• Brian James Gage

Choosing a Piano Teacher as an Adult Learner

I'm absolutely a shoot-first-ask-questions-later type. I attribute this aspect of my personality to my greatest successes in life and also greatest failures and embarrassments. At my age, I still can't decide whether or not to dial it back as it feels like a younger man's trait. That said, a little Han Solo in your life always keeps things interesting so... Onward.

When I first attempted to teach myself classical piano in my early 20s I certainly went in with this approach. I went out, rented a cheap piano, purchased The Moonlight Sonata sheet music, and basically spent the next year or so trying to figure out the first movement by listening to the CD over-and-over. I couldn't really read sheet music so I ended up counting out the bass clef as best as I could, and using what I remembered from learning trumpet in 7th grade to figure out the treble clef. It was a mixed bag. Sort of sounded like Moonlight, but the dynamics were way off.

When I came back to piano in 2017 after essentially a 22 year break for all practical purposes. I decided I wasn't going to go this route. The issue this time around being that I really hate driving. So when looking for a teacher, I simply tried to locate someone as close to me as possible.

As I searched for a teacher, I started teaching myself the Rondo in the Pathetique right around Valentine's Day 2017, and after a month of self-study realized I wasn't going anywhere with it so I quickly settled on a teacher in my neighborhood around mid-March. Really all I cared about was how close my teacher was.

After working with her for about a month or so, it became pretty clear to me that I was no better served with a teacher of that level than I was self-teaching. I wouldn't even go so far to call these lessons as I'd go in, demonstrate what I'd taught myself over the last week, and she'd basically nod and say “keep going”.

It wasn't all her fault. For better-or-worse, I have a relatively strong personality and a tendency to mow people over if they don't assert themselves. I'm not a bully. I just have a particular way by which I want to do things, so unless you jump in and save me from myself – I'm just gonna keep on keepin' on! So I thought I was doing the right thing by just barreling forward.

After reaching several roadblocks in the music where I simply didn't understand the sheet music or how to actually play it properly, it became clear to me that I needed a professional versed in classical music as I couldn't get the answers I was looking for.

So I went back to researching and found The New Mexico School of Music was a conservatory in Albuquerque that accepted adult students. I made an inquiry and set up my first lesson.

It was apparent from the start of that journey how important having the right teacher is to my development and growth as a classical musician.

First of all, having a bonafide classical musician overseeing my progress is the perfect panacea for my tendency to dominate personal interactions. Finally, I have someone over me who commands respect and therefore I listen.

So if you're brand new to classical piano and are looking for a teacher, don't make the same mistake I did and choose someone convenient. Research your potential teacher and ensure he/she has the proper credentials. I suppose this would be the same for finding a teacher for your child.

As I stated before in a previous post, I've come to learn there is a vast chasm between someone who knows piano and is teaching to make a few extra bucks a month, and a bonafide classical musician who is well versed not only in the subject of classical piano performance, but also how to teach it to a variety of age levels and potential talent.

It's possible that choosing the wrong teacher could potentially cause a good deal of damage to your technique and approach. I know trying to teach myself was incredibly detrimental to my progress. My first ten months of formal study have largely been me trying to relearn technique and smooth over all my bad habits.

This is why I recommend researching music schools in your area and reviewing their faculty credentials. From my perspective, it's wise and important to find someone with academic credentials and if they've performed with symphonies or won competitions – even better.

It's a jungle out there – and your teacher is your machete. Choose wisely.

Keep on learnin'!