Evaluating Potential Piano Pedagogues
June 17, 2007 11:49 AM   Subscribe

I've resolved to start private piano lessons this coming fall semester, and want to know how to evaluate (and what questions to ask of) potential piano teachers.

My musical training is limited to clarinet lessons from grades 4 through 8, so I'm essentially a complete beginner. I have a general understanding of musical notation, though the ability to read it with any fluency has long left me.

I attend a big university that has a fairly large music department. I have access to practice rooms with pianos every day of the week.

I've already responded (just a basic inquiry to see if he's still interested) to a month-old ad on craigslist from a recent graduate of my school's music department (piano performance major, also attended the Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts).

What is a reasonable price for a weekly lesson (I'm assuming hour long lessons or so each week...)? This particular fellow is charging $30 an hour, which is generally cheaper than what I've seen other (generally older) teachers charging in the area (usually more like $50 and hour). That seems reasonable to me - but perhaps I should be wary of a new teacher. Then again, all teachers have to start somewhere, right?

So what do I ask him and other potential teachers? What qualities are generally desirable in a piano teacher?
posted by phrontist to Education (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just started taking piano lessons in my home. I've never played the piano, but I did play the cello for most of my life. I am 32. I placed an ad in the local paper and several people responded, only one was willing to teach me in my home. Luckily, the person who responded is a fun, young woman who charges me $25 per half hour lesson (a full hour would cost $30). She comes every other week. These half hour lessons every other week are plenty for me because I am a total beginner. As I progress, I will increase the time I spend with the teacher and the money I invest in my lessons.

As you are a beginner, too, I think the most important thing is that you enjoy the teacher's personality and that you don't spend a lot of money. I suggest you "size up" the teacher the same way you would "size up" a friend. You should also ask them how long they have taught lessons.

At your current level, you won't need to worry too much about a teacher's credentials as a musician, etc. The recent graduate from your school would have more than enough skills to get you going.
posted by kellygreen at 1:09 PM on June 17, 2007

it depends on what you want out of your lessons. do you want to learn how to read music notation... or learn a few cool songs or some basic chord progressions that will enable you improvise and/or play by ear (i.e. the blues) i wasted a great deal of time and money on learning theory.
posted by mrmarley at 1:20 PM on June 17, 2007

Response by poster: I absolutely want to learn theory. In fact, I sort of came to piano backwards, from an interest in theory. I want to eventually compose, and I think theory is important in understanding "the rules" of western music tradition, and providing a language in which to communicate and think about tonal and rhythmic ideas.
posted by phrontist at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2007

If you are serious about learning music theory and real piano skills (i.e. to play classical or serious piano music), I would suggest you get an experienced piano teacher, not a recent graduate. I'm sure Univ of Kentucky has a piano department, so I would try to work with one of the piano professors there. Piano pedagogy is more than just knowing how to play. It may be a few dollars more but the level of instruction will be significantly higher.

FWIW, I used to charge $60 an hour to elementary school piano students, but I was a certified music teacher with a degree with music education.

Then again - if you just want to learn basic theory, how to read music and the ability to play some Beatles songs, a grad student would probably be fine.
posted by kdern at 6:56 PM on June 17, 2007

Response by poster: kdern: I guess that's what I'm asking. What makes you worth $60/Hour? What do you impart to the beginning student that a less experience teacher can't? (I don't doubt there is something, I'd just like to understand what it is).
posted by phrontist at 7:14 PM on June 17, 2007

Get a European teacher for classical (warning: they'll drive you, but they're good). They won't make you do boring stuff, and they will help you to develop subtlety in your playing and in your hearing.

If you want to learn theory (which you mentioned was your foundation), get a North American teacher (esp. for jazz).

It's hard to judge without knowing how early you were exposed to any form of musical training.

And for God's sake, don't get any of those crappy Chinese/Japanese keyboards. Get a good, solid, American/German made hardwood piano (check the soundboard before you buy). They're really easy to come by, and you can get a nuanced sound from them- made easier by weighted keys- and they don't have that icky slippery finish!
posted by solongxenon at 9:02 PM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a wonderful experience taking lessons from a church organist for 12 years as a child. Many of them are extremely gifted musicians who decided to take a steady paycheck rather than try to be professional performers. She was still charging $10 for 45 minutes in 1995.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:26 AM on June 18, 2007

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