By Kristina Lee
In 2012, when I started a piano studio in Bellevue, Washington, it took about two years to build my enrollment. I spent the next five years recruiting students for other teachers who worked for my school. These days, I enjoy referring the overflow of inquiries to other colleagues, hoping to make the right “match” for the prospective student with a teacher.
So, I know a little bit about what makes for a “potential-good-fit” in prospective student/teacher relationships.
Parents, who have not received music instruction in their own lives, have little idea about how to find a good piano teacher for their child. The savvy ones will look around to see which of their kids’ friends are taking music lessons and how they’re progressing. But even for them, I think I can suggest a few things when shopping around for that new piano teacher.
Consider the fact that a piano teacher may be the only adult (other than you) who will be spending one-on-one time with your child on a weekly basis for several years or possibly longer. So, you should think much deeper about this potential relationship in your family’s life and the impact it will have. Let’s begin with style:
Communication is the backbone of every successful relationship. What kind of communication style do you expect from someone who does business with you as well as someone who takes care of your child? Do you feel comfortable with the way the potential teacher communicates by email or phone and is there a healthy boundary and respect present in your interactions? You’re not looking for a hair stylist – you’re looking for a teacher for your child.
Styles of Music
Do you want the teacher to have training in classical music and focus on teaching classical music? Or do you want someone who plays and teaches jazz and blues? How about musical theater and pop? Or do you want someone who can play and teach multiple styles and genres of music? You may not know the answer to these questions, but at least you should think about it. Maybe have a chat with your child or ask the potential teacher about what styles of music they play and teach.
In a work-relationship, if one party is putting out a lot of energy while the other isn’t, an imbalance gets created. This eventually leads to dissatisfaction and resentment.
I find that I am most happy and satisfied when I work with parents and students who put a similar intensity and energy into the process as I do.
In music lessons, there are 3 entities: the student, the parent/guardian, and the teacher. In order for this triad to maintain a healthy and functioning relationship, reasonable and comparable levels of intensity and energy from all sides should be maintained (despite the ups and downs, which is just life).
The compatibility of energy and intensity goes beyond “liking” each other. So, make sure that both the potential teacher and you have clearly communicated your expectations and goals beforehand.
There is no way around it. One cannot be a good teacher without being a lifelong learner. But how do you know if the potential teacher is a lifelong learner? Are they asking good questions during the “getting-to-know-you” process? Are they curious about your child? Does he/she seem open minded? Do they seem to be acquiring new resources, techniques, and methods or are they regurgitating the same material in the same way they’ve always done?
Here is the truth:
Musicians become good musicians because they fall in love with music, not because they fall in love with the idea of teaching music. In fact, many of them end up teaching because it is one of the clearest paths for generating income as a musician.
Of those who go into teaching, some of them will embrace it wholeheartedly and fall in love with it. Musicians are resourceful and disciplined people (at least that’s how they get good at what they do). And many musicians who embrace the noble calling of teaching will tackle it with the same kind of discipline and resourcefulness that led them to being a good musician in the first place. These are the people that I would label “career teachers.” A career teacher is someone who prioritizes teaching in their life. They put time, money, and effort into their teaching career, and they invest into building their studio.
If possible, I advise you to find someone who is a career teacher. A career teacher would have a system in place (like a studio management, policy, and calendar). They would also have programs such as recitals, practice/incentive programs, group classes, and opportunities for students to take part in festivals, competitions, and exams.
Last but not least, find a teacher you trust. Ask yourself, if you had to drop off your child with the teacher and for reasons beyond your control you had to leave him/her with the piano teacher for several hours, can you trust that person? If the answer is a “no,” don’t do it, even if it’s the best piano teacher in the whole wide world.