Having lessons where a teacher just asks you to show them how you practice and they give you ideas how to look at the piece, how to consider the patterns in the notes, position, fingering, movement between parts, coordination between the hands, actually make logical statements that encourage you to understand the passage etc etc, this can be so instructive and make lessons very valuable. Often I will merely practice a piece with a student when training practice method, even those I have trained for a long time as we enjoy that process of agreeing with what we find out, it is enjoyable and pleasing, like solving a puzzle and seeing beautiful solutions (i do see a connection to solving chess puzzles, you learn to disregard poor ideas and it is just so pleasing and then obvious [quick to see the pathway to soluton] to finally unlock the answer), and we can sometimes even have different ideas on the same situation both which are helpful and interesting.

A good teacher will give you a bunch of ways to approach things that are difficult for you, and after a while the fun part of practicing will be figuring out the best way to work on something that's giving you trouble.
Precisely as I feel. It is fun to figure out ways of dealing with it other than merely brute forcing a problem.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #6 on: January 17, 2023, 05:55:02 PM
Thank you so much ranjit, brogers70 and lost. What you say really resonates with me and gives me a bit of confidence to trust that my hunch is right and that I could be getting much more from lessons. Currently, I occasionally get a tip from a lesson but I have to really push for it, and I find it is not that satisfying playing a new piece each lesson but not getting it to a standard I would feel confident in playing. I appreciate that my repertoire is expanding a bit, but I donít feel secure. I wonder if teachers who donít usually teach adults might find it difficult to teach adults? Perhaps I need to be more explicit either with this teacher or a new teacher about what I would like, but itís hard to know what I do want as a beginner and what is too ambitious.
Communicate with your teacher. Express ideas we have given you here, ask that you want to learn how to practice efficiently. Then the teacher might go through and help you practice. Of course I feel as a teacher I would be obliged to help you practice better without any prompting from the student, but perhaps your teacher never has been asked before and when you ask for specific practice method they might consider it is something they should study about more and learn to teach it.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #7 on: January 17, 2023, 07:58:32 PM
If nobody teaches you how to practice, your first instinct is likely to be that practicing a difficult passage just means playing it again and again until you get it right.
As a side note, my first intuition, borrowed from my experience with mathematics, was the following:

Try to see everything perfectly in your mind's eye before actually carrying it out. Also, try to learn using brilliant flashes of insight as opposed to methodical work.

What do you think of this? I haven't found a lot of musicians who really understand this -- but think of it as analogous to solving a hard math problem (like a math Olympiad problem if you're familiar). You know the basic formulas and concepts. And then you try to visualise the problem space in your head in a bunch of different ways until you see the solution, clear as day. Then you write it out and take care of the details.

I wanted to apply this to piano playing.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #8 on: January 18, 2023, 06:08:47 PM
Try to see everything perfectly in your mind's eye before actually carrying it out.
Everything? Once you define what this process actually means for piano playing I am not sure if everything can be effectively visualised as such and require much more the sense of touch combined with effective thoughts. So you might see something is x notes vs y for instance and done with a particular pattern and specific finger combinations, but without feeling that in your hands you just can't complete that picture and if you cannot make your thoughts efficient and think too much things simply get in the way and there is lack of freedom of thought which of course can be problematic for many reasons especially acquiring the effective sense of touch and desired sound.

Also, try to learn using brilliant flashes of insight as opposed to methodical work.
Why can't both be utilised I donít see them interfering with each other, in fact methodical approaches can easily act as a platform for insight.

.....You know the basic formulas and concepts. And then you try to visualise the problem space in your head in a bunch of different ways until you see the solution, clear as day. Then you write it out and take care of the details.
Precisely what formulae and concepts you use could be good practice method tools of analysis or are you thinking of something else?
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Offline ranjit

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #9 on: January 19, 2023, 03:52:54 AM
Everything? Once you define what this process actually means for piano playing I am not sure if everything can be effectively visualised as such and require much more the sense of touch combined with effective thoughts. So you might see something is x notes vs y for instance and done with a particular pattern and specific finger combinations, but without feeling that in your hands you just can't complete that picture and if you cannot make your thoughts efficient and think too much things simply get in the way and there is lack of freedom of thought which of course can be problematic for many reasons especially acquiring the effective sense of touch and desired sound.
I mean that the feeling in your hands is also visualized/felt away from the keyboard, with your memory of the keys and how the piano plays. This was the "utopian" ideal which I wanted to get close to.

I was talking about the first intuition I had while learning the piano, which was borrowed from my experience in mathematics. brogers said the first intuitive method people tend to use is to play it again and again until it comes out right. In response, I related my first intuitive method -- which was to try to imagine exactly how to play using a combination of observation and intuition, and try to make it come out exactly that way.

Why can't both be utilised I donít see them interfering with each other, in fact methodical approaches can easily act as a platform for insight.
They kind of do. Constant methodical practice tends to numb the brain a little imo.

Precisely what formulae and concepts you use could be good practice method tools of analysis or are you thinking of something else?
I was referring to mathematics, and hoping to find a distant analogy.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #10 on: January 19, 2023, 10:45:25 AM
I mean that the feeling in your hands is also visualized/felt away from the keyboard, with your memory of the keys and how the piano plays.
I mean I guess you can do this but what is stopping one from just doing it on the keyboard to begin with and visualize at the same time?

