Is your piano teacher a scruff?

Different people expect different things from their music teacher, but what’s really important? Is it the qualifications they hold? Or the skill with which they teach? Is it the price of lessons? Or does their professional appearance and tidy studio matter, too? During a recent ‘tidying up’ session I got to thinking…


Recently I realised that my Teaching Room was looking a bit of a mess. Of course, we “creative” types like to have things strewn around the room and sometimes it gets a bit out of hand! My piano was covered with music and other paperwork. My shelves were a mess and my desk and in-tray had achieved ‘huge-pile-of-random-stuff” status and were rapidly approaching “everything’s-going-to-fall-on-the-floor-very-soon”.

Does it matter?

As I began tidying, I began to think: is this really important to my pupils? Do they judge me on appearances? Does the state of my teaching environment matter? Is it important what clothes I wear?

As a parent of two grown-up musical children, I thought back to their various music teachers. My son had a drum teacher who taught in a tee-shirt and ‘scruffy’ jeans in a tiny cellar room. At the time I don’t think we ever thought him unprofessional. Both had a piano teacher who always looked smart (I’m not just saying this because she remains a good friend!) and who had a full, but tidy, room to teach in. Thinking back, with both of these teachers it was the quality of the teaching relationship which mattered to us most, and happily in both cases this was excellent. At one time they were also taught piano by an extremely elderly lady who didn’t relate particularly well to them, and at another by a younger lady who was a bit too terse and strict for my liking. I think for us it was the teacher, not the environment, that mattered most.

But not everyone is the same. In our increasingly celebrity-centred culture it is entirely possible that some of the new generation of parents make some of their value judgement based on appearances. So perhaps my tidy-up was important after all.

Fashion conscious?

And what about my clothes? When I visit pupils in their home or school, I wear a smart shirt and tie with formal trousers and shoes. But when I teach from home, I just wear jeans, casual shoes and a tee-shirt. Why the difference? I’m not sure: perhaps being at home I tend to “dress like I’m at home”.

Importantly, though, the way you dress can make a difference to the way you behave. Could I be sure I was still giving a professional service from home?

I figured it out

Having (finally!) reached the end of my tidying, I came to a few conclusions:
• having a tidy Teaching Room is a good target to have
• I’m not a tidy person so sometimes I will miss this target!
• I’m going to ‘try out’ wearing more formal clothes when teaching from home, to see how I feel.
• I’m going to remember that, above all, it’s being a good teacher that counts.

How about you? Are you a music teacher who dresses up or dresses down? Or are you a music pupil with a smart or scruffy teacher? What do you think? Leave a comment to tell me, would you?  Thanks!

1 Comment

  1. Biplab Poddar

    The thing that matter to me is the skill with which they teach. I seriously don’t want to know his/ her qualification, or how they look.
    I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces.
    Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
    Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.

    But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.

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