My child is only a beginner. Will a teacher who can only teach beginners be good enough for us?

It is especially because your child is a beginner that you need to find the best teacher you can afford. So many beginners start with inexperienced or insufficiently qualified teachers, that they form bad habits which become very difficult and in some cases impossible to correct later. Be aware when studying with teachers that teach many different instruments. Are they equally qualified and experienced in all those instruments? There is a big difference between a teacher that specializes in strings but also happens to play a little piano, versus a teacher that specializes in piano. Just because a teacher has a degree in music, does not necessarily mean they are qualified to teach every instrument they can play. In fact, the Music Teachers National Association requires a separate certification procedure for different instruments. 

 

Why do different music teachers and companies charge different rates? 

When it comes to music lessons, cost and convenience should not be the only deciding factors. Be selective when choosing a music teacher. Take a trial lesson before making a long term commitment. Be aware of music lesson companies and stores that offer lessons in your home. While they may have qualified teachers on their staff, ask for the resume of the particular teacher they are actually going to be sending you! While they may offer convenience, they usually pay their teachers only a percentage of the fees you pay. As a result there is usually a big turn over of teachers and lack of continuity for the students. Moreover, these companies (sometimes called school or academy) often pay different teachers different rates depending on qualifications and experience, yet they charge the students the same fees - you may be paying the same fees for a lesser qualified teacher than someone else and not knowing it!

Some factors you should consider when looking for a music teacher:

Sarah Gustafson and Yiyi

  • Teacher qualifications/experience: Does the teacher's qualifications and experience justify their rates? 
  • On-going professional development: Does the teacher belong to any professional organizations and receive ongoing professional development to further their skills? Professional memberships and further training add to the teacher's studio expenses, but allow the teacher to be informed with new teaching publications/strategies, recital/competition events for students, as well as networking opportunities with colleagues.
  • Studio equipment: Does the teacher teach on a good quality instrument? Is the teacher's studio equipped with a variety of teaching aids and supplements?
  • Communication: Does the teacher allow parents to stay in the room so they can observe lessons? How often does the teacher communicate with parents about studio events? Does the teacher provide verbal/written reports for students?
  • Recitals and auditions: Does the teacher provide a variety of performance/assessment opportunities?

A good teacher spends a big portion of their income on all of the above. Your tuition pays for not only the time you spend with the teacher at the teacher's studio; your teacher spends much of his/her waking moment upgrading their own skills, looking for music suitable for your current level yet provides adequate challenges, and thinking about ways to help you develop your technique and musicianship.

Music lesson is a long term commitment, and choosing the right teacher will save you money in the long run. Studying with a good music teacher will bring life-long benefits to the student. Take your time to find the right teacher! (see also blog posts Finding a Piano Teacher and The Price of Private Music Lessons)

 

Is it better to go to the teacher’s studio or have the lessons at home?

If you have other children in the family that need care, work from home, do not have transportation, then you may have no choice but to have lessons at home. However, there are many benefits for having lessons in the teacher’s studio:

  • Students usually concentrate better when they go to the teacher’s studio.
  • It is good for students to play on the teacher’s piano once every week instead of always on their own piano at home. This makes the student aware that no two instruments are the same and teaches them to adapt to different instruments. Students who have only had lessons at home usually find it much more difficult to perform in recitals or festivals where they have to play on an unfamiliar instrument and inevitably get put off. Also, most students rarely get opportunities to play on a grand piano; going to Yiyi Ku Music Studio gives students opportunities to play on a fine Kawai grand piano.
  • Going to the teacher’s studio to play for the teacher is in itself a performance experience. Musicians all know the feeling of having mastered a piece at home, only to find that something, however tiny, will always inevitably go wrong when they play the piece to others for the first time. Going to the teacher’s studio creates a practical opportunity for the student to play outside of their “familiar” environment; the more performance opportunities a student has, the more confident and experienced they become as a performer. This is immensely beneficial for preparation for auditions, competitions, examinations, and recitals.

 

Should I buy a digital piano or an acoustic piano?

The simple answer is Acoustic Piano!!!! An acoustic piano is a MUST if the student intends to make serious progress. A digital piano or keyboard is OK for beginners, but parents should consider upgrading to an acoustic piano after 6 months of study, especially if the student is interested in participating in music auditions and festivals. Do not believe it when the salesperson tells you “this digital piano does exactly the same thing as an acoustic piano”. True it may be touch sensitive and allows for a multitude of dynamics, but a digital piano can never replace the intricate, immensely sensitive, powerful, unique, soulful, most wonderful creation that we call the piano. Students who start on digital pianos and keyboards usually have difficulty later with legato (smooth) playing and controlling subtle dynamic changes. (see also Blog post Buying a Piano)

 

How long should the lessons be?

Maya Hasegawa

I started piano lessons at the age of 5, and all my lessons were never shorter than 1 hour. The hour was the absolute minimum. I understand that nowadays children are invovled in many other activities, and some families can only afford 30 minute lessons. However if the student proves to be talented and dedicated, then longer lessons are definitely worthwhile, and progress can be accelerated.

For most young beginners, 30 minutes is a good start. For adult beginners, I recommend longer lessons so they can “catch-up” on technique and reading. Once a student progresses beyond a certain level, the music they study will be much more substantial and longer lessons will be necessary. For students that want to participate in music festivals, examinations or competitions, longer lesson time is absolutely necessary. 

 

How soon can music lessons start?

Early childhood music education has proven to be immensely beneficial to the overall development of a preschool child. Music stimulates the mind and muscles, and children can absorb an enormous amount at this age. Musical parenting is also a good way to bring families together through music making. Singing simple nursery rhymes together with your child can lay the foundation for musicianship. Formal piano lessons can start as early as 4 years old. The younger the child, the more involved the parents have to be in the beginning stages of learning. This includes learning with the child what is taught at the lessons, "re-teaching" it to the child if necessary, and supervising practice sessions at home. Parental dedication in the early stages makes a big difference and contributes to the overall success. 

 

How much should I practice?

The amount of practice time required depends on the student’s age, level of ability and personal goals. It is important for students to spend quality time on the piano, with focused practice sessions on a DAILY basis.

The following is a guide:
Age of student Minimum Daily practice time
5 and younger 30 min
6 and 7 40 min
8 and 9 50 min
10 and 11 60 min
12 and above 70 min +
Adult students Depends on your goal. If you are studying piano for leisure, whatever time you can devote is fine. If you want to be a music major, 2 hours is the absolute minimum, especially if you started piano late (after age 10), you have a lot to catch up!!!