..I related my first intuitive method -- which was to try to imagine exactly how to play using a combination of observation and intuition, and try to make it come out exactly that way.
If one knows exactly that this is the best solution then it can help but for those developing their skills they cannot really observe and use intuition and thus rely on that to produce the best results. That is why they tend to mindlessly repeat until something "clicks". Instead, of course, one should make mindful repeats in certain ways (practice methods).

They kind of do. Constant methodical practice tends to numb the brain a little imo.
Methods which are applied mindlessly or incorrectly will not be helpful, but using them appropriately naturaly brings fourth insight. So I do not see appropriate methods ever strangulating insight as it would render appropriate analytical practice methods as being utterly useless. Insight isn't just a chaotic process, it certainly can be controlled through specific trained focus.
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Offline permata

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #11 on: February 06, 2023, 01:14:13 AM
Quote
I have a teacher, who is perfectly pleasant, but Iím starting to wonder if we might not be a good fit.

Sounds like your teacher is very patient. She doesn't sound bad to me, especially your goal is not to become a concert pianist.

Quote
each lesson involves me playing a piece, with inevitable note errors on occasion which my teacher calls out (I can hear I played them wrong, so itís not correcting what I cannot hear). My teacher sometimes tells me to pay closer attention to dynamics or pedal, which I try to do but canít always get it right in the next play through.
From your teacher's comments, she is saying that you didn't know the music enough. I didn't have a good teacher, but I practiced till I made not mistake before the next lesson. I practiced it up to tempo at home, but when I returned for a lesson, I played it a lot slower. It's sounded very clean and polished. I stayed with the teacher, and I did learned something. I didn't even aim high as was too busy in school. Because I didn't quit or cancel lessons when I had final exams. I just went to the lesson and said, I didn't practice. I sat through the lesson playing very slowly by sight reading only hitting the right notes even though it didn't sound like should be, just to show respect.

It's very nice of your teacher for not making you play the same piece after failing two lessons in a row. She lets you move on to a different piece of the same level to keep you from being bored. From her comments, I am sure you will learn something. She definitely knows piano to be able to find next piece for your technical level.

When I was a student, I ignore a lot of important basics, and years later, I had to go back to the basics. Your teach is right, don't think too far; in other words, if you can't walk, you can forget about running.


Offline keypeg

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #12 on: February 13, 2023, 05:27:57 PM

Sounds like your teacher is very patient. She doesn't sound bad to me, especially your goal is not to become a concert pianist.

What does "concert pianist" have to do with it?  I also don't see the "patient".  Actually, what I don't see is the teaching - the "how to".  And that has nothing to do with 'concert pianist".  It has to do with teaching.

Quote
It's very nice of your teacher for not making you play the same piece after failing two lessons in a row. She lets you move on to a different piece of the same level to keep you from being bored.

From her comments, I am sure you will learn something. She definitely knows piano to be able to find next piece for your technical level.

Might I surmise that your teacher didn't move on after only two weeks - so that maybe you had a chance to solidify your pieces.  The "bored" thing is one reason I was rushed ahead, and it led to a whole bunch of skills remaining untaught and un-solid.  I would not have been 'bored' when there is something to learn.

Quote
Your teach is right, don't think too far; in other words, if you can't walk, you can forget about running.
Wanting to have solid instruction has nothing to do with the walk/run analogy.  (Another thing I was told when I was in a situation where I asked for outside advice.)  In fact, if you are rushed from piece to piece to piece, that IS the run version.

Offline ranjit

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #13 on: February 13, 2023, 07:28:29 PM

Sounds like your teacher is very patient. She doesn't sound bad to me, especially your goal is not to become a concert pianist.
From your teacher's comments, she is saying that you didn't know the music enough. I didn't have a good teacher, but I practiced till I made not mistake before the next lesson. I practiced it up to tempo at home, but when I returned for a lesson, I played it a lot slower. It's sounded very clean and polished. I stayed with the teacher, and I did learned something. I didn't even aim high as was too busy in school. Because I didn't quit or cancel lessons when I had final exams. I just went to the lesson and said, I didn't practice. I sat through the lesson playing very slowly by sight reading only hitting the right notes even though it didn't sound like should be, just to show respect.

It's very nice of your teacher for not making you play the same piece after failing two lessons in a row. She lets you move on to a different piece of the same level to keep you from being bored. From her comments, I am sure you will learn something. She definitely knows piano to be able to find next piece for your technical level.

When I was a student, I ignore a lot of important basics, and years later, I had to go back to the basics. Your teach is right, don't think too far; in other words, if you can't walk, you can forget about running.
I also find this to be ineffective teaching.  Just playing the right notes at a slow tempo isn't that effective. Expecting utter note perfection isn't necessary -- it is far more important to learn to play expressively and with good technique and learn various tools to do so. "It will come with time" is also a rather lazy teaching strategy. You need to hone in on deficiencies and address them directly, and it is about the approach to the instrument and not individual wrong notes.

Offline ego0720

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Re: What to look for in a teacher
Reply #14 on: March 02, 2023, 06:36:25 PM
You need to hone in on deficiencies and address them directly, and it is about the approach to the instrument and not individual wrong notes.

This. Never spend time on what u did right. Zoom in straight to the part u suck at. We only have 50 minutes max attention span. Use the time on the parts that need work. This gets trickier as we level up. Once u r level 3+Ö man can music be hard to do right.
 

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