Should I take piano lessons?

How do you find a good piano teacher

If you want to take good piano lessons, you first have to find a piano teacher. The search turns out to be difficult: In every city and in every area there are offers for private piano lessons or music schools. Online music lessons are also becoming more and more popular due to the pandemic. So how do you find a good piano teacher between all the offers? We get to the bottom of this question here - including a checklist for finding piano lessons.

How do you recognize good piano lessons and how do you find the right piano teacher? The answer can be found here in our comprehensive guide. | Image: Pianist at the Kawai NV10

From Markus Galla

The first piano lesson

For many people, music or piano lessons are either part of a beautiful or a traumatic experience. It is not uncommon for adults who come to a trial lesson to report on their bad childhood experiences with the piano teacher. The corona pandemic has led to a veritable flood of teachers on the "market", since piano lessons are the only possible source of income for many musicians at the time of the stage ban. For the interested student or the parents, this means spoiled for choice. In this guide we therefore deal with the question of how the future pianist can distinguish a good piano teacher from a bad one and what constitutes good teaching.

What is good piano lesson?

What actually makes a good music lesson and a good piano teacher? I have often asked myself this question as a piano teacher. The answers can be far apart and are very strongly subjective, but there are certainly some more objective points that I would like to address.

But first it is time to review your own teaching experience.

Own experience with piano lessons

I started with early musical education, the memory of which is limited to the fact that the instrument was called melodica and that group lessons were given in the attic of a nearby youth home. I also remember the teacher's name. The rest is suppressed.

From group lessons to home lessons

The first real music lessons took place in elementary school age: organ lessons in group lessons at the neighboring music house. The teacher employed on a fee basis was a young student of instrumental pedagogy. The group lessons were always very motivating: Not only the practice pieces of the usual home organ school were played, but also the pop songs that were current at the time. A few years later, my teacher at the time opened his own music school and offered to give my brother and me one-to-one lessons at home.

Note: A good piano teacher motivates and makes the lessons varied.

Whether one remains motivated and having fun at the piano is usually decided in childhood and depends on good piano lessons. | Image: Schoolgirl at the Kawai ES520

Diverse lessons

In the meantime I had outgrown the six-volume organ school and played difficult pieces from classical, pop, jazz and Latin. My teacher opened up the whole world of the home organ for me primarily by inviting me to several organ concerts by the companies Wersi and Böhm, at which the then popular organists played. He also drew my attention to one of his own favorite organists: Klaus Wunderlich. After the first records by this exceptional organist, my teacher brought me sheet music for these organ arrangements. In addition, many arrangements he had written himself, some of which were difficult to play and challenged me anew every day. His enthusiasm for the instrument had finally passed over to me.

Note: A good piano teacher creates enthusiasm and challenges.

Enthusiastic teacher, enthusiastic student

I began to create and write down arrangements of pop songs for myself. Having arrived in the keyboard age, song accompaniment was one of my skills, which led me to a semi-professional dance & show band at the age of just 13. Here, too, my teacher accompanied me and often helped me with questions about how to play a keyboard that was suitable for a band. He also referred me more and more often as a solo entertainer for family celebrations when he was already fully booked for these dates. That showed me that he had confidence in me and my abilities on the instrument.

Note: A good piano teacher encourages his students and supports them in achieving goals.

Study preparation

At the age of 16 the desire to study music matured. Since at that time the home organ was not one of the instruments that could be studied at a German music college, it was time to switch to the piano. One of my first piano pieces was a two-part Bach invention that I had already played on the home organ. Pop music, ragtime, song accompaniment & Co. continued to be part of the piano repertoire.

Piano for children: acoustic piano or digital piano?

Of course also the first piano concerto and CD recommendations for the classical pieces. I still fondly think back to my lessons to this day and consider myself lucky that my parents immediately found a good piano teacher for me, who now teaches my son with the same enthusiasm as he did me then.

Note: A good piano teacher has a lasting effect on his students and gives them the basis to become better and better.

Elements of good piano lessons

Perhaps you experienced your music or piano lessons like me - or completely different. For me personally, the most important elements of good music lessons have been derived from these own experiences to this day.

