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5 MUSTS Regarding Tuition for Piano Lessons


1~You must charge/bill in advance of lessons

                ~Whether you are charging by-the-lesson, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually, this is necessary.  Do not expect a student to pay you after a lesson, as you will be disappointed. 

2~You must notify your students how many lessons they are receiving for this fee

                ~Always let your students know what they are getting for their tuition.  In your Policy Letter, make sure you have everything that is included or excluded.  Make the student (parent) sign a contract that you will keep in your files.  This is to protect you (and them).

3~You must not teach for free

                ~You are not giving lessons out of the kindness of your heart.  This is a business.  Although there are times where you might offer some sort of scholarship or reduced rate, teaching for free is not the way to go.  You will be taken advantage of and then become resentful.

4~You must raise your rates annually taking into consideration of Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA)

                ~This year, the COLA is 1.3%, so your fees should be raised accordingly.  

5~You must remember that you are a professional

                ~Think of doctors, before you see one, you are charged for an office visit.  This should be no different for you.  You have studied hard to get where you are and be paid for your expertise in this area.  Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.

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Are Simplified or Adapted Classics Acceptable?

This is another touchy subject for most piano teachers!  I used to be in the “never allow them” camp, but as the years have passed, I am embracing them.  When I was young teachers, I wanted my students to only experience original compositions.  In taking this path, my beginning students, who may have wanted to learn the Minuet in G BWV 114  would now need to wait for several years until they had the technical background to play successfully.  I had no idea if that student would still be taking lessons before achieving their goal.  What a missed opportunity to introduce them to the classics!  They might be stuck in method books for a year or two and lose interest in a broader base of repertoire.  Although I do not adhere to a steady diet of arrangements, I do regularly assign them if a student REALLY wants to learn a specific piece.  It is a win-win in my book.

The Piano Curriculum Series LLC

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Why Teach the Classics

There is a movement among some piano teachers to ditch the classics and only teach 20th and 21st Century music.  The reasoning behind this seems to be students do not like “old” music and are much more engaged in contemporary music.  I am not in this camp.  I think that teaching the classics is like teaching history.  It is important to know where we came from and the journey that we have taken.  I tell my students if they can play Bach, they can play anyone.  Although, some don’t particularly like Baroque music, they learn so much from the intricacies of the period.  I can appreciate teachers who want their students to be happy, but to have an appreciation for what was is imperative.  I am always thrilled when a former student contacts me and tells me they now love Baroque or Classical (era) music.  It fills my heart.  They have now moved into the patron category of music lovers. 


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Standardized Testing

This is an age old question that almost every piano teacher has grappled with in their career.  There are those who never consider testing their students and others who required testing. 

~What is the purpose of testing?

                ~Testing should a benchmark for a student’s progress.  It is generally done annually, but can also occur after a student has met the guidelines of the specific test. 

~Why would a teacher avoid testing?

                ~Many teachers feel that testing is too much pressure for their students.  They prefer to teach at their own pace and let the students guide their own progress.

~What are some of the different levels of testing?

                ~Testing can be as simple as a teacher reviewing material and the giving general feedback to rigorous requirements that require intense practicing and study.

~Do some countries test more than others?

                ~There are many countries that administer and encourage (or require) standardized testing.  In the USA, we do not have a single test that the majority of teachers have their students enrolled in.  Many of our teachers use the European (ABRSM) or Canadian (RCM) tests.  There are also a few US based tests that are excellent, including the National Guild and PCS Piano Proficiency Examinations.

It is certainly a personal choice for a teacher to test or not to test, but I would like to encourage all piano teachers to consider testing.  This gives the student and their parents a clear window into the progress being made.

The Piano Curriculum Series LLC

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The Importance of Scales

SCALES!  It’s almost a dirty word to most students.  Why do we have to learn them?  I hate practicing them!  Why can’t we just skip them?  It seems as if it is a battle ever week, doesn’t it?  I think if students understand the importance, they wouldn’t fight us so hard.

~Relationship between whole steps and half steps

                ~As a beginning student is introduced to whole and half steps, five-finger scales should be introduced.  This is a wonderful way to get the student to experience the difference in elevations on the keyboard (white and black keys) and it also keeps them from staying in a single hand position.

~Sense of tonality

                ~Most teachers begin their students with pieces that have a tonal center.  If the student is cognizant of the tonality within the five-finger scales, the process of learning these instructional (method) pieces will be more effective.  When the student plays incorrect notes, they will hear the difference and be able to adjust quickly.

~Identifies with Key Signature

                ~As the student progresses and becomes aware that music is written in keys, this is a simple correlation to their scale study.  I often interchange the two words key/scale when the student is young. 


                ~One of the most important elements to learning how to play scales is to implement the correct fingering.  This becomes helpful when scale passages occur within a piece.  All a teacher has to do is point out the passage is a scale and the student will automatically be able to play.

Please consider scale study with your students if you are not currently doing so.  I think it will bring a better understanding of structure to their lessons.

The Piano Curriculum Series LLC

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Setting Goals for Your Students

It is important to set goals for all piano students, whether they are competition bound or are taking for recreation.  Goals do not have to be lofty, just realistic.  Depending on the student, you may want to set short-term goals and with more serious students add long-term.

