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#1051594 - 11/17/08 11:36 PM Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
princeton3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/17/08
Posts: 26
Loc: Spotsylvania, Virginia
Hello all,

This is my very first post and I must say, these forums are the best - great information covering virtually every topic involving pianos.

So here is my question: I am evaluating several piano teachers here in my area (adult beginner-with some experience playing as a child). This past weekend, I had the opportunity to "interview" one instructor who stated that she had been teaching piano for 30 years but that she stopped playing for a while to raise her children. She stated that now that her children are all grown and out of the nest that she has gotten back to teaching full-time. I got the impression that she had been back teaching several years now. Anyway, at the end of the meeting I asked her to play something for me and she asked what I wanted her to play. I told her "anything" would be fine. She grabbed some of her sheet music that she had for upcoming accompaniments (church choir and some other kids' band) and proceeded to play a few songs. First, I found it strange that she could not play a single song from memory. Is this customary for someone who claims to have taught for so long? She indicated that because she does a lot of accompany work that she doesn't have the time nor the interest in memorizing songs. Sounds plausible. She also attempted to play a well-known Beethoven song and couldn't remember the song. Second, she attempted to play several songs but continuously hit the wrong key every time she played. I got the feeling she was embarrassed by how she was playing. Is this normal? I would think someone with this much experience could play at least part of a song without hitting the wrong keys continuously. I really liked her on a personal level and think she is right for me but I have concerns about her playing ability. Is this fair? She provides lessons in a studio in a piano store and was attempting to play a new Steinway for the first time and according to her, the piano was not very responsive and was very heavy - hence she was not used to the feel. I did happen to hear one of her students play before their session ended and I thought the student sounded pretty good but I have no idea how long the person's been studying with her, etc.

I am considering 2-3 other teachers but really liked this one's personality. I haven't met the others as yet. What should I do?

Thank you for your help.
_________________________
Princeton3

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#1051595 - 11/17/08 11:40 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
princeton3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/17/08
Posts: 26
Loc: Spotsylvania, Virginia
Sorry...posted twice by accident. How do I delete one?
_________________________
Princeton3

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#1051596 - 11/18/08 12:18 AM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
AnthonyB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/28/07
Posts: 661
Loc: Center City, MN
Obviously you can't compare this teacher to the others whom you have not met yet.

I'm not sure someone has to be accurate with sight reading and playing a song in order to teach. If you get along and she can teach you technique and guide your playing then that might be good enough.

I personally don't have much else to say on the subject since I don't have a teacher but I mainly wanted to say that you should likely check the others out. Face it, you don't but the first piano you sit down to play and finding a teacher should work the same way.
_________________________
Roland FP-7 / Pianoteq 4.5.1


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#1051597 - 11/18/08 12:48 AM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
if a teacher cannot play anything well, then find another one. she obviously gets very rusty in piano playing, which means she cannot even demonstrate much to you when you're having trouble with some music.

personality is something you should consider only after you know the teacher is competent first. i would interview other teachers before choosing one.

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#1051598 - 11/18/08 03:07 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
ChristinaW Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/04
Posts: 153
Loc: Washington DC
I don't think it's normal for any teacher to not be able to play something decently. That would suggest they never play the piano. It doesn't have anything to do with not having taught a while, etc. Look elsewhere, sounds like she doesn't know what she is doing, never plays the piano, and isn't qualified to teach it, therefore (IMO). I would never take lessons from someone who cannot play. If they can't play themself, that means they don't enjoy playing, probably. Also, to tell you the truth, I think that anyone at the level who has the nerve to teach lessons should be able to play something by sightreading and have it sound decent, even if not note-perfect.

However, I don't know why you are being so critical about not being able to play from memory or an occasional wrong note, so it's hard to say. Why do you care if they play something from memory? Maybe they aren't in the performing mode lately.

I suspect she wasn't playing a Beethoven song, but a composition of some kind, and perhaps you are not aware of what a song is -- which is something with words that one sings.

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#1051599 - 11/18/08 03:27 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11846
Loc: Canada
I am interested in part of this:
 Quote:
Anyway, at the end of the meeting I asked her to play something for me and she asked what I wanted her to play.
You have written about her playing for you. But you want her to teach you, not perform for you. You wrote "at the end of the meeting" but what happened at the meeting might be the important part.