Checklist: This is what makes good piano lessons

  • Good piano lessons motivate you to make music
  • A good piano teacher gets you excited about music and the instrument
  • The exchange about music and the teacher's personal experiences are important to you as a student
  • A musically diversified tuition, which also takes your interests into account, motivates
  • Extra-curricular experiences such as concerts can deepen interest in the instrument
  • A good piano teacher not only works on playing technique, but also and above all on your musical personality. He promotes these and does not suppress them.
  • The teacher promotes your goals, not his own

Good piano teachers respond to you and support you in your goals. | Image: Schoolgirl at the Kawai CA49

A good piano teacher inspires

Those who only teach classical music take away the opportunity to get to know other styles

The first three points in particular require that the teacher shows himself to the students as a musician and does not create any unnecessary distance. A teacher who is also an avid musician himself will also delight the student. So for me, talking about music is an integral part of music lessons. Music lessons are more than just talking about the best fingering or the right way to play staccato and legato on the piano.

Piano teacher with a holistic approach

A piano lesson that is too narrow is not very motivating and denies you access to the full range of music. Specialism is something for pre-professional training or university studies and, in my opinion, has no place in normal piano lessons.

Those who only teach classical music take away the opportunity to get to know other styles and to practice their skills in them. The play of pop, jazz, ragtime, Latin, song accompaniment and so on is just as important as the classical repertoire of Bach, Beethoven & Co.

Note: A good piano teacher is characterized by the fact that he does not talk you out of other styles, but goes every musical path with you.

A good piano teacher stimulates the student's interest

The teacher should appreciate the student's interest in music, gratefully accept and encourage it without limiting it. In this way, he works on the student's musical personality, encourages and challenges them and keeps the students enjoying the music for a long time. A good piano teacher will consider the student's goals in the classroom rather than just pursuing their own as a teacher. The student is not primarily a figurehead for one's own success.

How do I find the right piano teacher?

Often the first way is to the local music school. There you get assigned a teacher. This can be a stroke of luck or the beginning of a traumatic experience. Teaching music is a very personal thing and it is important that teachers and students are a good match. Even at the often busy music schools, a free trial lesson with various teachers should be possible and required.

Those who are not sympathetic from the first contact will hardly build up a trusting relationship with one another over the years. With private teachers, the free trial lesson is part of everyday life and it doesn't hurt to look at different teachers first. Finding a good piano teacher takes some time.

Checklist: Find a good piano teacher on site

  • Check out several music schools and piano teachers
  • Use the trial lesson to find out about the content and structure of the lesson
  • Make sure that you sympathize with the piano teacher

E-Piano Guide - your ultimate digital piano guide

Find good piano teachers on the internet

Google is often the first tool when looking for a suitable piano teacher, closely followed by social networks. The first results are usually purchased advertising placements.

Dumping prices and unsustainable promises do not make good piano lessons

An unfortunately very current trend are very strange advertising promises. These often include one to three months of free lessons, student instruments for € 1 or very specific promises which skills can be acquired within a very short time. You should ignore such offers or look carefully to see where the hook is hidden.

Promises such as "after three months the student can already ... play" should be viewed with caution. To guarantee a student something that most good teachers know that progress is very individual and tied to many external factors is dishonest.

What a student will be able to do at time X is simply not predictable. A good piano teacher will not tell you when you can do what, because that depends entirely on you. But he will be happy to help you achieve your goals in the best possible way.

So don't just look at paid advertisements, but also look at regular search results. A glossy presence on the Internet tells you nothing about the quality of the lessons. Likewise, the prices that may be published do not reveal anything to you. Instead, you might find pictures of the classroom and of course the contact details. A personal call says more than the most beautiful website.

Checklist: Finding a Good Piano Teacher on the Web

  • Advertising promises should be treated with caution
  • A professional website doesn't make a good teacher
  • Serious offers always give you the opportunity to contact us easily

A good piano teacher can also be found on the web. | Image: Kawai ES520

Tip for parents: How easily can the teacher be reached?

Younger pupils will sooner or later ride or walk independently to piano lessons by public transport or bicycle. A good transport connection is therefore an advantage and ensures less stress before and after class. If you come to class stressed because of traffic jams or long journeys, you will hardly be able to enjoy the class.

Arrange a trial lesson for piano lessons

When you have found a suitable candidate, arrange an appointment for a trial lesson. The teacher should allow sufficient time for this. Some teachers only offer such trial lessons in free spaces between two students. 30 minutes are not enough to ask and answer all the questions and to make your first attempts at walking on the instrument. There should be at least 60 to 90 minutes.

Note: A good piano teacher will take time for you in the trial lesson.

Prepare questions for the piano teacher

Take enough time to ask questions

The first trial lesson should be prepared by the student or the parents. Write down questions about the class and the course schedule. Have the teacher talk about themselves. For example, ask him about his own musical preferences, about the concerts he gives or the bands he plays in. Tell him about your own ideas: What music do you like and what do you expect from the instrument and the lessons? Let them show you textbooks and pieces for the beginning lesson. When the opportunity arises, talk to other students or ask if you can watch another student's class.

