One of my senior pupils asked me the question, “When is someone qualified to teach piano?” It was a subject she had been discussing among friends. There are no doubt various opinions on this. Some might argue that unless you had passed all your piano exams you shouldn’t even consider it. Others may say years of experience on the instrument are more important. Still others may feel that skills gained in teaching other subjects can be transferred as long as you have a good grounding in general musical theory. And others, even, that you can teach anything as long as you are at least a lesson ahead of your pupil!
It is a too big a subject to cover in depth here, but I will briefly touch on some of the important issues to consider. First, I’ll cover the negatives of pupils learning from inexperienced and/or not yet qualified teachers, then follow that up with a way through if someone is wanting to get started as a teacher.
First of all, you need to grasp the importance of a solid understanding of the basic skills. Any of us can teach what we have learned one way or another, but how it is received and carried through for the long term is going to be the best test of whether our teaching is effective or not. In any project there are foundations that must be put in place. For example, if a child has not been taught early on to have good hand shape firmly in place on the correct notes it can affect their ability to read music fluently. This is because they will likely be switching between looking at their written music and their hands to see if they are in the right place.
Second, it is not fair on any beginner to learn from someone who is just feeling their way without having done it before. If you have not yet seen the problems that will occur later on from poor tuition at the beginning, you may not realise the importance of getting basics into place from the start. And you owe that to your pupil.
Third, every learner is different. Knowing what methodology to use for each learner comes with experience. Even if a tutor uses one particular tutor book series they need to know how to adapt that for the needs of their pupil.
Fourth, if the pupil is not well supported from the outset, they may give up and never come back to learning again. And even if they do so with an experienced teacher, bad habits formed early can take a lot of time and patience to correct. I am saddened by the many conversations I have had with people who have had a negative experience of learning an instrument that put them off for life.
What would help?
Anyone wanting to teach because there is no suitable professional available should do so somehow under a qualified, experienced teacher who can guide them through the challenges they face at the beginning, of which there can be many.
I realise, as I think on this now, how privileged I was to be mentored from a young age from such a person in my mother who was already teaching instrumental music as her profession. I grew up seeing all it involved almost without even thinking about it. She helped me as I put my first pupil through for his first exam when I was 15. But actually, she was still the main tutor. Everything I did was using the exact methodology she was doing for her other pupils.
All this to say, whatever age you are or whatever qualification you have, if you are starting to teach an instrument, you would benefit hugely from having an appropriate mentor. You owe it to anyone you teach to do so.
A systematic tutor book or course
If you use a recognised tutor book series, you at least have a solid progression of pieces in an order that has been tried and tested with many before you. Look for a course that provides clear instructions for the tutor. Some will also offer tutor instruction books to go with their courses.
Keep learning and get qualified
A teacher who is continuing to learn has a better understanding of the struggles of their pupil. Keep working at increasing your own qualifications and attend teacher training courses and workshops at every opportunity. This will mean you are working at getting qualified while you are learning through practical experience, both essential.
Avoid teaching the very young
This will depend on the child, but it is much easier to teach someone who has learned to at least sit still and do a given task through being at school a couple of years. You need to establish that they can spend some time practicing what you teach them.
Avoid teaching a family member*
Although teaching a family member may be your motive or goal, teaching someone who is not a family member is much easier. Family members tend to take each other for granted and you would need to put clear ground rules in place for it to be effective.
This has barely touched on this subject, but I hope it gives some guidance. If you have want to discuss any specifics, do get in touch with me via email email@example.com
I would be glad to help you be sure about how to start out as an instrument tutor. You might also find a blog I wrote in February helpful: 7 characteristics to look for in a piano teacher
*I consider teaching your own family members a specialty of its own and am currently writing a course to help with this specifically for piano, called: Teach My Child the Piano like a Pro. It is especially for those who want to teach their own children (or grandchildren) when a qualified, experienced teacher is not available, but provides a decent amount of practical help for anyone wanting to teach the piano. Again, if you want to know more about this forthcoming course, you can contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org