Did she tell you what she would like to teach you, what her goals and expectations would be, what type of teaching material she uses, her approach? Your first interest is to be taught, and the person who will end up playing well is you. Do you know what your own goals are, why you want to take lessons, and were you able to communicate this to her?

Many musicians sight read and it is an important thing to be able to do.
 Quote:
... but continuously hit the wrong key every time she played
This maybe sounds less good. (?)

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#1051600 - 11/18/08 03:33 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
Kymber Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/25/08
Posts: 1348
Loc: MA
Hmm this is tricky. She could just be rusty if it's been a long time since she's REALLY played. I know many musicians who don't memorize music and true a pianos action feel that way. That doesn't necesarily mean she is not a good teacher. Personality can be important in some cases. If you get a teacher you clash with then you will hate going to your lessons.

However, I have always found that when I question something I am questioning it for a reason. If it was me I would take that as a sign that she is not the right teacher for me, even if she is nice. Check out a few more until you find the one who's personality you like and who you are not left wondering about. The one that leaves you thinking- yes this is the teacher for me. I recently went through this myself btw...
Gool luck \:\)
_________________________
“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
― Bruce Lee

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#1051601 - 11/18/08 03:40 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
Kymber Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/25/08
Posts: 1348
Loc: MA
Oh yeah and WELCOME! \:\)
_________________________
“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
― Bruce Lee

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#1051602 - 11/18/08 03:42 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11846
Loc: Canada
Ditto. ;\)

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#1051603 - 11/18/08 05:15 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada
Well surprisingly I think teachers can get nervous when a student asks them to play something. It's kind of endearing and nice to realize that they are human afterall..

I wouldn't judge this teacher on her playing this one time.

I know my teacher can be perhaps a little embarassed if he plays a piece I'm working on or about to work on and makes mistakes. He's probably not played it in 30 years!!!

Busy accompanists are required to sightread constantly and required to focus so much on the music (not just the piano parts either) and required to play so much different music that they don't have time to devote to any one piece. Maintaining a polished repertoire would be difficult I'm guessing.

Having said that....gut feeling is very important.
_________________________
It's the journey not the destination..

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#1051604 - 11/18/08 06:35 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
saerra Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/28/07
Posts: 842
Loc: Atlanta, GA
Hi Princeton3, and welcome to the forums \:\)

At this point, you don't have anything to lose by talking to the other teachers, do you? So why not go ahead and at least talk to them, just so you have some points of reference?

Who knows, maybe you'll find that one of the others also has alot of experience, is a great personality match, AND is actually inspiring in their playing too! ;\)

I saw you posted on the teacher's forum too about this... I've seen this come up a couple of times there - can you be a great teacher, but not a great player. It's a bit of a can of worms ;\)

I can understand (sort of) logically how it might be possible... but... I think that one of the things that happens in lessons, besides the explicit teaching that we see, is an unconscious learning - of attitudes for example.

For example, my teacher clearly LOVES playing music. If he's on the bench, and I have a question about something that's not assigned, and I open the book to show him - he'll play it. He's actually unstoppable in this regard ;\) If I bring in music to ask him about, he'll play it for me, even if it's something he's never seen before. If I am trying to compose something - he can take my tiny little hint of an idea, and on the fly, play it in several different styles to give me an idea of where it might go...

I think the unconscious message - "piano is FUN!" is a great thing ;\)

If instead I had a teacher who sighed heavily when I brought in music, scrunched up their face at my compositions and stumbled painfully through them, and overall didn't seem to want to be near the piano - I think the message would be, "piano is tedious, boring, etc...".

I don't know if other people react to these types of things, but I know that I do.

Similarly, when you said the teacher was embarrassed about the mistakes - I understand that they're human, but... in contrast, my teacher plays through them and rarely shows any acknowledgement (hmmm if he makes mistakes, he says he does, I don't think I'm good enough to catch them yet!) - I think this is great modeling of how to behave when we're playing (again, something that one could unconsciously pick up on).

So, as a role model for my own playing, I'd much rather have a teacher who is eager and happy to try out new music, not afraid or apologetic about mistakes, and who's playing inspires me...

Anyway, as I said, you don't really lose out by talking to the other teachers, so why not at least see what they can offer, so you have a frame of references - rather than trying to decide right away if this is the right teacher for you...

Good luck, and welcome again \:\)

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#1051605 - 11/18/08 07:28 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
ProdigalPianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
The best judge of how well someone teaches piano is generally in their students. Listen to their students play, that will tell you how good a teacher they are. Some wonderful players may be poor teachers.