Checklist: Questions for your future piano teacher

  • How much experience does he have in teaching?
  • Which genres does he personally like?
  • How is the lesson structured?
  • Is there room for your own wishes and goals?
  • Is the teacher himself an active musician?
  • What individual funding opportunities does it offer?

Nice piano pieces to learn: Easy piano songs

What do the rooms look like?

The learning environment is also important. Not every music student likes to sit alone with his piano teacher in a huge classroom at a grand piano. Others may prefer a more homely atmosphere. The right classroom atmosphere is incredibly important for teaching. A student who is uncomfortable in the classroom will never study well. For this reason, teachers in schools also set up their classrooms together with the students and try to turn them into a nice learning environment. Of course, this also applies to music lessons.

Large, sterile classrooms tend not to contribute to a pleasant learning atmosphere. That is also part of good piano lessons. | Image: Lessons on the Kawai CA79

What types of teaching are there?

The most common form of piano lessons is one-to-one lessons. However, many music schools also offer group lessons. Group lessons have only one advantage over individual lessons: At first glance, they are cheaper. If several students share a lesson, each only pays one share.

One-to-one tuition is the most effective and, ultimately, the cheapest form of teaching

If you compare the tuition price with the price for one-to-one tuition, it often becomes clear that the price-performance ratio is not very good. The bottom line is that lessons often cost more than individual lessons per minute of lesson given. Interaction in group lessons is seldom possible as the students make individual progress. Often it boils down to one student waiting while the other plays.

One-to-one lessons, on the other hand, are always individually tailored to the student (or at least should be). The teacher is only available to one student for the entire duration of the lesson and can prepare accordingly.

Exception: Ensemble for advanced students

Ensembles are an exception. Here, of course, the interaction of several students is wanted and the lessons are coordinated accordingly. Each student contributes something to the overall result with his game and the voices of the arrangement are usually distributed among the individual students. The teacher is trained to lead an ensemble and the work is more like working with an orchestra. However, ensemble playing is usually offered for advanced students and not for all instruments. Pianists are rarely found in ensembles.

Online piano lessons

A currently very modern form is that of online teaching. The online lessons take place as one-to-one lessons, as interaction via the Internet is not (yet) possible due to the latencies between the individual parties. Online piano lessons use modern technology to offer a similar experience to face-to-face lessons.

The advantage for the student is that he can choose his teacher not only on site, but also over great distances. Appropriate end devices with cameras and microphones such as laptops, tablets or smartphones as well as a very good and stable internet connection are required.

While online lessons even have some advantages for advanced students, such as the possibility of video recording in order to work on all the details later in peace, younger students need more attention, which is actually only really possible in face-to-face lessons. Although I have had good experiences with younger students, you can also clearly see that the connection is different when you are actually in the same room.

Piano lessons online: The best offers for learning piano online

What does a good piano teacher cost?

The prices for piano lessons in Germany are as different as the salaries.There are clear differences from city to city and state to state. Last but not least, this has to do with the fact that the cost of living for teachers varies greatly depending on the area, which is then reflected in the prices. Exact price information is therefore not possible and the following information is more of an example.

A good piano teacher promotes your interests, for example performing or playing in a band. | Image: Pianist on the Kawai ES920

Private teacher and municipal music school

You can roughly orientate yourself on the fee regulations of the municipal music schools. The municipal music school here at my place of residence charges an annual fee of 1170 euros for 45 minutes of weekly lessons, which corresponds to a monthly fee of 97.50 euros. 30 minutes of weekly lessons cost 780 euros a year or 65 euros a month. In contrast to private teachers or music schools, municipal music schools are usually subsidized for underage pupils or pupils up to 25 years of age.

In the case of private teachers, a 10 to 20 percent surcharge can be expected. The usual monthly fees for private lessons are between 70 euros for 30 minutes per week and 117 euros for 45 minutes per week.

Home schooling costs more

If a private teacher gives lessons at the student's home, there are additional travel costs, which the teacher usually charges in the form of a flat rate for fuel costs and time spent on the journey. On average, up to 20 percent more is added to the tuition price at a music school for home tuition.

Dumping prices do not promise quality

Highly qualified professionals deserve appropriate pay

Unfortunately, there are always colleagues who try to build up a large student base through dumping prices - often in connection with group lessons. Parents and students are advised to look carefully here.

