How to search for a compatible teacher

Posted by: apple*

How to search for a compatible teacher - 06/27/04 11:12 AM

How have other members found a teacher? How does one politely choose among many? Do you pay for a consultation? Is it gauche to offer parameters other than the teacher's normal ones? Have any of you done trial bases?
Posted by: sleepingcats

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 06/27/04 11:53 AM

Hello apple,

Last December when I was doing my first search (after a 25 year gap), I looked in the newspaper, phone book and the Music Teacher's Association website. Also a local store had a website with a link to local teachers. I called many, and met with 9 teachers, 2 of whom charged me for the meeting ($20). I told each teacher that I was interviewing many because I wanted to find one I felt most compatible with, and they all fully understood and thought it was a great idea to meet with several, so when I notified those I decided against, they were all fine with it. Some didn't have time slots that worked well for me anyway. Oh, the other option is the piano teaching staff at a nearby university or community college who also teach privately.

I ended up taking lessons with 3 teachers at the same time(!) for a month to see how I liked their style. They each had such a unique style/approach/materials used, but I ended up with the more traditional style since I was beginning all over again - she's worked out pretty well. However, I have been searching for a new teacher who is more advanced and can teach me more theory and technique rather than just learn piece after piece. I've just recently called 5 teachers and specifically mentioned I wanted to learn more theory - one told me flat out that she would not be appropriate, but the others all have more extensive theory knowlegde and understand the concepts I explained I want to pursue. They were actually pleasantly surprised that I wanted theory. I also explained that I wanted someone who had experience with adults.

As I mentioned in the Adult Beginner Forum, I just met with a prospective teacher yesterday who teaches on a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand. He was recommended by a piano technician. I will be meeting with 2 others in the next couple of days. One has 2 grands side by side, one for herself while the student is on the other one.
That should be interesting.

sleepingcats
Posted by: teachum

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 06/27/04 12:04 PM

My first teacher had two Steinways side by side at one of her locations and it's great! Both of my "good" teachers have fallen in my path - I believe it's the old truism of "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" But if that doesn't happen I think interviewing and being very specific about what you want to learn and not committing to someone on a long-term basis is very appropriate. If someone isn't right - search elsewhere. Don't get caught in the old "hairdresser envy syndrome." That's when you see someone doing hair in the salon you go to that you think is better than the one you are seeing, but you don't switch because you don't want to hurt their feelings. \:\)
Posted by: mykinator

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 06/27/04 05:58 PM

The short version: All my teachers have been referred to by either a friend or another teacher.

The long version:

so far I have had five teachers...

Teacher 1: first started taking piano lessons as blowoff credit for High School. Fell in love with piano. Teacher (forgot her name) was very nice and encouraging but very little in terms of educating us. So, my parents found a private teacher for me, teacher #2...

Teacher 2: my first private teacher, Mrs Zhou. In our town she was considered the most popular teacher, my parents had friends who knew her personally, all her students liked her because she let them play pretty much whatever they wanted. Unfortunately, she didn't do much in the way of turning us into educated and capable musicians. However I learned a great deal of music theory with her. Anyhoo, I took lessons with Mrs. Zhou til I graduated HS.

Teacher 3: Spent a summer in China, my dad knew a friend who was majoring in piano performance at a Beijing music school so he referred me, Ms. Jing. Too bad that Ms. Jing was 24 and, while a good pianist, a horrible teacher. I'm glad lessons were only for one summer.

Teacher 4: Didn't take lessons all through college, in fact I didn't really play the piano much. During my senior-year internship, my girlfriend at the time and I broke up. I missed her a lot and decided to start taking piano lessons again to pass the time and reminisce. Lucky for me, one of my coworkers, Neil, was taking lessons with Mrs. Mechelke. I jumped on board. Mrs. Mechelke was much more take-charge than Mrs. Zhou, she grew my understanding of music as an art form and she developed my technical abilities quite a bit. She used to make me listen to various recordings by different pianists and review differences among them, this helped build a critical ear for music. Unfortunately she lives 40 miles away so I decided to look for a shorter commute. Mrs. Mechelke recommended me to Mr. Sipes (in fact, who was her teacher) ...

Teacher 5: Mr. Sipes. My favorite teacher :-) Mr. Sipes used to be an amazing performer and accompanist, I believe he has recorded music in the past. Anyhoo, he started teaching and won a few awards as a teacher and he's stayed teacher ever since. Mr. Sipes says only a few words during a lesson but the words he says are like pieces to a puzzle ... oftentimes I find myself thinking about his words on the drive home - I piece together the puzzle, so to say. It's amazing how four or five comments on a piece is enough to transform from mediocre to incredible. It also helps that Mr. Sipes is a great pianist because I know when I progress to the Liszt's and to piano concertos that he'll be there to show me how he played a particular piece way back when he was younger.
Posted by: Cindysphinx

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/01/04 07:19 AM

Add me to those who found a teacher by word of mouth. I just picked up the phone and asked a parent I knew from my kids' school, figuring if I thought the parent had good judgment about other things that they would have good judgment about this. Her kids didn't play, but she knew a few parents with kids who did play. I kept calling parents and the teachers they recommended.

I thought this was a great way to find a piano teacher because I could ask a *lot* of questions of the parents, who were more experienced at this than I was. Like price and other things that are a bit awkward to raise.
Posted by: pianojuggler

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/01/04 10:21 PM

I tried shopping by price. I started lessons at a storefront music school, but the young woman who was to be my teacher had NO experience teaching and I couldn't hear the piano I was trying to play (a tired old Baldwin) over the din of a kid on the other side of the wall who was murdering a saxophone.

