A Question for Teachers from a Parent

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My children are going to a highly credentialed piano teacher. She has a graduate degree from a conservatory and been an adjunct piano faculty at a flagship state university. My concern is she seems so unstructured at times. There were weeks that she assigned quite a good deal of materials, but there were weeks that she assigned very little or nothing, although she passed the previous week assignment. The assignments, of course, come from the method book that my children are learning. Once in a while she taught pitch singing and she didn't bring back the subject for weeks or months. Same with theory and artistry. Almost like hit and run and hit type of thing.

So, my question is, (1) should I concern about her teaching style (I'm not sure of the substance as I know nothing about music)? (2) should I ask my child to practice ahead in weeks where they don't have enough assignment? (3) Once I brought up my concern and she explained to me that there's more into playing piano than just playing music notes (of course, I know that!), should I look around for another teacher given that the school year is about to end and she doesn't teach summer?

Any other advice/opinion is appreciated.

Thanks, Your Musically Illiterate Parent :-)

-- Your Musically Illiterate Parent (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 01, 2001


On the weeks that she doesn't assign new material, does she ask your children to review? If so, does she specifically tell them what they need to work on (i.e., "problem spots" in their pieces that need more work)? A good teacher will expect much more from your children than merely correct notes & rhythm. Many pieces require more than one week to perfect. Advanced-level pieces can take what seems like an eternity to polish & memorize. When I was participating in talent competitions, the pieces I performed took about a year to perfect (so that they could be performed flawlessly, from memory, under pressure). I'd suggest that you arrange an appointment with your children's teacher so that you can discuss the issues that concern you. Good luck.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 01, 2001.

I would take your cue from your own children. If they seem bored by the lack of assignments - then there's a problem. In my own teaching I sometimes assign more or less than previous weeks. For example,I would never start a new teaching unit (i.e.- introducing 6/8 time) with only a few minutes left, so I might work on rhythm skills or sightreading instead. If you feel uncomfortable with her teaching style or wondering about progress or keeping you children motivated, then I would schedule a conference. As a teacher I would welcome a parent's questions. Also, I noticed you listed the teacher's outstanding credentials. Please note that this doesn't always make for the best teacher for your child. Education is very important, but experience, personality, enthusiasm, and string communication skills are absolutely necessary. Good luck!

-- JKD (noname poster@yahoo.com), May 01, 2001.

You may not be musically literate, but it sounds like you know your children and how they learn best. Maybe, since she doesn't teach during the summer, and you would like for your children to have lessons durning the summer it would not be a bad idea to find a teacher for the summer. That way you would have something to compare with, and your children will get a fresh view point, which never hurts. Since it is just for the summer you could go back to this teacher in the fall, or, if you and the kids are happier with the new teacher, you could stay there. It would be good to talk to the teacher about your concerns and wanting the kids to have lessons during the summer.

It's hard to know whether to go with your feelings when you aren't as knowledgable as the teacher and don't know if you are right or not, but but feelings are often the best guide you have.

-- Mary Jo (noname-poster@yahoo.com), May 05, 2001.

Thanks for those who responded. I did what Mary Jo suggested. That is to send my kids to another teacher in the summer to see how things work out...

-- A Musically Illiterate Parent (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 07, 2001.

That sounds like a good approach, though I'd still express my concerns to the first teacher if I were you.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 07, 2001.

If your child has problems, blame the teacher. Keep changing teachers until you find one that teaches the way you want them to teach. Whatever you do, don't give this teacher a chance to explain anything. Why give her a chance? The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side of the fence.

-- wow (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 08, 2001.

My first and last music teacher was also very unstructured. I lasted one year and begged my parents to let me quit lessons. That was thirty years ago and I still regret my lack of formal training. That year of lessons was on organ, but I now play the piano. I frequently tell people that I have never had a piano lesson in my life. (A dubious distinction.)

My organ teacher was a talented, skilled musician that played a multitude of instruments, including upright bass in the local symphony orchestra. But -- she was a crummy teacher. Find a good teacher and make sure your kids learn the basic skills, such as proper fingering and sight-reading. Teaching and musical ability are two different skills. Don’t let your music teacher’s poor teaching skills mess up your kids. They will carry the “scars” for the rest of their lives.

Sounds really ominous, doesn’t it?

I still play music regularly and 3-4 times a month I play piano in the church I attend. (This takes a bit of nerve since we attract about 500 attendees every week.) But, every time I play, I reserve the right to veto any song the minister selects, because I may not be able to play it. This is what I must struggle with 30 years after dropping a crummy teacher.

I hope this helps.

-- Jerry Van Ee (jvanee@sandwell.com), May 09, 2001.

Perhaps expressing concerns to the teacher might help. I certainly think she ought to know why you're not happy. But, hey, that's just me. I'm open & honest with people. If I'm not happy doing business with a certain person or establishment, I make sure they know why before I switch. Sometimes they make changes to keep my business. Sometimes not. But at least they know.

