While the adage “those who can’t do, teach” may sometimes be true, the opposite is also true – there are many excellent piano players who don’t have the faintest idea how to teach. It’s important for adults who are serious about learning to play piano well to find a teacher who knows how to play well and teach well.
In my experience, piano teachers fall into one of three categories:
The Serious Teacher
The Serious Teacher most likely grew up with serious parents, serious teachers, and serious goals.
The Serious Teacher typically strives to produce accomplished players who will go on to major in classical music performance in college. While many prefer to focus on younger students that they can sculpt into musicians, some will also consent to teach “recreational adults.”
Teaching is usually their primary occupation, though many also perform when they can.
The Serious Teacher is often an excellent educator but may also be perfectionistic and difficult to satisfy. This can be challenging for adults with recreational goals, but may also work to one’s advantage if one is willing to work hard. Serious Teachers may recommend or even require their adult students to participate in recitals and/or performance adjudications that assess their skills and offer constructive feedback.
The Serious Teacher is most often recognizable by their extensive training and/or music degree(s), along with membership in a professional music teachers’ association such as the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). Finally, just because they are serious about music doesn’t mean they can’t be lighthearted or fun to be around.
The Casual Teacher
For the Casual Teacher, teaching is a side gig that supports higher-priority musical goals. They are often younger and hoping to “make it” as a performer in classical music or a pop band, etc.
The quality of teaching offered by the Casual Teacher may vary from poor to excellent. Some teach classical music only. Others are open to or specialize in teaching popular styles. Many teach both kids and adults. They typically charge less than the Serious Teacher.
Some may have majored in music and/or taken many years of private lessons. Others may have relatively little formal training.
Marks of the Casual Teacher include their focus on non-teaching goals such as performing, the price they charge for lessons, and their lack of professional teaching affiliations.
The Adult-Centered Teacher
The Adult-Centered Teacher may teach only classical music, or only popular music (often jazz). Others (such as teachers at Creative Keyboardist) teach both. Recognizing that many adult students want to play and create their own music, many also offer instruction in improvising, arranging and composing.
Adult-Centered Teachers (well, most of them) enjoy teaching recreational students. They have to be, because most adult students are recreational (hobbyist) players! Others, particularly in large cities that draw professional aspirants (e.g. New York and Los Angeles) focus on teaching those with professional ambitions. Others teach both hobbyists and aspiring professionals (I fall into this camp).
The Adult-Centered Teacher can largely be recognized by the age of their students. The more professionally-minded (like myself) usually also belong to a professional teaching association. That said, their style may be quite different from the Serious Teacher described above. Recognizing that most adult piano students are recreational players, they may teach an eclectic variety of musical styles, offer group classes for adult learners, and generally provide a more student-centered learning experience.
Understanding and preferring to work with adults, the Adult-Centered Teacher is, not surprisingly, the best choice for most adult students.