Did you know that teaching others is one of the best ways to learn piano — as well as continue learning, if you’re at an advanced level? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares what it takes to teach…
Being a piano teacher can be tremendously rewarding and fulfilling. The art of guiding a student on a journey of learning is one that comes naturally to some, but can certainly be learned by others who have the right skills.
The phrase “piano teacher” brings to mind different images and memories for all of us. For some people, a piano teacher is a harsh, cruel, and ruthless authoritarian, determined to see results no matter what the means. For others, a piano teacher is a wise, gentle, and caring instructor who gave them some of the most beautiful and lasting memories of their youth.
Before asking yourself if you have the skills to become a piano teacher, and ultimately maintain a successful career, ask yourself what kind of piano teacher that you would like to have. What kind of characteristics would your ideal instructor possess? Do you possess them yourself?
As a child, I never took piano lessons. I had too many friends who’d taken them and had learned not only how to play the piano, but also how to despise it because of mean teachers. I loved the piano too much to see that happen to me. The shame is that if only I’d found the right teacher, I might not have had to spend years in intensive piano training to correct poor technique. Over the years, I was lucky to be instructed by some of the best teachers in America and take note of the skills that made them so effective. I’ve also taken note of the effectiveness of my own and my colleagues’ teaching skills over the last decade.
The following is a list of skills that are necessary for becoming a great piano teacher.
Some may think of compassion as an emotion, but it can also be thought of as a skill to be learned and cultivated. It’s vitally important in the art of teaching, but most especially in the art of teaching on an individual level. Often, it’s what’s most lacking in the most disliked piano teachers. Students will not only fail in small and large ways, but they’ll also be defiant and mean-spirited at times, too. These are the moments when compassion is essential for the sake of the single lesson, a long-term relationship with the student, and the growth of the student as a pianist.
One of your goals as a piano teacher will probably be to acquire a busy schedule. That busy schedule, combined with having a limited amount of valuable time in each lesson, means it’s so important to be able to keep student information, sheet music, and future assignments straight. If you’re naturally methodical and organized, this will come much more easily. Organization skills are also integral to the process of “mapping out” a student’s short-term and long-term goals.
Most students, especially children, will pick up on any sugar-coating or false praise almost immediately, and sometimes not even on a conscious level. A student will usually just begin to distrust the teacher, not really knowing why. Pretending to be greatly interested in mundane elements of a student’s life or trying to create deep connections will soon have him looking for another piano teacher.
Being honest and forthright in your observations during lessons and assessments of performances not only establishes trust, but also prevents wasting time. It would be as if a plumber came to your house to fix a sink, but just stood there telling you how beautiful your bathroom is. Your job as a piano teacher is to observe, diagnose, and solve challenges in each student. You must be able to do this every day in a clear and straightforward manner.
Teaching lessons one-on-one can be very unpredictable and malleable in terms of scheduling. Students might cancel a lesson a few days, a few weeks, and sometimes a few hours before it. You’ll be in control of your own cancellation and rescheduling policies, and as long as you’re organized (see skill number two), you’ll have made them clear to all of your students and parents. But being flexible with students’ rescheduling and last-minute conflicts is essential to keeping your students, not to mention your own sanity.
You must be aware of your own limitations as both a piano player and instructor. Students may come to you with challenges that you may be too inexperienced or ill-equipped to handle. Conversely, students will come to you, grow as pianists, and then get to be so good that you must know when it’s time to find the student another teacher capable of teaching at that student’s level.
The best-liked and most successful piano teachers that I’ve met are utterly positive people. You don’t have to be as perky as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, but optimism is infectious. That optimism may be all that a student needs to get past some of her challenges. Besides, if you don’t feel positive about a student’s eager willingness to learn the piano, then teaching it is probably not the job for you.
The best piano instructors are individuals who relish both the learning journey and guiding others on journeys of their own. If you have the key skills to be that guide, you’ll find that teaching is one of the best ways to continue learning piano even at an advanced or professional level. Teaching the piano may be the perfect career for you.
Photo by Edgar Rubio Rodilla