Today I heard from a former student whom I taught at East End Arts Council while I lived on Long Island, New York. I was very glad to hear from her mom that she is now doing very well with her new teacher. This was not always the case. She had a different new teacher when I first left, and I recommended this current teacher after knowing she was not making good progress. This current new teacher lives almost one hour away from the family. Imagine the trip to and from the teacher’s studio, week after week. I admire her parents dedication to ensure the quality of her education.
I myself have studied with teachers that lived far away. I have also taught students that traveled far in order to have their lessons with me. One adult student I used to teach lived on Shelter Islands; she had to take the ferry first to get to Long Island, then drove an hour and half to my studio in Wading River.
I have said before that when looking for a piano teacher, cost and convenience should not be the deciding factors. There are many companies that offer ‘in-home’ lessons. The teacher comes to your house and gives lessons on your piano or keyboard. Are these teachers any good? Of course some are. I myself worked for two such companies when I first moved to Long Island from New Zealand. I lasted 3 months or so. I was paid 50% of the actual tuition, while the rest was kept by the referring companies. I was not compensated for the huge amount of time I spent on the road. I was not able to give extra time to any student due to tight scheduling. Often these traveling teachers (including those that teach at a music store or company) are music major students or young graduates looking for work, but if they are any good, they soon establish their own studios. When they leave, they can not take any existing students with them, since these companies make their teachers sign a contract to avoid ‘student stealing’. Unfortunately, I have had to see some good students go to bad teachers or even quit piano due to this.
A good piano teacher may or may not cost more. Everyone has to start from somewhere. A young, inexperienced teacher may not necessarily be a bad choice, just as an expensive teacher with years of experience may not necessarily be a good teacher for you. When I first started teaching, this was before I even graduated from university, I was not yet 20 and living with my parents, I had no expenses, no rent or utilities to pay, I charged NZ$10 for an hour! That was about one third of the going rate. I was teaching just about every child of my parents aquaintances; you can say that in a way I paid for my early teacher training with my time. By the time I graduated, I was already teaching full time and my reputation as a teacher led to jobs at excellent private schools. Since then, I have adjusted my rates as I gained more and more professional qualifications and teaching experiences. My current rates reflect my dedication to my students, all the time and money I (and my parents) have spent on my education and training, professional memberships and developments, and my ability to communicate what I have learned and experienced to my students in the most efficient and rewarding way. Of course the learning never stops; I am still investing in myself to become a better musician and teacher.
Finding a good piano teacher that matches you or your child’s natural abilities and your financial situation can be tricky. First, you should be satisfied that the teacher’s fees are justified by their background in terms of qualifications and experience. Research what is the going rate for your area and see where a particular teacher ‘fits in’. Find the best teacher you can afford. Then it is a matter of luck and a bit of trial and error until you find a teacher that is 100% dedicated to the musical growth and well-being of their students. As the student progresses, you should periodically review whether the teacher is still the right choice in terms of their own skills and abilities. Some teachers are perfect for beginners, but are limited in their own knowledge and repertoire. Some teachers are great for advanced students, but lack the patience and empathy to communicate to students of lesser abilities or reserved personality. And sometimes, even when everything seems to be perfect, there is just no chemistry between teacher and student! A teacher, no matter how great, is not the right match if they can not inspire the student to progress, as the saying goes:
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~ William Arthur Ward (1921 – 1994)
For more information on how to find a music teacher, visit Music Teachers National Association website article “Choosing a Music Teacher“.
To find a MTNA certified teacher in your area, click here.