Need a piano teacher? How to pick the right one

April 17, 2007

ANN ARBOR—The box it came in is empty. The kids have turned the cardboard or crate into a fort, castle, or playhouse. And now it’s time to think about using the new piano.

If the family’s intention is to produce the next virtuoso, some thought should be given to whether the child is even interested in playing the instrument, says Kelley Benson, lecturer in piano pedagogy at the University of Michigan’s School of Music. Benson also urges parents to think about what they want their child to get from the lessons. “This will be a strong factor in picking a teacher that will work well with the family,” Benson says.

Have a list of questions ready for anyone being considered as a teacher. Benson suggests asking about membership in professional associations; the prospective teacher’s philosophy, practice expectations, studio policies, and the teaching materials used. Other questions that should be asked include, if group or private lessons are available and how many minutes of instructions are given each week. One needs to know the tuition cost and how it is to be paid, if the teacher enters students in local events such as festivals or testing days, and how many recital opportunities will be offered for the student.

And most importantly, Benson says, parents should ask whether the teacher meets with the prospective student and parents. “I would be very leery of someone who doesn’t,” Benson says.

Piano teachers are not licensed like doctors or attorneys, and Benson knows of instances where people have called themselves teachers even though their sum total experience with the piano has been only two introductory courses offered at a music school. “Good teachers will have a considerable background,” Benson says. “They will seek out opportunities to continue their own professional development. And in addition to loving music, they will also love working with people and will be committed to someone else’s success.”

When looking for a teacher, Benson suggests checking with a local university, college, or conservatory, a piano teacher’s guild or a state or national organization such as the Michigan Music Teachers Association or the Music Teachers National Association. Such organizations can offer referral services furnishing parents the telephone numbers of teachers in the area who have openings in their studios.

Local teachers and teaching organizations are sometimes listed in the phone book. For example, the Ann Arbor Area Piano Teachers Guild is listed both in the yellow pages under “music instruction” and in the business white pages. The Music Teachers National Association, accessible at, offers additional suggestions on how to choose a teacher. The site also offers a location service to find a member piano teacher anywhere in the country.