Finding a good piano teacher in Portland, Oregon (or anywhere, for that matter!) can be as important a decision as choosing a therapist or auto mechanic. A relationship with a piano teacher may outlast your car (and thus your mechanic) and (at least if you’re lucky) will outlast your relationship with your therapist. Take the time to qualify the best teachers for your age, your musical experience (if any), and your musical objectives. In this post, “you” means the student, whether that’s you or your child.
- Articulate Your Goals. Articulate your musical goals so you can communicate them to prospective teachers effectively. Are there certain musical or pianistic skills you want to develop? Musical styles you want to play? What draws you to the piano in the first place?
- What Is Their Teaching Experience? While having at least a few years of teaching experience is an auspicious sign, it’s entirely possible to find teachers with less experience who are enthusiastic and excellent, and teachers with decades of experience who are burned out or stuck using outworn methods. Length of teaching experience is less important than the teacher’s communication skills, the chemistry between you, their ability to impart essential knowledge and skills to students at your level, their interest in you as a unique learner, and their enthusiasm for teaching. After two or three lessons, you should know if they meet these criteria.
- Do They Teach a Breadth of Musical Skills? Because the piano is fundamental to so many styles of music, and one of the most practical instruments for composing, understanding musical theory, and working with other musicians, more higher-level musical skills are expected of pianists than most other instrumentalists. Being a musician is a much higher thing than just being a pianist. Will you have the opportunity to develop your musical ear? To learn and understand harmony (chords)? To develop exacting and exciting rhythmical skills? To learn to read music, or improve your reading ability? To learn to play by ear? To learn to improvise or compose? You may not be interested in all (or any) of these skills now, but a good teacher will impress upon you the importance of learning some of them. As one example, consider that a good pianist with a poor ear (and there are unfortunately too many of these!) is a much less proficient and versatile musician, and will make much slower progress, than one with a good ear.
- Are They A Good Player? Naturally, a good teacher should be a good player. On the other hand, not all good players are good teachers. Your teacher should have a level of proficiency that minimally surpasses yours by a good 5 to 10 years of intensive study.
- Have They Been Trained or Mentored as a Teacher? Many piano teachers have little or no specific training as a teacher, and many (if not most) have never been mentored to teach by their own teachers. Granted, this is also true of many college professors. This doesn’t mean such a teacher won’t be a good teacher, though it’s more likely they won’t be. Training or mentorship in teaching helps teachers learn how to more effectively convey information and develop their students’ skills. Such training may also mean that they are more organized and thorough in their approach.
- What Styles Do They Teach Best? You may want to ask this question before you tell a teacher what styles you want to learn. Not all teachers can teach multiple styles equally well, though some can. (In fact, it is often well-rounded musicians with a mastery of multiple styles that make the best and most interesting teachers.) If you’re a beginner, this question is less important, as learning a distinct piano style typically requires a minimum level of skill that takes some time to develop.
- How Will You Teach Me? A good teacher may offer some general ideas in response to this question. But they should also explain that they can’t give a complete answer until they get to know you and your musical objectives, strengths and weaknesses.
- Is It About You Or Them? Is the teacher interested in you and your goals, or do they mostly talk about themselves? Your first conversation with them is a taste of what lessons might be like.
- What Do They Charge? Like most professionals, better teachers generally charge higher rates. Those who charge low rates often have less experience or are lacking in confidence. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean the highest-priced teacher is necessarily the best teacher for your needs, musical objectives, and learning style. The most important equation is value – are you getting good educational value for your money? You will know this after a few lessons.
- Other Questions. Depending on your personal circumstances, you might also ask:
- Do you like to teach beginners?
- Do you like to teach adults (or teens, kids, etc.)?
- How do you teach adults differently than kids (or vice versa, etc.)?
- What is your primary goal as a teacher?
- What method(s) do you use? Why?
- How customized are the lessons to my goals?
After you’ve narrowed your list down to two or three teachers, schedule a lesson with each one. At the end of the lesson, consider your rapport with the teacher as a person and with their style of teaching. Ask yourself: Did I enjoy the lesson? What did I learn? Would I look forward to another lesson with this teacher?