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Choosing a First Piano Teacher: Getting Your Children Off to a Solid, Joyful Start

Your child has shown an interest in music lately. You've bought or rented a piano, or have looked into doing so. And now your thoughts turn to how to select a piano teacher.

Who makes a good first teacher?

The nice, always-smiling piano teacher down the street?

The most expensive teacher in town, with the numerous and impressive music degrees?

The skilled performer who also teaches children piano?

A good teacher may be any of these. On the other hand, nice, expensive, laden with degrees, or talented at performing may not guarantee anything when you're looking for a good teacher.

Are there criteria that don't leave to chance getting a great first piano teacher?

Let me propose five important considerations to keep in mind when choosing your first piano teacher.

A Good First Teacher Inspires

She* shows she's excited about music. She loves to demonstrate musical examples for the child.

She shares interesting facts about composers. She might act as a storyteller on occasion, making a piece of music come alive through its backstory.

She stimulates curiosity and facilitates exploration, leading the student to want to learn more.

A Good First Teacher Teaches How to Practice

She establishes guidelines --- how often to practice, for example --- and encourages accountability to those guidelines, for her students' benefit.

She teaches students how to listen to themselves as they practice, and how to make adjustments accordingly.

A Good First Teacher Builds a Strong Foundation

She knows principles of good technique, and how to impart them to students. She understands and works to prevent common problems that can trip up students.

She is aware of resources that assist students with particular musical needs, and implements various strategies to teach basic skills to students with different learning styles.

Her students are well-prepared for future study, enabling subsequent teachers to move forward with the students they gain from a good first teacher. The students aren't beset with numerous deficits that need remedial work, a sad scenario that often results in children quitting lessons in frustration.

A Good First Teacher Knows Her Limitations

She knows if/when it's time to pass along a student to another teacher. For example, when her students reach a proficiency level in which she can't effectively model how certain repertoire should be played, she will recommend another teacher who can teach to that level and above.

If a student is interested in branching off to another style of music in which the teacher is not well-versed, a wise instructor will encourage study with a competent teacher in that realm.

A Good First Teacher is Warm and Friendly to Her Students

I put this last, but I consider it the most important characteristic of a good first teacher. She expresses interest in the student's life and activities outside of piano lessons. She engages in a little cheerful banter in each lesson, seeing piano lessons as being a part of who the child is.

She shows delight in the whole child --- not just who the child is musically.

In short, she views her role as more than teaching music, or how to play the piano. She doesn't just teach music: she teaches children. She doesn't just build skill: she builds relationship.

The preciousness of the child is foremost in her mind, and that philosophy is plainly evident through her nurturing actions.

The Sum of the Matter

We've looked at five qualities of a good first piano teacher. They are all important considerations, the presence or absence of which can make or break the entire piano lesson experience.

Many families are looking for convenience --- a teacher who is nearby; one who charges a lower fee than most or everyone else; one who allows frequent shifting of lesson times to accommodate students' family schedules.

You may be able to find such a teacher, who is convenient for any or all of those reasons, and, if you're lucky, that teacher may also be a good one.

Many times, though, finding a good first teacher may involve traveling a bit longer distance; adjusting your budget to allocate more funds for quality piano lessons; and/or changing your activity schedule to establish a consistent lesson time with a competent teacher.

In my experience, I've found it helpful to think in the long term. Choosing well with your child's first piano teacher is an investment in the future. It pays fabulous dividends in terms of student progress, interest, and long-term satisfaction.

Your child who is excited to begin the piano lesson journey deserves the best start s/he can get. Here's to embarking on the journey with success and joy!

Did you study piano as a child? I welcome you to share in the comments section about your early piano experience and first teacher.


*I use the pronoun "she" for consistency, and because there are more female piano teachers than male. There are many fine male piano teachers who fit these qualifications as well! :-)

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