Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Would you allow your baker to fix the engine of your car?
Would you allow your mechanic to treat your children when they need medical attention?
Would you call your music teacher to fix your plumbing?
Would you really?
Over the years I was contacted by many pianists looking for an idea, some guidance, some tips and tricks that will improve and boost their performance fast and efficient. Of course I asked them to play a bit so I can get an idea of what they know and what they want versus what they really need. I noticed that most of them had an incorrect sitting position in front of the piano with tensed hands, stiff fingers and the elbows almost welded to the rib cage. Some of them would keep their chest up and the shoulders straight like they were waiting to sing in the Red Army Choir some powerful patriotic songs and others would look like The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Of course their performance was mirroring their posture. It's interesting though how almost all of them asked me how to "play fast" and very few asked THE RIGHT QUESTION. And the right question to ask a piano teacher would be "What do I need to fix or to improve?". The age spectrum of this people coming to me for advice was 9-ish to 40+ years old. I've also seen 50+ years old piano students but they had no desire whatsoever of ever being on stage or to play Rachmaninov's version of The Flight Of The Bumblebee at the Royal Albert Hall in less then a month.
Every time I start with the same question: Who's your piano teacher? What's his/her background? The answers are shocking and if I go online to look for some of the names I'll find little to nothing. A good description that would perfectly fit these so called "pianists and teachers" would be: the average 50+years old lady/gentleman, house wife or former accountant They have a chihuahua and 3 cats and they took some lessons in their early childhood because grandpa paid for it, and now, with no other job they convinced some parents after the Sunday church sermon to trust them with their children's music education. They would tell the student whatever he or she wants to hear, the student is happy and their fame grows instantly. This teacher wakes up one day with a full schedule: 5 or 6 hours a day teaching and molding young minds, initiating students in "the secrets of music". Some other teachers, much younger, would be the above mentioned lady's former students, that after 3 years of such piano classes and no future job on the horizon with a better pay than $12-15/hour, managed somehow to join the church's band and also occasionally would perform at the Farmer's Market down the block. He/she will also have some nicely designed business cards with funny fonts and cute little flowers and teddy bears in each corner so they look "child friendly". He would teach you piano, guitar, ukulele, bass, how to sing and even how to play drums in a heart bit. "He is a pro", he was Madame Chihuahua's student.
Of course, even though I have to deliver the bad news to some of the readers of this article, I want to say that the description above was just meant to be funny just to retune the mood. The characters described above exist for sure, I met quite a few all over the world but I am not going to give any names or addresses here. This is not "hate speech" nor the purpose of this article and the examples above are meant to describe a specific typology of people who would abuse of other people's innocence just to make a living, without even considering the consequences. My sister, a wonderful woman, is also a brilliant piano teacher with a PhD degree and she lost count of how many 1st and 2nd prizes in international professional piano contests won with her students. And when I say she lost count I mean over 300. But like me and many other instrumental music teachers around the world she would have 18 years + of strong academical training. Twelve years of music school, 5 years in the university, graduate Magna Cum Laude, 2 years of masters with straight A, 2-3 years to work on her PhD getting her degree Summa Cum Laude (with the highest distinction) and all these years were meant to train us in Piano Performance only. After that please add 20+ years in a public music school and private studio teaching experience with at least 8 hours every day Monday to Sunday. Now that's an instrumental music teacher. Do you think a Berkeley or a Juilliard teacher has 3 to 4 years of piano training with the Chihuahua lady? They are preparing the future superstar performers of the world like Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Evgheny Kissin, Valentina Lisitsa and so on. That is why everyone is attracted to a professional teacher, with a degree released by a good university and with years of experience on and off stage.
What do I answer to the students mentioned above and what are the effects of my brutally honest answers to them? "CHANGE YOUR TEACHER FIRST! It's a must! Start again from scratch by learning how to sit in front of the piano with the right hand position on the keys. Then you start with SCALES and FINGERING. Yes, you heard me, after 3-4 years of piano with Mrs Chihuahua or the Farmer's Market superstar you need to learn scales and the correct fingering after you sit properly in front of the piano. Guess what ? Out of 10 students coming for advice 7 or even 8 will quit piano immediately, angry and frustrated. Only 2 or 3 will be willing to put up with the task. Hey...don't kill the messenger. It's not my fault. I didn't send you to Mrs Chihuahua. You had options. You chose the teacher closer to your house. Good luck, my friend! Some of my students were Mrs Chihuahua's type of students. The good news is that with hard work and perseverance they made it brilliantly.
Now seriously, what one should do if a musical instrument is sending love signals and the attraction is irresistible? Well, start with the internet and Google, wonderful tools for investigation. Look that teacher up, meet with him/her. Ask the right questions, do not be afraid. If he or she wants your business it's a matter of courtesy to respond and answer all your questions and concerns. If you want to learn classical music find the best teacher for that, or find a jazz pianist for your future jazz gig but remember: the jazz person has a classical background too. He knows how to play piano properly and he just adopted a different genre. But the piano basics are there.
Some of the teachers would be just down the street from your house, some of them will teach in private music schools, some of them would be in a different city or even country. There's also the one on one online music lessons. Those are efficient too. Just let Mrs C. to walk her dog around the block and do not get her involved in your musical future.
You can contact me thru my website www.bogdanota.com and I am happy to offer you a free consultation and advice. I've been in your shoes, I know how it is. May The Piano Forte Be With You!