As I began to think about what I’d share here, I decided to write a letter. A letter to you – an adult who’s considering piano lessons, and who may be wondering, how do I bring music into my life? How do I find the right piano teacher? Where do I begin?
To start with, I want to say, kudos to you! The fact that you’re considering piano lessons is significant. Giving yourself the gift of music lessons may become one of the most positive things you do in your life.
Here are some of the reasons why…
Contributed by Jessica Roemischer for Roland Corporation Australia
First, the science…
When a person learns to play music, it’s now known that their brain development is enhanced. Scientists are discovering that when someone studies an instrument, it helps them learn and remember things more easily, not just music, but much else, too. That’s because learning a musical instrument, such as the piano, engages practically every area of the brain at once. And the brain is like a muscle–it needs to be used and developed, in children and adults alike. So, learning the piano as an adult can be enormously beneficial!
What does that learning actually look like?
Whether or not you’ve had prior musical experience, you are taught to move your fingers on the keyboard in new ways, learning to navigate the white and black note patterns. You develop fine motor skills that are unique to playing the piano. In playing different notes, the adult student begins to feel the pulse or rhythm of the music. This is experienced in the hands, and in the entire body. As you play melodies and harmonies in rhythm, you learn to express the beauty of the music, to play with feeling. In all of this, you’re working towards a goal, providing a sense of achievement and satisfaction. For these reasons and more, learning to play the piano can enhance your entire experience as an adult, now and hereon forward!
Second, the history...
Interestingly, your question, “How do I find the right teacher?” is relatively new. In generations past, this wasn’t a question that was often asked. People didn’t realise they could ask it. If someone was teaching in the neighborhood or at school, it was assumed that he or she was qualified and would suffice. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned from many of my adult students, that wasn’t always the case. Perhaps your own experience is similar to what I’m describing here.
Indeed, I’ve worked with many adults in their 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s. They’d often describe a teacher from decades ago–someone who’d rap them over the knuckles with a ruler if they didn’t hold their hands properly, or chastise them, or say they weren’t musical. For some reason, this seemed to happen a lot. And it left an indelible impression on the student.
As a result, the person grows up concluding that they’d failed, that they were incapable of creating beautiful music. But then years later, something would inspire them to play the piano again–as it’s inspiring you. With courage, they’d look for a teacher and somehow find me. As we worked together, they’d become relieved and happy to discover that none of those conclusions was true! Above all, that’s what I want to impress upon you. Whatever your past musical experience–or if you’re completely new to piano study–know that, no matter who you are, you carry within you a beautiful music-making capacity.
So you can see that now, you’re in a very different position to what was the case many years go. Your effort to find the right teacher is a conscious choice you can make, and it may well change your life for the better!
Third, my personal experience…
When I was a child, I was lucky. My mother asked the same questions that you’re asking. My mother played the piano and loved music. But she knew that she had to find someone else to teach me. “It’s hard to teach your child anything, especially if that child is a daughter!” she’d quip.
So, my mum looked around. Like you, she wanted to find the right teacher. And she did. When I was eight, I began piano lessons. Every Tuesday afternoon after school, I’d arrive at my teacher’s house. Her black Labrador would greet me with friendly licks and a wagging tail. My teacher was very kind. She’d offer me little pieces to learn. One was called, “Pony Trot,” and there was “Short Story” and “Novelette,” by a Russian composer named Dmitry Kabalevsky. These were beautiful little pieces, and I remember them to this day. My teacher always let me play the songs I loved best.
Importantly, it was also fun to make up my own little pieces, too. In my young handwriting, my teacher helped me write the notes of the left hand, descending down the scale, and simple melodies in the right. The seeds of the music I make now were there in those early creations.
As time went on, I advanced to pieces by Mozart, Brahms and Debussy. My teacher helped me understand how every phrase can sing, how music can breathe and come to life. She taught me that the last note is especially important, as the sound fades away, and the music floats into silence.
Some things last forever...
Now fifty years later, it’s wonderful to share these memories with you, so you can see how your learning of music–even as an adult–can have a lasting effect. Indeed, my early studies made me the pianist I’ve become, the teacher I’ve become, and the person I am.
