As social distancing became the new norm for many of us this past year, I’ve been thinking about the different relationships that enrich our lives. Sure, I’m biased, but I think the student-teacher relationship can be a pretty meaningful one.

I’m a serious introvert, but nothing made me happier this week than seeing my students’ faces as we returned to in-person classes and lessons.

Turns out we’re wired for human contact after all!

You can always learn on your own (and you should aim to become your own best teacher), or you may decide you want the guidance of a piano teacher. Once you do, and if you have the luxury of a number of people to choose from, how do you go about picking the best one for you?

I wish someone had given me some advice on this at any number of points in my student-hood. Over the years, I think I’ve narrowed down what I’ve valued most in the teachers I’ve been lucky to have. Try asking yourself the following three questions.

1. How well do they communicate?

Let’s be honest. Piano is hard enough; the last thing you need is to feel a gap in understanding between you and your teacher.

You don’t have to have the best chemistry in the world (or a “soul mate” connection, as Lang Lang describes in this interview). You should feel you can speak up, be heard, and understand what they’re saying.

2. Do they inspire you?

I don’t mean inspiring in the sense that they are flashy performers or talkers. I mean, does their teaching spark something inside of you that makes you want to go practice?

A good teacher can activate your intrinsic motivation, whether it’s by showing you something new, explaining something well, or revealing your capacity to improve.

Now, there’s no question that a student’s progress is ultimately dependent on the student. You have to put in the work, leverage your discipline, and focus on your goals. But, an inspiring teacher should help you see what’s possible.

3. What do you want out of your lessons?

This is the most difficult questions and one I find that people tend to gloss over.

They say, “I want the best teacher,” and then look for the person with the fanciest degree, longest resume, or most prestigious studio. In some cases those are good metrics, but many times they are not.

It all depends: do you want someone who will inspire a love of music in your six-year-old? Do you want someone who can guide you through the major international competitions? Do you want someone to help you play with less tension and pain? Do you want someone who can teach you about music theory?

The more specifically you can enunciate your needs, the better your chances of having them met.

Ultimately, finding a good teacher is about knowing yourself (like so many other things, eh?).

Once you’ve considered these three queries, you can start evaluating teachers, ideally with a trial lesson. Short of that, the internet is here to help.

Masterclasses like the ones on tonebase are a great way to educate yourself on teaching styles. Go ahead, take notes like a total nerd.

Do you like how they communicate? Did they say anything that made you want to go to the piano and try it? Did they cover a topic that’s useful to you?

The more you notice about the art of teaching, the more you’ll be able to find your best teacher with confidence.

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"I don't regret for a minute having spent the money on the membership. There's something for every musician on tonebase – I recommend you give it a try."

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Musician

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