What is the teacher's intention and what do you get for the money? And above all - how and where was he trained? In addition to amateur musicians who suddenly feel the vocation as music teachers, there are numerous trained music teachers or studied musicians who give lessons and who are highly qualified. Unfortunately, even highly qualified piano teachers are repeatedly forced to bow to the dumping prices.

Piano lessons with students

Lessons from music students are often an inexpensive way of taking piano lessons. These are often employed as teachers at private and public music schools, but often also teach privately - mostly at the student's home. All of this without a contract and more at the price of pocket money. For the students, the lessons are an opportunity to gain initial teaching experience and at the same time an opportunity to finance the expensive and long studies. Music students are happy to work in the JEKI area (= music education program for elementary schools).

For the student, this means a cheaper tuition price and lessons with a teacher who already has a lot of experience with the instrument and who has passed the first hurdle to a professional qualification in the form of the entrance exam.

Disadvantages of taking piano lessons with students

The teacher-student relationship, which is often limited to the duration of the course, is disadvantageous for the student. Changes to the timetable from semester to semester can also make frequent adjustments to the day and time of the lesson necessary.

Nevertheless, for some students it is a good alternative to teaching at a music school. With a little luck, the teacher will start as a freelance teacher after graduation and take the students from their student jobs with them into their professional lives. It was the same with my own teacher, who immediately took my brother and me into self-employment and now, decades later, teaches my son on the piano.

Ideally, your piano teacher will accompany you for many years and will also enjoy your development. Good piano lessons are always geared towards your goals and wishes. If the lessons are monotonous and not individual, you should consider changing. | Image: Piano lessons on the Kawai CA49

Qualified staff with in-depth training

A trained music teacher had many years of training on two instruments, usually more than 12 years, before starting his artistic studies. This lays the foundation for a possible university degree, because unlike in almost all other apprenticeships and courses of study, the Abitur certificate alone is not sufficient for university entrance qualification. A passed entrance exam, officially called aptitude test, is required. Due to the deliberately very high requirements of this examination, only a fraction of music students are able to study music in the first place.

The preparation time for the entrance exam is often designed in the form of pre-vocational specialist training that lasts two years and includes lessons on two instruments, music theory, ear training, ensemble playing and singing lessons. The specialist training is intended to prepare more specifically for the sometimes very high requirements of the entrance examination.

After passing the entrance examination, students can expect 10 semesters of standard study time and an artistic final examination up to the Master of Arts. Then there is the professional experience after graduation and during internships, concert experience, student jobs as a music teacher at music schools and much more.

Hardly any apprenticeship or academic profession requires such a lengthy and profound training from childhood. The standard period of study, including the year of practice from a doctor to a general practitioner, is 12 semesters in Germany, i.e. 6 years and only requires a university entrance qualification in the form of a good Abitur certificate.

In addition to music colleges, there are also various vocational schools for music with and without state recognition that offer training as music teachers or musicians. However, this cannot be compared with studying music.

It should go without saying that such highly qualified specialists deserve adequate pay. Unfortunately, there is a problem here: Music teachers employed as freelance music teachers at municipal music schools, who often make up the majority of the workforce, are often unable to make a living from their job despite full-time work, according to surveys by the ver.di union.

"With the fee contracts, the municipalities save at the expense of the teachers and evade their social responsibility. [..]" (Quote from Christof Büttner, Head of Media, Art and Industry. The ver.di trade union has long been campaigning for the proper employment of music school teachers subject to social insurance, because bogus self-employment is part of everyday life. Freelance music teachers are often no better off. Contributions to the artists' social security fund for pensions and Health insurance, private pension insurance, rent, vehicle costs and costs for the receipt and maintenance of the teaching tool quickly create a monthly item that has to be earned first. Dumping prices and low fees contribute to the deterioration of the quality of the teaching in the long term.

Conclusion

Good music lessons play an important role in whether musical training on the instrument is fun or ends in frustration. In this guide we assume a motivated student who enjoys playing the piano. First and foremost, it is the teacher who should motivate and ensure that making music is fun.

A good piano teacher puts his own goals aside and those of the student in the foreground. He will help you to set short-term and long-term goals and to achieve them with joy in the music and the instrument.

A friendly relationship in which the teacher's musical personality also plays a major role is an advantage. Talking about music and not just working on the instrument is part of the lesson. A good teacher works with and on the student and not bypassing him. He shows a wide range of interests and is not just a specialist in a narrow field.

For this, he demands and deserves a performance-based and appropriate payment for his education. Dumping prices and promises should be viewed with suspicion and questioned. Free trial lessons and intensive advice are part of good form and should definitely be used before a binding registration.