"My teenage daughter has been learning with another teacher for a few years but has become bored and frustrated with her lessons."
I've spoken to two parents of prospective students in the past week who have said exactly the same thing, asking about my approach to teaching. So what's left a sour taste in their mouth from their previous teacher?
The most common complaint is that the teacher's goals aren't aligning with the student's. Often this stems from a teacher's unwillingness to deviate from what they know. Many current piano teachers are trained by past teachers who learned classical pieces, did graded exams and performed in competitions. Satisfaction was all about exam results, and this ideology has carried on with each subsequent generation of teachers.
For many high school aged children, extra exams equals extra stress. However, without an exam to prepare for, teachers can feel a little lost or unsure of the student's next steps. As a last resort, they might finally ask what the student wants to play, but if it's not something they're familiar with, they will still be hesitant to teach it. I recently attended a seminar with a highly respected Australian teacher who admitted that she is terrified of improvising or playing something other than what is written on a page!
If your goal as a student is to be able to play for leisure, in a band, dinner parties, write your own music - basically anything that doesn't involve being examined - then traditional exams can have limited benefit in working towards that goal.
So if the teacher is afraid of deviating from what they know, the student will be afraid to push for what they really want because of that resistance. After all, the teacher knows best, right?
Does this sound familiar for you or your family?
Upon finishing up work on a piece with one of my students, my first question is always, "What would you like to learn next?" Sometimes they will have specific songs or artists that they love and want to learn more about, sometimes they might request a style of piece, and sometimes they leave it up to me.
I'm always curious about music, so anytime someone asks for something I haven't heard before, I love it! It's then my job as a teacher to find a way to translate that song to the piano, often working with the student to work out the chords, melody and structure of the song. If it's a solo piano piece, we can decide together how best to learn it, discuss the challenges and intentionally find opportunities to deviate from the written score if we think it makes the song sound better.
If you're living in Brisbane and thinking about switching piano teachers, your first opportunity to receive the tuition you're looking should be with your existing piano teacher. Let them know what you'd like to achieve and give them a chance to adjust their own expectations and to broaden their comfort zone. My personal teaching philosophy is always evolving.
However, If you're coming up against resistance, or if you haven't noticed a change in approach after a short while, then I would love to hear from you to discuss your options for the type of learning styles, material and goals we can work towards at Counterpoint Music. There's no point sticking with something or someone you're not enjoying - particularly if they're intent on signing you up for exams that you don't want to do!