I interviewed a couple of other teachers looking for one who had experience with adult beginners. I found a wonderful woman just a couple of miles from my home through www.musicstaff.com

I would insist on an interview and a sample lesson. I'm ambivalent whether a teacher should charge for this. I suppose a very good teacher needs to charge to cover his or her time, and to filter out the non-serious students. If I really clicked with someone, I would not begrudge the $20 to pay for their time to audition. OTOH, many lawyers will give you a half an hour of their time to evaluate your potential clienthood.

Like anything, ask around. A lot. But also spend a little introspective time and decide what you want out of a teacher, what you want out of your piano playing, what your learning style is, and so forth so you know what questions to ask, and you have thought about answers to the questions a prospective teacher will ask you.
Posted by: piqué

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/02/04 12:05 AM

i wasn't so lucky with my first three teachers. i don't remember how i found my very first one, probably word of mouth. she was a great person and we became friends and stayed friends long after my lessons with her ended, but she didn't know how to teach me the basics. she was more familiar with teaching children.

my second and third teachers were world-touring concert artists and took very little interest in my progress. it was discouraging. they were only teaching as a way to build their careers, the main focus in their lives was their own concert careers. i don't recommend such a teacher for an adult beginner! i studied with them in the adult division of a conservatory, so i found them by signing up for piano lessons at the conservatory.

my fourth and fifth teachers i found by consulting with the chair of the keyboard department of the music school at our local university. the chair of the department had me come in for an interview, listened to me play, and then assigned me to study with one of her graduate students.

when that graduate student got her master's degree and moved away, she recommended me to the woman who had taught her all through high school, and that is who i am with to this day. she is the best teacher i have ever had.

if there is a music school/conservatory/university music department anywhere in your vicinity, i would begin by contacting the keyboard department chair and asking for a referral. they may evaluate your needs and your abioities and be able to find a good fit for you in the community.

my current teacher did go on sabbatical for a year, and i interviewed several teachers i heard about from word of mouth as her temporary replacement. i went to meet wth them on a free consultation to see if it was a good fit. i highly recommend doing this preliminary interview where you check each other out. usually you can tell right away if it's a good personality and musical fit. i've never had to pay for any such interviews.

you can also study with someone on a probationary basis for a month or two, to see if it will work out. they shouldn't be offended if you decided they aren't the right teacher for them.

a good teacher is much harder to find than a good piano, and can deeply affect the way you feel about playing the piano, so shop for a teacher wisely!
Posted by: Phlebas

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/02/04 11:05 AM

Hi Apple,

I meant to answer this ages ago. I was too busy taking stars away from you, though. ;\)

It's very important to try to get a good match. The first step is taking a good look at your piano "self." What areas do you want to improve - add more repertoire, develop practice habits, improve technique, learn how to improvise, improve sightreading - what have you played, what can you play, what are your areas of improvement - as perceived by yourself and others.
With that scetched out, you can discuss this more with the prospective teachers in a consultation, which - btw - is important.

From your consultation you can better determine if the areas you want to focus on are areas s/he has an interest in teaching, and is able to teach. For example, you might want to focus on improvising, but the teacher you're considering can't improvise at all.

I've had five different teachers. Two were not compatible with me. My current teacher is great. Unfortunately, she just got a Fullbright to study with a well known pianist/teacher in France for a year, so I'm in the same boat.

One option I have is the Evening division at Juilliard. They have weekly masterclasses, with groups of about six pianists. This would be a different experience because it would force me to play in front of people, which I haven't done in about 15 years.

Another option is looking for another private teacher for that year. There are a few teachers in NYC that are influenced by the Abby Whiteside "school" of teaching/playing, and that might be interesting to imerse myself in for a year.
Posted by: devils4ever

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/03/04 01:28 PM

pianojuggler,

That's a coincidence. I found my current teacher on musicstaff too. Turns out he was less than 1/4 mile away. Great musician and pianist. Took my first lesson this week. It was very humbling. Seems like I need to back up to move forward!

He wanted to meet me first before signing me up for lessons. So, we met for about 40 minutes. I played about 20 seconds for him. That's all he needed to assess my level.
Posted by: Liesle

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/06/04 07:01 AM

This thread is timely. I have an upcoming interview with a person who might be a promising teacher on July 15th. The only person in my town who is a musician plays jazz/improvisational stuff. He teaches his way which is not mine.

I have to drive 50 minutes into the St. Louis area to reach her. I am excited and nervous. I haven't studied with anyone for several years. I have always focused on classical study, but am willing to expand my scope just to be able to work with someone. Has anyone studied other types of playing?

She teaches children mostly, but records, composes and arranges.
Posted by: devils4ever

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/06/04 07:35 AM

liesle,

I learned classical piano only my first time around and I'm looking forward to learning other styles. I'll be learning blues, jazz, pop/rock, showtunes, etc.

I get very nervous playing for anyone especially my teacher. But, I think he understands that. My new teacher tries to calm me down by saying, "You're not performing for me."
Posted by: Mikester

Re: How to search for a compatible teacher - 07/06/04 09:42 AM

It's very natural to get nervous performing in front of teacher. Oftentimes I don't play as well in front of teacher as I do at home. I don't worry about it. I would rather play worse in front of teacher and get more criticism than play well in front of teacher and miss some of the criticisms that would have made me better.