Short-term goals may include completing an assignment within a given time-frame.  It could also include mastering a technical element or musicianship skill.  Maybe you want them to learn about composers, so you have them do some research.  These are very attainable goals within reach for all students.  Long-term goals may include setting benchmarks for mastering a set of skills or perhaps mastering a large work.  It may also include preparing for an adjudication or competition. 

Let your students actively participate in setting their goals, with you encouraging them to be realistic.  By doing this, you work as a team and students are more likely to accomplish these goals.

The Piano Curriculum Series LLC

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10 Basic Concepts for Beginning Piano Students

What should a young beginning (ages 6-8) piano student learn over the first 6 months (25 lessons) of their studies?  Every teacher will have their own criteria for this time-frame and I would like to share mine.

1~Posture and Hand position

          ~This is the first thing ANY student should be taught.  Sitting properly on the piano bench, feet flat on the ground (or stool), with arms parallel to the keyboard are a must.

2~Right hand and left hand

          ~Have a little chuckle here, but there are many students who get these mixed up, so make sure they are clear which is which.

3~High, Low, Up & Down the Keyboard

          ~Students should be able to differentiate high pitches from low ones and the directions of going high to low and low to high.

4~Treble Clef, Bass Clef and Grand Staff

          ~These are very basic symbols and students should understand.

5~The Staff and naming the lines and spaces

          ~A student should be able to identify the names of each line and space on a given staff and be able to associate them with the proper key on the piano or keyboard.

6~Whole note, half note, quarter note and their rests

          ~The student needs to understand the relationship between these notes and rests and how the function.  There are 2 components to each, rhythm and pitch. 

7~Time Signature

          ~The specific grouping of notes is essential.  Three/four and four/four are the first two that should be addressed.

8~Measures and bar lines

          ~The basic understanding of notes and rests being placed within a measure is often confusing for young students.  They want to place the number of notes, not the number of beats within a measure.

9~Legato and Staccato

          ~The first technical elements that a student should learn are the differences between legato and staccato.  They should also be able to recognize a slur.

10~Dynamic Markings

          ~Dynamics should be learned from the beginning.  Students should begin with loud and soft.

So, these are my top ten concepts and elements for the first six months of piano study.  I hope it is helpful navigating lessons.

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10 Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Piano Teacher


So you or family members have decided to take piano lessons.  You have gathered some names from friends, relatives or a local music store.  You are ready to start calling, but not sure what to ask.  I am always amazed at some of the questions I am asked and more amazed at the ones I am not asked.  Here is a list of questions I would recommend asking any professional teacher. 

1~What is your music educational background?

          ~You want to know this.  There are many teachers who do not have degrees in piano pedagogy, but have had wonderful teachers throughout their studies, so this should not turn you off.  If a teacher teaches many instruments, make sure they have a solid background in piano (not just a year or two of group lessons).  Some teachers will have advanced degrees.  This is wonderful, but make sure they are vested in teaching and not solely in performing.

2~What is your teaching philosophy?

          ~This will tell you quite a bit about the teacher.  What do they expect from their students?  Do they have goals for their students?  Do they follow a specific curriculum?  How do they interact with their students?

3~Do you teach online or in a studio?

          ~These days, this is also an important piece of information.  Some teachers are now only teaching online, while others teach only in their studios.  This will be a personal preference for you.  Some students do well with online lessons, where others flourish in a studio setting.  There are also teachers who offer both.

4~Do you require students to participate in events in addition to lessons?

          ~This will give you an idea of your commitment to lessons.  Most teachers will ask their students to participate in an annual recital.  Other teachers may require students to participate in a multitude of events which many include standardized testing, theory testing, community service, local festivals, and competitions.  There are so many options that it is important to know what is or is not expected.

5~How long have you been teaching and what ages do you teach?

          ~This will help you gauge the teacher’s experience level.  Some teachers only like taking beginners, while others only like teaching more advanced students.  The majority of teachers will take a variety of students from elementary school to adults.

6~What style(s) do you teach?

          ~Do you want to learn Classical Piano, how about Jazz or maybe Pop?  This is important to know, as some teachers are more suited to teach in one area than another.  Some will be able to teach in all areas, so see where their interests lie.

7~Do you only teach piano or do you encompass other areas of music?

          ~Many teachers only teach basic piano skills.  Others will also incorporate theory and music history.  Some will also have students learn how to compose and improvise, so there is a wide variety of areas to consider.

8~How often and how long are your lessons?

          ~Again, this is a personal choice.  Most teachers in the US give a single lesson per week.  Lessons can range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the teachers studio or the age of the student.

9~Do you teach over holidays and summers?

          ~Some teachers take all major holidays and summers off, where others teach almost every week of the year. 

10~What is your tuition schedule?

          ~This should be the last question you ask.  Why?  Because, you need to gather information before making a judgment call on how much lessons cost.  There are as many different tuition plans as there are teachers: hourly rates, monthly rates, quarterly rates, semester rates and even annual rates.  Many teachers do a combination of rates.  Just remember, you get what you pay for and the least expensive is not always the best.


I hope this has helped as you embark on piano lessons.