Find a Quality Teacher
Whenever a student who has previously taken piano lessons decides to sign up, there is always a bit of suspense on what to expect moving forward. Either they were properly trained and have a solid foundation on which to continue building or their technique was so severely damaged by improper training that much time and energy will be spent on repairing, un-doing, and re-learning exactly how to play the piano. In many cases there is a combination of strengths and weaknesses; consider the student who is able to read music exceptionally well but whose ears were never trained. Or the student whose sense of rhythm is impeccable but their ability to form a musical melodic line is lacking. The best way to save time and money is to make sure that your teacher is highly qualified, educated, and is able to provide the training you need to be a well rounded musician. Being taught well the first time around will enable you to succeed and soar beyond your imagination.
Remember that teaching and playing are two separate skills. Some concert pianists may also be exceptional teachers, whereas others are advised to stick to playing. There’s a well known teacher, clinician and author who produces award winning pianists year after year. This teacher, though paralyzed on one side of her body and only able to play with one hand is considered to be one of the greatest teachers in town.
The rules of good practice also applies to good teaching. It is not the length of time that determines the quality of a teacher’s work; it is their approach, their attention to detail and professional expertise behind the process. One of the most inspirational teachers I’ve known was only 27 years old when he became the head of the piano department of a great university. People over twice his age who were in the field before he was even born went to him for advice on their own teaching. The proof is in the results. A quality teacher will push a student to their full potential, nurture their strengths, strengthen their weaknesses and create the best musician possible out of any student.
Understand the 30-minute-lesson Approach
When signing up for piano lessons one of the first things you’ll need to know is how long you would like your lesson to be. The length of the lesson may determine exactly how much or what you will learn in the course of the semester. Although a 30 minute-lesson may be common for very young beginners, it is not the best approach for every student. Consider two students with the same intelligence level, one doing 30 minutes, the other an hour. In 3 months time the skill level gap between the two students may be significantly noticeable. In a 30 minute-lesson you may have time to review your previous assignment, learn a new technique and start to play a new piece. In a hour you may review your previous assignments, learn a new technique, complete your piece or pieces, work on ear training, improvisation, or other activity. In other cases a longer lesson may be used to work on longer more difficult pieces that requires more supervision by a teacher.
What you do in a long lesson may vary depending on you, your teacher and your needs or immediate goals. With a lesson that is too short the student may either miss out on certain skill sets that the teacher decides a 30 minute lesson simply cannot cover or all skill sets will be taught over a much wider span of time -taking weeks, months, or years longer than it would take in a longer lesson. Keep in mind that not every teacher teachers everything. Some teachers may only teach you how to read and are only comfortable teaching short lessons. Others may be more versatile. You will have to do your research in order to determine the focus or philosophy of any given teacher.
If you’ve signed up for a music school, you may be offered supplementary group classes such as music theory or other subjects to go along with your weekly private lesson. Students with a strong background in theory are generally able to memorize and retain their music for much longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are playing, and how music is put together. Theory is something that can be taught from the very first lesson at the most elementary level. Some teachers view it as a separate subject whereas others simply integrate it in every piece so that understanding is instilled immediately. Either way, music theory is always a good skill to have and ensures a longer term retention of your music education.
Have Good Equipment
If you know you love music and you’re able to invest in a good instrument, by all means, do it. You will need to start learning skills that are otherwise unable to be practiced because of the limitations on an instrument that lacks certain capabilities as follows:
Full 88 Keys
Piano keyboards generally come in 61, 76 or 88 keys. The standard full sized piano is 88 keys. With less keys, you will not be able to explore the full range of the keyboard and may not be able to play certain pieces that require you to use certain keys.
Using the sense of hearing and touch are very important to the development of a great pianist. A piano that is touch sensitive will enable you to practice creating sounds by varying the amount of weight and pressure that is put on the keys. Keyboards that are not touch sensitive are volume controlled by a knob instead of by your touch and will limit your ability to create sounds in the many different ways we learn to touch the keys. Having an instrument that is touch sensitive is very important.
You may notice different numbers of pedals on different pianos. A standard grand piano has 3 pedals. Many upright pianos have 2 or 3 pedals; the 3rd pedal usually only works on a grand piano and is very rarely used. Digital pianos often come with 2 pedals and electric keyboards generally come with 1 or none at all. Being technically skilled in pedaling enables us to create, control and explore a wide range of sound and musical effects at the piano.
“The more I play, the more I am convinced that the pedal is the soul of the piano. There are cases where the pedal is everything”
Jodi Ann Russell, Ed.D., M.M., B.M., N.C.T.M. is an expert piano instructor who emphasizes mindfulness, relaxation, creativity and technique in personalized piano lessons and master classes online.