At the same time, when I'm really happy with the service or instruction I'm given, I make sure to thank the person or establishment. If one of my kids' school teachers does an outstanding job, I make sure that s/he knows that I appreciate the job that s/he is doing, & I also let the principal know.

I think that feedback is important. How can we as teachers improve if no one ever speaks up & voices their concerns? And how can we know if what we're doing makes a difference is no one ever thanks us?

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 09, 2001.

In my previous post I didn't mention that a summer with another teacher is a mutual agreement between the teacher and myself (since she take the summer off anyway). I told her that I'll let her know by the beginning of August if my children will continue the next school year. That gives her sort of a month advanced notice.

We actually have a good relationship and I've always admired her performance as she concertizes herself. As I alluded to, I've never questioned her musical ability. I do have concern about her teaching style, however.

Anyway, I appreciate you folks who kindly responded and gave me meaningful suggestions.


-- A Musically Illiterate Parent (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 10, 2001.

You mentioned this fine woman's college degree & ability to perform. What about teaching experience? I've stated this many times, but having a degree doesn't necessarily make a person a good teacher. Being able to perform well doesn't necessarily qualify a person, either. A degree & performance background are great, & certainly mean something. But I'm just wondering how many people consider years of teaching experience to be as important, if not more important, than a degree &/or performance skills.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 10, 2001.

We have all heard the old adage “Those who can; do. Those who can’t; teach. Those who can’t teach; teach teachers.” (Some people make the last one read “Those who can’t teach; teach gym.”)

Playing an instrument, getting a degree in music and teaching music are three completely different activities. To assume that achieving the first two qualifies a person for the third is unrealistic. My oldest son is gifted in the area of computers. But he is woefully inadequate when it comes to explaining any of what he knows to other people. He understands the subject himself at such a deep level, he has trouble slowing down enough for the rest of us. (I know that he is not simply faking it because I can see the results he achieves.)

This can be a real problem with talented musicians that must teach to pay the bills. Unfortunately, it is difficult for many people to make a living performing music. For this reason our music schools are filled with frustrated musicians acting as teachers to pay the rent, and our music stores are filled with frustrated musicians acting as salesmen to pay the rent.

Some musicians are great teachers and some musicians are great salespeople, but don’t bet on it as a rule.

-- Jerry Van Ee (jvanee@sandwell.com), May 10, 2001.

Many of the problems with degreed teachers are the result of having studied music and their instrument extensively, but not having received adequate training in teaching.

I have a M.M. in piano but have also had excellent training in how to teach from one of the best teachers in the US. This person daily demonstrated his ability to teach at all levels, from beginning to advanced, and then helped each of us to learn how to teach well through a combination of coursework, observation and supervised teaching.

Teacher training programs such as this are woefully few in number, but they are out there. Granted, some are better than others and not everyone who proceeds through a program such as I did becomes a great teacher.

I urge you, however, not to lump all degreed teachers in one basket, just as one should not lump all non-degreed teachers together. There are good and bad in every profession.

Interview the propsective teacher and ask the questions that are important to you in your child's education in general. It's really no different than wanting a decent academic education for your child. The subject matter just happens to be different.

-- Arlene Steffen (asteffen@fresno.edu), May 15, 2001.

Right you are, Arlene.

-- Music Educator (noname_poster@yahoo.com), May 16, 2001.

A good teacher can make all the difference in the world to a beginning child. I agree with Arlene. A lot of teaching skills are innate, but many skills, such as perceiving a child's learning styles and other similiar skills can be taught. Degreed teachers not only have knowledge, they also may have more connections. I agree that being a great performer does not make a great teacher, but it does help a lot. Basically, are you satisfied with your student's progress? Many times I vary the amount of material I give to students, based on what their plans are for the week, and what task I specifically want them to accomplish. For exampple, if they are to work on learning to relax their hands when they plan, which is a mentally time consuming task, I might only assign one very simple song. That doesn't mean they should spend less time practicing, it means that they should learn to practice in a different way. I would suggest attending your students lessons if you have a problem with a teacher. This might clear up a lot of questions. Ask the teacher directly what she is trying to accomplish with your students. Make SURE the teacher has a plan, and is not just floating. Sometimes the overall plan for a student's development takes many years, and the material will fluctuate from week to week. This is normal, even at college level. Communicating weekly with any teacher is what is needed, even if you should change to a new teacher. Alternatively, you could ask for montly progress reports outlining what has been accomplished, what will be accomplished in the future, stregnths and weaknesses, etc. In response to WoW, just because a student has problems, don't always take it out on the teacher. Some students might actually have problems which need to be solved, such as having too much to do to concentrate properly.

-- Rachael (RachaelFischer91@mybluelight.com), May 04, 2002.

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