Adriana won the second Piano Idol competition held in 2009. Since then I have seen her progressing very well in her piano playing. Of course it helps to have a strict teacher like me, yes? Here she is, playing Chopin’s Mazurka in F Op. 68 No. 3. She’s one student that will go very far (and that’s a promise)
Bao Xiu has been learning with me for about two years now. She’s a soft-spoken student, but very obedient and follows instructions to the latter. Here she’s playing one of her Grade 8 ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, UK) examination pieces—Clara Schumann’s Fugue. I recorded this video using my Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D in high definition mode. Well done, Bao Xiu!
I decided to embark on a project to photograph each and every one of my students recently. And this is one of the questions that never fails to annoy me—“How many students do you have?” I usually post a response like “Just enough to maintain my sanity and live a decent lifestyle.” Teaching is one of the most taxing professions that one can take up, especially when it’s on a one-to-one basis like what I’m doing. So here’s a photo collage of my current crop of students (at least the ones who were not camera-shy) All the pictures were shot with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D with either a Canon 50mm standard lens or a Canon 18-55mm IS zoom lens. Lighting used was bounced flash with a Canon 270EX Speedlite.
To all my students—thank you for letting me be your teacher, and for putting up with me as we embark on our musical journeys together.
Top row (L-R): Adriana, Anthea, Bao Xiu, Cassandra, Henry. Second row (L-R): Jason, Joshua, Kelvin, Poh Lin, Regina. Third row (L-R): Robin, Sabrina, Shih Yu, Shirlynn, Terence. Bottom row (L-R): Wei Yang, Wynn, Ying Xuan, Yu Xuan.
Yes, it’s Anthea—one of my favorite students (she played Happy Birthday for me here) and now she’s doing a piece called Malaguena. She found this piece a little challenging at first but she stuck to it and now she can play both hands quite well. I seized the opportunity to record her on my Canon PowerShot SX130 IS and here’s the result. After experiencing the HD quality on this camera I’m not going back to normal 640 resolution again.
Well done, Anthea. I’m proud of you and would like to thank her mom Josephine for permission to publish the video here.
Another issue potential piano teachers face is whether they intend to teach in a music school, privately, or both. I’ll try to present my thoughts in this post.
Teaching in a music school certainly has its merits. The biggest plus point is that you don’t have to source for students yourself, the school does it for you. And if you’re into group teaching, you can quickly see an increase in your student intake. All you have to do is turn up and teach.
What about the disadvantages of teaching in a music school? The biggest shortcoming is that you don’t receive 100% of the students’ fees. This is understandable because the school needs a proportion for administration costs, utilities, etc. So let’s say you charge $100 for a beginning student for private teaching; you might find that you are paid only half of that at the school (meaning that you have to teach two students instead of one to get the same fee) That means you have to work harder if you intend to teach full-time in a music school.
You are also obliged to abide and follow the regulations of the music school you’re teaching in. Fair enough, but depending on how it goes, you might find yourself teaching students that don’t get along with you, students who don’t show up and don’t inform you, etc. The school might insist that you teach them anyway because they can’t find another teacher who has time to do so.
Teaching privately on the other hand, is a challenge when you’re first starting out. At this stage you can’t pick and choose students yet. When I first started out decades ago, I made a slight error in always trying to get advanced students because of higher fees—don’t do this. Get students of any level you can find. Beginning students are actually good, because if you teach them well, chances are they will stick with you as they progress. That will build up your student intake gradually.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of teaching privately is that you get to keep 100% of the fees. You’re also your own boss, so you make your own decisions about lesson schedules, replacement lessons, holidays, etc. And need I say that it’s much more comfortable teaching at home, as opposed to being in a tiny room in a music school?
Or you could opt to do both, like what I’ve been doing. I’ve gotten to the point where I know the school administrator very well, so any problems I have can be discussed and ironed out in the open. And because I’m involved with the school I get to participate in such interesting activities such as the Piano Idol competition, which I’ve been judging for the past two years.
So there you have it. You have to make up your own mind, but it’s always possible to test the waters first in the field of piano teaching. Good luck!
I made up my mind about becoming a piano teacher almost 37 years ago. Allow me to highlight my own personal pros and cons.
- Piano teaching can be a very fulfilling vocation, especially when you see students gradually improving over the course of time under your guidance. Many of my ex-students have gone on to become piano teachers themselves.
- You are your own boss. You set and maintain your own teaching schedules, your rates, your rules, etc. Best of all, you can do this in the comfort of your own home. And if you plan your teaching schedules carefully, you can have lots of me time for yourself and/or your family.
- You learn how to interact with people. I’m talking about students and parents here, of course. No doubt experience is the best teacher, but you have to indulge yourself in it, you can’t be shy. Learning people skills, knowing when and how to talk and listen, makes you a better person and teacher. Buy some self-motivational books and motivate yourself first before you motivate others.
- This is a good career for those of us who would rather work at home. Many mothers do this so that they can be close to their children at the same time.
- Piano teaching can also be a supplementary source of income if you already have a primary job. Some of my ex-students teach on a part-time basis (for example after office hours) and that means more money in the kitty.
- Piano teaching is a career where your monthly salary is always in a state of flux. Like it or not, students come and go. You will have good periods and not-so-good periods. It comes with the territory.
- Piano teaching can be stressful. Believe me, this is the absolute truth. Teaching someone to play the piano well and expecting them to do their fair share of practice involves a lot of patience, determination, and wit. It will be a testing time for you!
- Like every other job, you get what you put in. I hate to say the obvious but if you don’t correct the bad habits that students may have, you’re not doing your job right. Piano teaching isn’t about just sitting beside the student and barking out orders, you have to get involved, to demonstrate, to show them how you want it done. And if you have no idea at all, then you shouldn’t be teaching in the first place!
- There is also a tendency for people to judge your quality of teaching on the number of students you have. While this is true to a point, it makes no sense whatsoever for you to offer discount rates and have students (mediocre or otherwise) flocking to you. It’s also downright unethical. After so many years of teaching I’ve arrived at the point where I can pick and choose my students; if you’re just starting off you might be able to do this.
You might also want to get a book like like James Bastien’s How To Teach Piano Successfully. It’s a book I’ve read and periodically dip into. Another book which appears interesting is David Newsam’s Making Money Teaching Music. The link will also show you the many other books on piano teaching, it’s worth getting a book or two.
You can also join a forum like Piano World (of which I’m a member) Registration is free and there are over 47,000 members sharing a wealth of information and advice. It’s a great place for piano fans.