How to Find the Right Piano Teacher, and Why You Should Choose Me

Hopefully, by now, you've come to a conclusion about how having a teacher is a superior experience to self-guided learning. If you're still on the fence, be sure to read my previous article. 

If you know for sure that you want a private piano teacher. How do you find one that's "the one"...or, at least, the right one?

Well, first of all, understand that every teacher is different. Not only do they have different skill levels, but they have different personalities and philosophies about how they teach, and different levels of experience. And all of these factors come together to influence a teacher's overarching goal (or goals?) for their students, which can vary widely. When looking for piano lessons, I recommend talking with your prospective teacher about each of these different areas, rather than just price shopping. 

Skill Level

Not every great performer teaches and this is often because they are busy performing. It can also be because many great performers are not necessarily even good teachers. If you have your eye on a particular teacher that you admire because you saw them perform on stage or on YouTube and were impressed, don't make the mistake of assuming that they will also be a good teacher. Music instruction is quite a bit of an art itself, and I have known many teachers who actually perform quite well, but admit flat out that they are not only less skilled at teaching, but actually do not even enjoy it! In contrast, I also know some teachers who are absolute masters of communication and they have a proven history of results where their students are concerned, but they do shine as performers.

Where do I fit into this mix? Well, I used to fancy myself a performing artist, but these days I really identify more with being a music creator. I love making music, and I can perform quite well, especially when called upon to "show off" something I've written. You can hear some of my compositions on the My Music page of my website and even see videos of me performing on my YouTube channel

As for teaching, my skill level is best represented by the results and testimony of my students and their families, which you can see a sample of on the Results and Testimonials page of my website.

Personality & Philosophy

Every great performer, composer, or teacher you have ever known was great, not only because of their music, but because of the way their music is tied to their personality and personal belief system. I'm not talking about political activism and Christian rock bands here, although that is probably another potential example. What I really mean is that artists and musicians are...well, people. People pursue and attach themselves to the things that they believe are important. Our values are reflected in everything from what we buy to what we say, and how we say it. It is very difficult for a musician to spend countless hours perfecting their craft without first having some underlying belief or value that motivates them to continue practicing. And although music itself can be it's own reward, creating music and performing music is ultimately an act of very personal self-expression.

It's no different for piano teachers. We pass on a particular skill-set - tools and strategies that we believe are the best way for our students to follow in our footsteps. And right there, you see I used the word "believe." There are innumerable teaching methods and a (sadly) unquantified amount of independent teachers giving voice to their own way of doing things. And every one of them will tell you why they believe their way is better or more effective than someone else's method. My recommendation to every student or parent is to ask their teacher about this belief - what I call a teaching philosophy.

I think it's useful to know that not all teachers have articulated their philosophy, even if everything they do is being shaped by it. But the ones that have really thought about it will gladly share with you. It is a student's task to determine whether they also believe that philosophy. Challenge their belief and ask them why they use the method that they do. What evidence or proof do they have that their way of teaching works? This is a good time to ask for references from other students.

If you believe your teacher and you feel a natural acceptance of their way of teaching, then the next question to ask is how you feel about them personally. You are going to be spending a lot of time together. The teacher-student relationship requires trust and commitment from both parties. So getting along with your teacher, liking your teacher, and enjoying that time together is of paramount importance. 

So what exactly is my own teaching philosophy? You can see all the details about this, the method I use, and proven results I achieve by visiting the About Me page on my teaching website. 

As for personality, I'm hoping you'll get a sense of that by reading this blog. But for a more in-depth perspective, feel free to contact me directly, or schedule a FREE INTRODUCTORY SESSION. This way, you can speak to me in person, ask me questions, and get a much better sense of who I am.

Experience

A teacher's skill level is almost always supported by their experience actually teaching the subject. Regardless of a particular person's aptitude or predisposition toward teaching as a profession, it takes months and years to develop and master the nuances of organization, communication, presentation, and successful interaction with students, parents, and colleagues.