Accompanists don't memorize their piano parts, as a rule, nor do pianists in ensembles, so I wouldn't worry too much about the memorization part.

If she could not play the pieces she was accompanying well, that could be worrisome, but it's all about context (how long has she been working on them, etc).

My teacher is a PhD student in piano performance, she can PLAY...but more than once, when we have been working on a piece together (something she played 15-20 years ago but has not worked on since) she will say, "you can play this better than I can right now"...of course if she worked on it a bit she'd kick my butt ;\) but there are minor wrong notes in her demonstrations (not her technique!).

It's hard to really know from a verbal description on an internet forum...it's just something you have to feel out for yourself. I've had bad experiences with teachers before so this time around I wanted someone with an advanced degree. I understand how important it is to pick the right teacher. Hang in there and keep us posted.
_________________________
Adult Amateur Pianist

My only domestic quality is that I live in a house.

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#1051606 - 11/18/08 07:53 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
MarkL Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/07
Posts: 728
Loc: Chicago Suburban
Some great pianists are really bad teachers, so I'd look for a combination of both skills. Buying the teacher is more important than buying the piano, try them and move on if it doesn't work. You never know how you'll find the great ones. I was fortunate to find a retired concert pianist and music professor who happened to move to our area after leaving the city. When I went to his house the first time and he played for me I had tears in my eyes. Why not take lessons from someone that can really inspire you if you're going to spend the money anyway.
_________________________
Yamaha P90

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#1051607 - 11/18/08 11:57 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
princeton3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/17/08
Posts: 26
Loc: Spotsylvania, Virginia
Thank you for all of your help! I had the opportunity to "interview" a second instructor today who was able to play 2-3 pieces for me at the end of the interview. While I wasn't particularly impressed with her playing abilities, I did appreciate the fact that she actually knew enough material to actually accommodate me, and played them without mistake after mistake. I left her house feeling a bit better but still undecided. Nevertheless, when I arrived home I told my wife about my latest experience and she suggested that I talk to a new neighbor that lives diagonally across the street from us. She reminded me that on Halloween he was playing creepy sounds on his piano when we approached his home. Well, I went over there today and asked him if he knew anyone who taught piano and explained the Halloween story to him as we had not previously formally met. He informed me that he has been playing the piano for 11 years and has taught roughly 50 students from time to time (some he only taught songs to and others he taught structured lessons). Anyway, he invited me in and we talked and he offered to teach me how to play. I did not have to ask him to play anything. He simply sat down at the piano and went to work!! He played and played and played bits and pieces of all types of music. I was amazed at his abilities and especially impressed at what he said he could teach me, and if its anywhere close to what he can do I'll be happy. I think being able to show one what your talents are is very important - especially on something like the piano; the bottom line really became clear upon hearing and seeing this new person play. In terms of confidence in the teacher and making comparisons, it makes a huge difference. And nothing he played was a concert masterpiece but it was certainly enough to allow me to judge his talents as a player. Whether he turns out to be a good instructor only time will tell. But at least I know he can really play. Thanks again everyone!!
_________________________
Princeton3

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#1051608 - 11/19/08 12:10 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
Kymber Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/25/08
Posts: 1348
Loc: MA
Princeton3

That's great! I love that he was playing scary music on Halloween. Sounds like you will have a lot of fun with this teacher.

Keep us updated.
_________________________
“The doubters said, "Man cannot fly," The doers said, "Maybe, but we'll try,"
And finally soared in the morning glow while non-believers watched from below.”
― Bruce Lee

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#1051609 - 11/19/08 06:30 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
MarkL Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/07
Posts: 728
Loc: Chicago Suburban
 Quote:
Originally posted by princeton3:
...a new neighbor that lives diagonally across the street from us [/b]
You can stay in your pajamas for your lesson, just open the window and play really loud. Sounds like a winner.
_________________________
Yamaha P90

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#1051610 - 11/20/08 11:31 PM Re: Assistance Evaluating a Potential Teacher
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
congratulations on finding a good teacher and a good pianist! your teacher sounds like my teacher, who impressed me with his playing at my very first few lessons with him. when a teacher is that good, you just couldn't help thinking that you'd become good as well. if my teacher couldn't play well himself, i would doubt i would have had stayed with him for more than a couple of lessons. it's exactly 3 years ago when i had my first lesson.

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