Many students and families complain about their experiences with bad piano teachers. I have also heard teachers talk about receiving new transfer students who arrive with a list of bad experiences with their former teachers.
The four most important signs that make a bad piano teacher include the presence of unrealistic expectations, being short-tempered or losing one’s temper easily, impatience, and poor skills combined with a lack of knowledge.
What makes a bad piano teacher?
There are a variety of reasons that deem a piano teacher as “bad.” The criticism behind a bad piano teacher makes this topic highly subjective and not often talked about. Although you can claim that a piano teacher is bad, sometimes what they do is to help a student improve his class performance. Here are the four main things that make a bad teacher.
1. Unrealistic expectations
Having high expectations as a piano teacher is good and highly recommendable. However, a teacher’s expectations should be more realistic. As piano or music teachers, we are supposed to keep in mind that every student in our class has their goal different from other students.
The importance of having realistic expectations as a teacher is to be in line with our students’ goals.
Remember, some students are learning piano for fun while only a very few aim at being professionals.
Some students take piano lessons simply because the parents want to have their kids in a musical activity, even if they are busy with other activities such as sports or other arts.
The problem with some piano teachers is that they expect their students to show continuous and significant improvement lesson after lesson.
This is not easy and could be more reasonable if we as teachers remember that music lessons are not competitions. Music lessons are not a contest to see:
- who can learn faster how to read music notation
- who can learn faster how to count and play rhythms
- who can memorize faster
- who can finish their methods books faster
- who can learn more pieces in a month
- who can play in more recitals every year
- who can participate in more auditions and other competitions every year
- who can learn faster all their scales, arpeggios, chords
- who can always remember every single concept in music theory
Teachers will sometimes get frustrated and upset when the students fail to show any sign of improvement after several weeks of learning. We can forget that students and families might have different priorities.
Practicing piano every day might not be a priority to many people, but this does not mean that students do not enjoy their lessons.
I think we all have worked with students who never seem to practice but arrive at their lessons happy and with a positive attitude.
I’ve had parents tell me that their kids do lessons with me for the simple reason that the kids enjoy their time with me, even if they don’t practice during the week for being busy with other activities.
I often read about teachers’ frustrations on various Facebook groups. Some teachers feel at a loss when they seem to repeat themselves lesson after lesson.
There is nothing wrong with having ambitions and goals for our students, but we should remember that this is not a race.
When children are growing up, it would be ridiculous to force them to learn to speak, read, and write as fast as possible.
Children learn to do that at their own pace and without being forced. Why should teachers have a different attitude towards learning during piano lessons, especially when we only see the students once a week in most cases?
As private piano teachers, I think we could all agree that most of our students will not go for a professional music career.
This makes me wonder why many teachers feel that private piano lessons should be treated as college classes where students are expected to learn every single concept found in music theory.
I am sometimes shocked when I read a comment by a teacher explaining a situation with a student, and other teachers in the comments will provide a solution that almost always seems to include playing a lot of scales, arpeggios, chords, etudes, and doing a lot of sight-reading.
It is disheartening when I receive a transfer student who arrives with endless music theory worksheets but can barely play one or two piano pieces.
A piano teacher should constantly re-evaluate his or her goals and expectations for each student. It is easy to get lost in our ideals and ambitions for our students instead of thinking about what each student actually needs from us during each piano lesson.
2. Short-tempered/Loss of temper
The personality of a piano teacher matters a lot when it comes to teaching piano or music lessons. We need to make a close observation and determine how frequently a teacher loses his or her temper.
Some piano teachers tend to lose temper more often, and a small issue could make them insult or shout at the students. This is bad and unacceptable. A teacher should not scold a student for being unable to understand or do something.
There is no sin for a student to take a long time to show progress. As a piano teacher, you are supposed to examine what is leading to your student’s poor performance and work closely with him or her to show the way without turning this process into a race.
It is not a morality violation to performing poorly, and insulting a student can be a sign of a teacher’s lack of professionalism.
Any piano teacher should be respectful to the students, and uttering abusive words is not acceptable. A teacher may fail to accept a student’s main reason for learning piano and will tend to impose other reasons that are contrary to the student’s interests.
This failure makes the teacher a bad one since most of the time, he or she will end up having a personal interest first.
There is a short book by Shinichi Suzuki where he talks about the attitude we should have as music pedagogues. This highly recommended book really encompasses Suzuki´s philosophy on music education.
Read more about mean piano teachers.
Many piano teachers expect their students to correct themselves immediately while working on a piece during lessons, a failure to which can lead to frustration. As a teacher, you should know that learning isn’t an hour thing but takes some time.
As long as there is mutual respect during a lesson and good instruction, progress will follow gradually.
Learn about various teaching strategies that you can use when a student struggles with a musical or technical element.
For example, if a student constantly struggles to play a piano piece without mistakes, you need to be prepared to use various approaches until the student learns to practice more efficiently.
Although it’s understandable for your student to fail to learn, understand, and make corrections instantly, it doesn’t mean a teacher should wait forever for the student to improve.
Let’s be honest. Not all responsibility falls on the teacher. Being an impatient person can get you labeled as a bad piano teacher. However, I am not saying that you should tolerate laziness and a poor attitude from a student.
4. Poor skills and lack of knowledge
It is not a new thing to find a piano teacher who doesn’t know how to play the instrument well. You will find a teacher teaching but who practically is not very proficient at the instrument. A good teacher should have correct practice as well as playing habits. If, as a teacher, you know less about this, then you will be limiting your students’ progress.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to be an active concert pianist? Not really.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to have real experience and knowledge about how to use the fingers, wrists, hands, arms, and the entire body in an efficient way while playing the piano? Absolutely.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to understand the mechanics of the instrument and the basis of good tone production? No student should be working with a teacher like this if the answer is no.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to always remember all the terminology we use in music as well as every concept found in music theory and every historical fact found in music history?
Not all at. I don’t doubt that there might be teachers with a fantastic memory. However, for the rest of us mortals, we can always find help in music dictionaries, encyclopedias, or simply in Google.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to have a college music degree? Not always. History tells us that many fantastic musicians and pianists never received a formal university degree.
Is it necessary for a piano teacher to have certifications in piano pedagogy? No, but I would hope that teachers will at least have a basic interest in both former and current piano pedagogy trends.
It is unnecessary for a piano teacher to be an acclaimed concert pianist and a scholar in music theory, music history, piano pedagogy, piano literature, etc.
However, it would be common sense to expect that if a person starts working as a piano teacher, then there should be some level of proficiency at the instrument as well as a general knowledge of the conceptual and historical world behind the styles of music that will be taught such as western music.
We should also assume that a constant interest in the field of piano pedagogy should always be present.
Fortunately, nowadays, piano teachers have available a good variety of personal and professional development options such as music and piano pedagogy conferences, certifications as a professional music teacher, certifications on specific piano methods, etc.
Although this topic can be quite subjective, I think we all have a list of personal experiences and opinions regarding identifying reasons that would make us label someone as a bad piano teacher. Having our own criteria on what makes a bad piano teacher can serve as a reference always to help us improve our personal and professional development.
In addition to the 4 most important signs of a bad piano teacher mentioned above, I would like to hear about your own list of bad experiences and your criteria to define a bad piano teacher.
Have you ever had bad experiences with a teacher? What made you label that teacher as “bad”? How would you identify a teacher like this?
Leave a comment below.
Book recommendations mentioned in this post:
Check out my recommended list of books on piano pedagogy.
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