I acquired much of my interest and general teaching skills at an early age (12-14 years old) by assisting my Taekwondo instructors at a martial arts "dojang" (studio). The instructors I emulated were Marines. Some were even former drill sergeants. They brought a commanding, powerful, energetic, dynamic, and charismatic presence to their teaching style. They knew how to balance discipline with genuinely positive encouragement, and I did my best to keep that tradition and style of instruction. If nothing else, I learned through the process that I actually loved teaching. 

 Black Belt

Black Belt

 Red Belt with my Instructor, Bruce McGhee

Red Belt with my Instructor, Bruce McGhee

Later, as I continued to advance as a serious pianist in high school, I taught privately during summers to earn extra money...but also to continue getting better at teaching itself. In college, I took actual pedagogy courses and learned not only about how to teach piano, but about human development, child psychology, and the importance of good organization as a professional teacher. I continued my learning outside the classroom as well, by working at a well-known and successful local piano studio as an assistant. This is where I first started to learn more about the connection between teaching and business. The studio owner was more than just a "piano teacher." He was a savvy entrepreneur with innovative ideas about how to teach piano in a world where classical music was just one style in a pool of other genres the public wanted to play. 

 Performing on stage with my band, circa 2009

Performing on stage with my band, circa 2009

After college, I spent some time pursuing the recording and performing side of music a bit more before returning to teaching full-time. When I did, I started looking more closely at music methods and became very interested in pedagogy in particular. I wanted to offer my students something different, something unique, and, more importantly, something effective.

While I pursued further training and development, I discovered an explosion of new teaching methods, thanks to recent scientific developments in the fields of education, psychology, and neurology. Despite this, I felt that something was lacking in the curriculum being offered to most teachers. I started to explore how to develop my own method, which would be based more on a combination of ear-training, theory, and pattern recognition. As I did more research, I came across an existing piano method called Simply Music. I quickly realized that contained within this program were all of the elements and ingredients that I was attempting to implement: pattern recognition, playing-based learning, chords and accompaniment, etc. Why reinvent the wheel? So, in the Summer of 2016, I started training to become a licensed Simply Music teacher. I completed the initial training in October 2016 and continue to actively pursue additional training and development in this exciting new approach.

Theoretical training and research is one thing. Application is another. So, I have been implementing this new program into my studio over the past year, testing its application in the real world. Along the way, I have had numerous conversations and discussions with students and parents as we have undertaken this new journey together. I can confidently say that this way of teaching is unparalleled, not only in the results manifested in students, but in the quality of teacher training itself. With the help of this training and other resources, I intend to always stay on the cutting edge and pursue new and innovative ways to make my teaching more effective, and ultimately help my students reach new heights.

Goals

While many teachers do not express what their goals are for their students, it is helpful to know what piano teachers are striving for. Do they want to create carbon copies of themselves?..the next Lang Lang?..or the next Elton John? Are they aiming to make you a pianist, or a composer, or a music producer? Maybe they're open to whatever goal you have in mind and they let their students determine the course of training. Whatever the goal, it is important to find out what your teacher has in mind for you. After all, it's your future. Shouldn't you have some say about it? 

While I think that many of today's teachers are moving away from a traditional approach, there are still a staggering number of piano teachers whose unstated objective is to develop every student into an adult, concert-level performance artist! And this goal, however lofty or appealing to some, is at the very least, misguided, and, at the worst, incredibly damaging to whole populations of would-be musicians. 

My teaching philosophy, based on the premise that EVERYONE IS MUSICAL, is tied very closely to the goals I have for my students, and those goals are quite contrary to the view outlined above.

My overarching goal for every student is to maximize the likelihood that they acquire and retain music as a lifelong companion.

And in order to do that, I have to shape everything I do and say and teach to conform to this end. That includes:

  1. Designing the environment and conditions for students to experience playing the piano as a natural form of self-expression
  2. Creating a path for them to learn a broad variety of quality musical repertoire in a range of different styles
  3. Accessing and encouraging every person's innate human creative potential to the point where even their learning becomes "self-generative," allowing them to continue progressing independently
  4. Making the entire process a highly positive and self-affirming experience.

So there you have it. If, after reading this, you are convinced that my skills and experience are enough to qualify me as your teacher; and my teaching philosophy and goals resonate with you in a positive way, then you and I should talk.

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