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How do you choose a piano teacher?

(26 Posts)
MaryMotherOfCheeses Wed 27-Apr-11 16:31:28

Are there questions I should be asking?

(other than the obvious how much and do you have a space type stuff)

I've tried to get a personal recommendation (having no joy there) and have a list of local teachers from the internet, but am not sure what to do next!

confidence Wed 27-Apr-11 21:26:40

For what age and type of child?

MaryMotherOfCheeses Wed 27-Apr-11 22:07:46

10 year old boy, has been learning for a year or so.

Not at risk of being a musical genius, but he seems to enjoy it. Wants to do Grade 1 (as soon as we can find him a teacher who knows arse from elbow - previous bad experience...)

HalleluiaScot Wed 27-Apr-11 22:12:42

We just use the peri teacher at school.

MaryMotherOfCheeses Wed 27-Apr-11 22:43:42

Sadly we don't have that option for piano.

elphabadefiesgravity Thu 28-Apr-11 11:09:35

If you can't get a reccommendation I would suggest you go to your nearest music shop.

Thre will be loads of cards up but often the staff there can suggest someone.

pinguwings Thu 28-Apr-11 11:21:16

Ask for a taster lesson of 15 mins or so with the teachers you've found. See if they gel with your son and ask them a few questions about teaching style, attitude to exams etc. Some may charge for this.

Tangle Thu 28-Apr-11 11:52:38

Have you tried your County Music Service? Although I'm not sure they'd be able to do more than give you a list, which you've already got.

A good local piano tuner might also have some advice.

Is your son currently having lessons on another instrument (or are any of his friends)? If so, you could ask that teacher if they have any recommendations.

Ultimately, though, I'd go with pinguwings' suggestion - the best teacher in the world is useless if s/he doesn't work well with your son, especially as you've had a bad experience already.

As for questions to ask, you can ask about the demographics of their current students - what kind of ages, what kind of standards. Explain the situation re. previous experience and ask how the teacher would propose to help your son overcome any issues and move forward in a positive way - is this situation something they have previous experience in? Ask if it would be possible for you to contact any of his/her existing students (or their parents) for a referral. Depending on how long your list is you might want to try and shorten it by doing a bit of an interrogation over the phone first.

Good luck smile

thehat Thu 28-Apr-11 22:24:47

Qualifications and an example of a typical lesson? What repertoire do they use alongside exam pieces and between exams? How do they help a student structure their practise time? Do they organise concerts for their students? what exam board do they use?

ZZZenAgain Sun 01-May-11 13:06:32

a trial month is good, if the teacher is willing to do it. It is so hard to say after one getting to know each other initial session, how well your dc will work with that teacher. I suppose you could ask about the method, whether the teacher teaches to exams etc but really you need to see how the two people interact. With smaller dc (after establishing that the necessary qualifications are there obviously) I think that might be the main factor.

McMillanMusic Sun 12-Jun-11 18:51:54

Message deleted by Mumsnet.

confidence Wed 15-Jun-11 22:03:30

Tell me about your approach to teaching.

How do you balance inspiring children and having fun with making technical progress?

What is your attitude to, or approach to, background musical skills such as aural training, rhythm work, singing etc? Do you just presume this is being done elsewhere, do you not care about it, or do you have ways of integrating it with the piano work?

How do you teach scales? Do you teach wider musicianship skills such as harmonising and improvising as part of scale knowledge, or just teach them by rote?

How do you teach reading music? What have you found to succeed or fail in various methods, with various age groups?

What's your attitude to playing by ear? Do you help develop it, not mind if they do it themselves "on the side" or are you against it?

What's your attitude to exams? How do you structure progression for children who don't want to do exams?

Do you teach music in other than classical styles? If so, how?

Can you describe some examples of how you've adapted your teaching to the musical life, attitudes or situation of individual children?

Give me a trial lesson (I'll pay if necessary) and demonstrate in it as much of the above as possible.

