Choosing a piano teacher should be easy, right? Just find a teacher that is qualified and then get started.

But, how do you determine if a teacher is qualified? It’s not so straightforward as with choosing other guides in life. If you need medical or legal advice, you look for someone with the appropriate license in your state and that determines a general level of qualification that you can be comfortable with. But, then you have to meet them, at which point things get more complicated.

It’s similar in the field of music, except you can be a qualified teacher or performer with or without a formal education. And, there is no licensing. So, you can’t choose a teacher based only on credentials — like having a music degree. In fact, there are competent teachers that have no degree but have learned to play their instrument at an advanced level through practice and have apprenticed with a master teacher.

Conversely, having earned a music degree would demonstrate that a teacher would be an expert in their instrument, but would it tell you if they are a good teacher of that instrument? There is much more to being a good teacher. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a piano teacher.

Competency. A teacher must be proficient enough to demonstrate concepts on the piano so you are able to hear the correct way to play. They should also be able to sightread well in order to go through repertoire choices with you.

Teaching Skills. If a teacher can play a piece of music beautifully, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they can show you how to do the same. They have to know all the steps that are necessary, be able to communicate those steps in a variety of ways until you understand them, and then determine if you are playing correctly and, if not, how to diagnose the problem and offer solutions to correct the problem.

Personality. No, a teacher doesn’t need to entertain a student, but a teacher needs to have a personality that allows a student to feel as comfortable as possible in order to encourage an open relationship that allows for expressive interpretations, comments, and questions with no personal judgment.

Patience. If a student isn’t understanding a concept, it isn’t the student’s problem — it’s the teacher that needs to find a different way to explain it. Or, maybe the pace of learning needs to slow down a bit or be broken up in smaller portions. Or, maybe the student needs to understand it through a different sense — visually, analytically, verbally, aurally, or emotionally. This takes patience on the part of the teacher to understand how each student perceives, understands, processes information, and communicates. Also, a teacher needs to teach students to be patient with themselves because mastery take time.

Motivation. Students need to be motivated at all times and that is why I believe most music should be chosen by the student with the guidance of the teacher, making sure the level is correct and the choice is a quality piece of music. A good teacher can teach music concepts through many styles of music, so why not engage a student’s passion using their favorite pieces? Adult students also need to use materials and techniques geared toward adults to keep them feeling confident and motivated.

Foundations are Necessary. All adult students need to learn the foundations of music. If they are beginners, the foundations need to be presented in an organized way so all new concepts are supported by previous learning and, if not, supplemental work should be added to the lesson.

If an adult is already a pianist, a master teacher will seek to find what foundations the student is missing or has forgotten, and then provide the necessary supplements to the lesson.

Student-focused Teaching. It’s all about the student. A master teacher will focus on a student’s goals and plan a curriculum that helps to reach the student’s goals while guiding the student to learn overall musicianship skills.

In summary, a master teacher will enable you to end a lesson with all of your questions answered and to be armed with the techniques to progress with the next lesson’s challenges.

If you have any comments or questions on this topic, please reach out so we can have a dialogue.