So, as you embark on finding a piano teacher, I want to say that you’re in the best position to determine if a teacher is well suited to you, because you know yourself better than anyone. And I want to stress that you don’t have to have any musical training to make this determination! You simply listen, and investigate, and trust your gut. I realise that’s not very scientific. But the impulse that led you to ask the question, “How can I find the right piano teacher,” is all you need. Just keep following it. I really mean that.
With that in mind, I’ll offer some pointers that may help:
As you begin, look around, ask friends, search online, check the local music store. Is anyone teaching in your neighbourhood or area? Is a friend’s child studying with someone they like? Does the music store have a recommendation? Follow different leads.
Then have a phone conversation with the prospective teacher. Ask about their qualifications, their approach, and their philosophy. Tell them a bit about yourself, your background, your interests. How do they respond? What’s the feeling you get in speaking with them?
When finding the right piano teacher as an adult look for...
I’ve listed this first, because I believe that a teacher’s humanity is as important as their musical expertise. In fact, it’s possibly more important. When empathy, kindness and understanding are present, whatever is to be learned, will be absorbed readily. You will feel happy, and will want to continue your piano studies. A teacher’s human qualities will be a source of joy, allowing fulfillment and inspiration to permeate your whole life.
A teacher’s musical sensibility is essential, and is often related to their humanity. Gently inquire with the teacher about their musical background. Ask him or her to play for you. I realise this is delicate, but it can give important insight. What do you think of his or her music? Trust yourself. Are they proficient? Is the music beautiful, expressive, deep, and powerful? In general, a pianist who plays beautifully is in a better position to convey that to you in the piano lessons.
Ask a teacher about his or her approach to teaching. A seasoned and thoughtful teacher will be able to explain how they approach teaching, and why. Does their explanation make sense? Does it seem valuable to you? Again, trust yourself. Even if you’re not adept at music, it doesn’t matter. The clues will be there to tell if you’re making a good choice.
Communication is important when finding the right piano teacher. Is she or he able to explain the lesson in a way that makes sense to you? The ability to explain concepts, as well communicate the feeling and emotion of the music, is essential. A good teacher makes sure that you are always learning. This is an expression of care.
Every student is different! Is the teacher, teaching by rote? Or is he or she teaching in a way that’s original and dynamic? Ask yourself, what is the quality of the teaching? Do you feel engaged and interested and do they inquire about the music you enjoy and may want to learn? Do they respond to your own tastes and personality? The way in which a teacher relates to you and imparts the lesson, is as important as what’s being taught.
If you continue with the teacher, ask yourself, are you making progress over time? Are you enjoying the music you’re studying? Are you feeling positive about their experience of the lessons? If so, that’s good. It means that studying the piano is becoming a positive part of your life!
Finally, I want to say that your asking the question, “How do I find the right piano teacher,” reveals something about you in a very positive way. First and foremost, it is an expression of care for yourself, and for the inspiration you hold within. In finding a good teacher, your study of the piano will yield wonderful benefits. It will help you feel that you’re capable of progress; that you’re worthy of being supported in your learning; that you can set goals, and achieve and succeed. Most importantly, it will give you a way to express the beauty that’s there inside of you. Through music, you’ll feel wonder and joy and be able to bring that joy to others. In finding the right piano teacher–which I sincerely hope you do–you will experience all these things!
So, dear friend, as I was traveling home from the Roland Corporation, I thought to write to you, to offer what I’ve learned in thirty-five years of teaching students of all ages.
I’m grateful to Roland for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. I hope they help as you endeavour to bring music–the most glorious and beautiful of art forms–into your own life.
With warm wishes,
About Jessica Roemischer
Jessica Roemischer is an award-winning pianist and teacher. American-born and now living in Manly (Sydney) Australia, Jessica’s innovative approach to piano teaching has been supported by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, singer/songwriter James Taylor, and led to a CNN Heroes Award nomination. Jessica offers classes and lessons to students of all ages at “Miss Jessica’s School of Music” in Manly, NSW.You can find more info and contact Jessica at www.PianoBeautiful.com