(Of course this depends on your being able to interpret and judge the answers given, but whether they seem to make sense to your kid would be a good start. Feel free to get back to me with them if you want help.)

musicposy Thu 30-Jun-11 23:47:50

Confidence has some great questions there!

I'm always amazed that no one ever asks me -

how long I've been teaching piano (I'm not knocking a new teacher - everyone has to start somewhere and they can be very enthusiastic, but it's good to know just how much experience your teacher has)

how long my pupils generally stay with me and what's the longest (a good teacher will generally have pupils who stay with them for years and will be able to refer you to some to talk about you)

how many pupils have I had pass Grade 8/ go on to take music at A level/ uni etc (this is very telling. Lots of bad teachers have pupils who they drag through the beginner stages and then who give up through disillusionment or bad teaching. Worth knowing that statistically only a percentage do go right through, but the teacher should have at least some, unless they are very new at it. It doesn't matter if your son wants to only do Grade 1/ learn for fun etc - you need to get an idea of what the teacher is capable of)

what is my current highest grade pupil and can they speak to them (you'll get some good info this way, as above)

what are your qualifications? (once again, not having them doesn't necessarily mean a bad teacher - although I'd be looking for Grade 8 on the instrument as a minimum - but qualified teacher status/ music diplomas/ degrees do indicate something about what you are paying for and a qualified teacher will have been taught to teach). I once had a pupil come for lessons and when I first demonstrated something to him he said "wow, can you play the piano, then?" It did make me laugh, but weirdly, I think his mum was equally surprised!!

do you really enjoy teaching? (a flat "yes" will speak volumes compared to someone who says "I absolutely love it - I would still do it if I were a millionaire!" It is possible to feel the latter about your job - I certainly do and I can't imagine ever wanting to do anything else. A teacher who really, truly adores what they do will pass that enthusiasm onto your child.)

Good luck!

maggiethecat Sun 03-Jul-11 23:19:34

Confidence and musicposy - some very good suggestions. Interesting point about playing by ear - why would a teacher be against it (provided a student were able to sightread as well)?

falasportugues Sat 08-Oct-11 20:16:19

maggie.... intersting question about playing by ear... i'd like to know confidence's answer too!

confidence Sun 09-Oct-11 13:29:14

To be fair, playing by ear IS a problem when it takes the place of learning to read. Unfortunately, because many teachers only teach classical music within a traditional grade-based structure, that's all it ever means to them.

So my point about that can't be separated from the other points about playing in non-classical styles. Ideally, there should be development of both playing by ear and from notation, but the tasks should be clearly differentiated and applied in contexts that are musically appropriate.

maggiethecat Sun 09-Oct-11 13:39:54

Forgot that I had even asked the question!

DD1 has been playing violin for 3 years and has just started piano and as soon as the piano arrived she jumped on and started to play by ear. This must be natural for her especially since she has done Kodaly classes for 3 years.

I'd like to think that this ability will be nurtured by her piano teacher.

falasportugues Sun 09-Oct-11 21:20:29

confidence, Thank you, that is very interesting... I will be using your questions when I have worked out how I am going to afford the lessons! I feel confident that it will be worthwhile, as her motivation for practice is really strong. Personally, I can't read music at all, but can play by ear a bit, and would love it if her teacher was interested in supporting development of both aspects.
Maggie.... what is Kodaly?

maggiethecat Sun 09-Oct-11 22:24:29

Method of music teaching developed by Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly - young children taught music concepts including rhythm and tone through singing and movement. Relative pitch visually aided by using hand signs.
I think dd1's aural awareness is so much better having done the classes but then she went to a very 'off the wall' Hungarian teacher who is fierce about Kodaly (think she may have been one of the first beneficiaries of the system that Kodaly set up in Hungary).

confidence Sun 09-Oct-11 23:52:31

Maggie it sounds like your DD had a great start! I am passionate about Kodaly and always suggest to parents of young children to start with that first.

