Does Your Home Have What It Takes
To Teach Piano?
Being ‘right’ for the job is obviously the main consideration but – having decided that you ‘have what it takes’ as a person – you must also check that your environment has what it takes – assuming you’re planning to teach piano in your own home.
You do, of course need a piano. In my view, you can’t cut corners here: an electronic keyboard – even a full-sized electronic keyboard is not adequate if you’re calling yourself a ‘piano teacher’. Obviously, the layout of the notes is the same (although the number of notes varies) as is the skill of reading music and applying it to your instrument.
However, playing the electric keyboard doesn’t have the same ‘feel’ as playing the piano: in a literal sense the ‘feel’ of the notes is different – they’re so much easier to press on a keyboard whereas many pianos with their weighted notes have a ‘springiness’ and playing requires more effort – but also the psychological ‘feel’ is different: sitting at a keyboard is only a few steps above playing a musical toy whereas sitting at a piano makes you feel important: you know you have control of a very beautiful and powerful instrument.
Of course, your circumstances may mean that a full-sized piano is out of the question. If you’re a student, for example, living in university accommodation you may not have sufficient room. In that case, if an electronic keyboard really is the only possibility, I think you have to limit yourself to total beginners.
Some of my pupils play on electric pianos which, again, I would not recommend as a first choice: the pressure needed when hitting the notes is just not the same. Also young learners are easily distracted by the ‘extras’ (such as demo songs and special effects) on this type of instrument.
Choosing a New Piano
Choosing a new piano for yourself can be very exciting on the one hand … or quite daunting on the other – depending mainly on how much you’re able to spend. If you’re in the fortunate position of money and space being no object, just go along and try out some of the beautiful shiny new grand pianos in your local music shop. There will be plenty of assistants there to offer advice – and maybe even a special deal if you purchase a stool as well. Or there is selection of beautiful grand pianos at Musicroom.com or Amazon UK/Amazon US. Alternatively, you might prefer one of the new upright pianos at Musicroom.com or Amazon UK/Amazon US. (See also Tips for Buying Piano).
If, however, a new piano is not an option, don’t despair, there are ways around the problem. Firstly, there are second-hand (used) piano businesses – many of which recondition, tune and deliver the instrument for you. However, although this is obviously a much cheaper option than buying new, these pianos may still be out of your league. In that case, your best bet is to read local advertisements (in some cases people give away pianos – or at least sell them for next to nothing – when they move house: all they ask is that you make arrangements to have the instrument taken away yourself).
My own piano was purchased second-hand on eBay.co.uk. (Use eBay.com if you live outside the UK). If you set your ‘distance’ preferences to 40 miles or so, you may get yourself a bargain). Ours is a Kemble and cost us £1,000. We chose it partly for the colour as our dining room has light wood furniture and a dark one would have looked out of place. However, I did try it out before parting with any money and I’m glad to say the piano tuner agrees that we bought a reasonable piano at a reasonable price.
However, buying an unseen used piano is definitely risky and therefore you should ask the seller if you can pay on collection.
Ask a Piano Tuner
Ideally, when you go to collect it, you should have someone with you who knows a bit about pianos – preferably a tuner who can quickly tell you if the instrument is beyond tuning and therefore not worth bothering with. If this is not possible, at least make sure you spend some time trying the piano yourself, checking there are no sticking keys and that the pedals work properly.
It may also be worth asking a few questions about how frequently the piano has been played and what is the reason for selling it. If, for example, the owner says his daughter has just passed her grade 8 exam but is now moving out of the family home, the chances are the piano will be in reasonable condition. Even if this is the case though, you may want to have the piano tuned when you get it home. Piano tuners currently charge around £60 for basic tuning in the UK – or $90 in the US. Of course, prices do vary and fees depend on how much work needs doing.
Ideally, you need an adjustable stool (or an adjustable music stand on the piano – my husband made two different-sized detachable ones for ours – pictured on the right) to accommodate variations in the height of your pupils.
Piano stools can be expensive and second-hand ones are not that easy to come by – although I was fortunate in finding a two-seater stool with plenty of storage room inside for music: however, it’s not adjustable and the only solution is to provide a cushion for the very young pianists. There is a variety of piano stools at Musicroom.com or Amazon UK/Amazon US or from eBay.co.uk or eBay.com. (Sometimes these items are listed as ‘piano bench’). Many of these stools can also be used with keyboards.
I also keep a CD player in the teaching room. (Yes, I know CD players seem old-fashioned to some these days but – as long as CDs are still being made – I’ll stick with it). This is particularly handy for pupils working towards exams as they can listen to the piece they are learning played by a professional pianist and also – in some cases – attempt to play along – sometimes with just one hand. This can help with acquiring difficult rhythms.
You also need to think more generally about your home environment. Is your teaching room free from disruptions and can you be sure the sound of the piano won’t disturb others?
One of the advantages of teaching from home is that you can combine it with being a parent while avoiding the cost and inconvenience of childcare. Of course, this depends on the age and behaviour of your child/children and whether they can be trusted to play quietly and without disturbing you for given a period of time.
If possible, avoid anything that will be off-putting for pupils or their parents. Pets for example – although loveable to their owners – can be frightening or unsettling for others and it’s probably best to ensure that they’re kept away from the piano room.
Heating and Lighting
Try to keep your home is at a comfortable temperature … not always easy to achieve as individual body temperatures differ so much – I am forever opening and closing the window depending on who I’m teaching.
The room – in particular the area where the piano music is – must be well-lit – especially if you teach people with poor eyesight (remembering many may be too vain to wear glasses … or in denial that presbyopia – age-related sight deterioration – has finally caught up with them).
To avoid concerns about the suitability of your own home, you could of course, teach in your pupils’ homes instead. I have no experience of this so cannot offer any advice. Due to petrol costs, time limitations and inconvenience, I have chosen to avoid it.
(See also Piano Room Tips).
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