Your New Piano Pupil
During the initial telephone enquiry from a prospective pupil or his parent, I try to find out as much about him as possible by asking a series of questions. (I am generally approached on the phone, although occasionally I have had people coming up to me in the street – especially when I’m near the primary school where I teach).
Questions for a New Pupil
1) How did you hear about me? (Obviously this is particularly useful if you have decided to pay for advertising as you need to know if it’s working).
2) Are you (or the person on whose behalf you’re phoning) a complete beginner when it comes to learning how to play piano or keyboard? If so, have you any experience of reading music (e.g. from schooldays, maybe playing recorder), do you play another instrument or does anyone else in your house play an instrument? (It’s useful to know if a child is likely to be getting help at home) If not a beginner, what level are you at? Have you just finished lessons with another teacher? If so are you working from a particular series of course books or an exam book?
3) What sort of instrument do you have to practise on? (i.e. is it a piano or an electronic keyboard?)
4) What made you think of taking up piano-playing? (I would ask this question directly to an adult but if they were phoning about their son or daughter I would try to gauge from a general chat whether the motivation to learn to play piano came from the child him/herself or from the parent).
5) Are you free to come for lessons during the daytime? (Obviously this question has to be asked so I can allocate a regular time slot but it generally leads to a conversation about working hours – maybe revealing what sort of work they do – or the fact that they are a full-time parent or maybe a student etc.)
6) Will you be sitting in the hall while your child has lessons or would you prefer to drop them off and come back in half an hour? (At this point a parent often indicates whether the child is shy and timid or the more confident type).
7) Do you know how to get to my house? (This question generally leads to some clues about which direction they’re coming from without me actually having to ask where they live – I don’t want this initial chat to sound like an interrogation!) Although I generally have no need of pupils’ addresses, it helps build up a picture if I have a rough idea where they’re coming from and – in the case of children – which school they attend. It’s handy to know if I have several children from the same school.
The other, more essential, notes I make include – (obviously) the pupil’s name (spelled out if necessary), telephone number(s) and the starting time and date we’ve agreed on. I also explain which books I teach from and find out whether the pupil wants to purchase the book himself (so he can look at it before the lesson) or whether he’d prefer to buy one from me. (I always have plenty of John W Schaum beginners’ books in my drawer). I make sure he knows where I live, how to contact me and how much I charge for lessons.
I usually try to bring into the conversation the fact that I’m a mother as I think this reassures parents. (Not that you have to be a parent to teach piano of course – but if you do have experience of dealing with children it may be worth mentioning it).
The subject generally crops up when I give advice about practice, as I tell them of my two sons who practise every morning as part of their general routine. I recommend treating piano practice as something comparable with eating breakfast, getting dressed or brushing your teeth … it’s just one of those things you do at roughly the same time every day and you (hopefully!) wouldn’t even think of saying: “Can I leave it for today?” or “I’ll do it later.”
Unfortunately, not as many children (or parents) as I would like seem to follow this advice: the majority ‘schedule in’ a practice-session after school or later in the evening which is less successful as there are other distractions such as friends’ parties, after-school activities, favourite television programmes or complicated childcare arrangements.
Others don’t put aside any time at all and seem to expect a miracle to occur in that one half-hour a week. I explain to them that all pianists have to practise … even gifted ones; in fact, many top concert pianists practise for six hours a day, even though they’re exceptionally talented. I then add that all I’m asking of my pupils is 10 minutes. The contrast certainly silences them for a while but I can’t say that it necessarily has the desired effect – there’s only so much you can do and ultimately it’s up to the pupil and/or parents to instil good practice habits (… although I do have a few other ideas, such as practice timetables … more of this later).
To anyone who has already attained a certain standard of playing, I may outline my limitations as a pianist and teacher during the initial conversation. Surprisingly, few are put off by this … in fact most (especially adult learners … and even those who have reached the higher grades) seem to see it as a bonus if the teacher is not particularly confident! Of course, if I really believe the person would not benefit from lessons with me, I refer them to a more experienced, better qualified, teacher.
If there is sufficient time between the initial enquiry and the pupil’s first lesson, I generally post out the following ‘information sheet’:
I feel it is essential to point out my ‘rules’ from the outset. If there is not enough time to post this out before the first lesson, I hand it to the pupil or his parent when I see them.