Falas - it's a huge subject, but Kodaly is basically about developing the musical sense and inner ear of the child first, expressed through rhythm and singing. They learn simple tunes based on limited numbers of notes, and then through these learn the pitches of the scale. Its most well-known application is the use of hand signs to signal the notes of the scale: "do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti".

Children with a substantial grounding in it usually progress much quicker when they start instrumental lessons because they already have an idea in their head of the sound they are trying to make. It's like the difference between learning literacy in your own native language that you've already soaked up naturally by ear, and learning a completely new language where you have to learn what the words are and how they're spelt at the same time.

maggiethecat Mon 10-Oct-11 11:56:31

I never knew anything about it until nursery music teacher suggested that we try to help dd1's aural development. Looked at Suzuki but could not fit it in and so I stumbled on Kodaly.

Dd's teacher like you Confidence is passionate about it to the extent that she is very critical of people whom she thinks are flying under the Kodaly banner but who do not really appreciate or implement what his objectives were.

I just smile when she rants because my knowledge is superficial but I certainly have seen the results of good aural training.

We've just moved and dd2 (5yo) has started a weekend Kodaly class and I have sat in on 2 lessons. I must say that it feels like just singing children's songs at the moment. The focus which you mention Confidence on, say, a few basic notes, pitches of the scale, hand signs - none of these have been done yet although it is supposed to be the advanced (year 2) class.

It's early days so I will give it a chance to see how the teaching is being developed. It's possible that I may have to accept that dd2 will not get Koday training and just allow her to enjoy a singing class.

confidence Mon 10-Oct-11 22:04:05

We've just moved and dd2 (5yo) has started a weekend Kodaly class and I have sat in on 2 lessons. I must say that it feels like just singing children's songs at the moment. The focus which you mention Confidence on, say, a few basic notes, pitches of the scale, hand signs - none of these have been done yet although it is supposed to be the advanced (year 2) class.

By all means speak to the teacher for clarification. But bear in mind that's it's absolute normal, in fact it's essential to the method, that children spend at least a year - often several - learning songs without any apparent formal training first.

The whole essence of Kodaly is that "doing precedes understanding". So those childrens' songs will have recurrent sets of notes in them that the kids gradually learn to zero in on and sing more in tune without really thinking about it. When the teacher introduces the first elements of solf-fa in year 2, the kids will just naturally "get" them, because they've been singing them all the time without knowing that's what they were. But they have to be able to hear the relationship between the pitches easily in their heads, before teaching them the names is meaningful. The point is that they're not just learning the intellectual logic of a set of names; they're learning to attach names to an inner concept of sounds.

This is, as Kodaly described, just like learning your native language. When you go to school and they teach you to read using phonics and words, you're not just learning the letters and words as new, isolated, intellectual "things". You learn that "d", "o" and "g" represent physical sounds that you already know and take for granted, and that "dog" represents the happy little friend who greets you when you get home from school every day. This is radically different, and much deeper, than old-style instrumental teaching from scratch where you just learn each note as representing a finger position on the instrument.

LOL. I probably sound like your DD's teacher.

maggiethecat Mon 10-Oct-11 22:50:34

You do - a bit like dd1's old teacher (dd1 is 8 and now that we've moved no longer has Kodaly but has had the privilege of having it).

The jury is still out on what's happening in 5 yo dd2's class and whether the method is being practised - we'll see in time.

But I must say when I would sit in on dd1's old class it was beautiful to watch and hear young children learn this language in a way that seems so natural.

falasportugues Fri 14-Oct-11 18:39:10

waiting for British Kodaly Academy to get back to me re my query.... sounds like just what I'm looking for for my dds. I hope there is a practitioner in the Tyne and Wear area. How recognised is it as a methodology in schools?

confidence Fri 14-Oct-11 22:20:07

In schools, pretty rare. Certainly not part of the National Curriculum or even in accordance with its priorities. It takes a certain level of musical expertise to teach it so most primary schools that only have a generalist class teacher as music coordinator won't be doing anything like it; they just be following schemes that tick the boxes of the NC.

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