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Week One as a Private Piano Tutor

Private Piano Tuition is something that I've wanted to do for a fair while - especially since the end of 2021 at which time my brand new upright piano was delivered to my home in Macclesfield and taken to its own designated music room in which it could be enjoyed to its fullest potential.


Yet something was stopping me from pursuing piano tuition. I wasn't quite sure what.


Yes, I had done musical directing in the past. However, the thought of somebody paying me to learn piano (especially if they were learning from scratch) seemed utterly terrifying to me!


Nonetheless, I took some steps towards this and am delighted to say I have concluded my first week as an official piano teacher as I gave taster lessons and kept on two new pupils!


Jack Mitchell Smith Macclesfield Congleton Piano Teacher Tutor Tuition Private Music Musician Pianist

Phase One - An Online Course


Much to my surprise, private piano tuition is not something that you actually train for. You can, of course, get teaching diplomas, but these are qualifications you do during teaching as you are assessed on your technique. But nobody really tells you how to start!


Well, thank you Udemy and a delightful 5 part course by a chap called Matthew Clayton. Lots of useful tips and tricks for not only how to teach (which was more my concern) but also on how to run your business (e.g. what to charge, how to deal with latecomers and absentees etc.). All of it extremely valuable, and lots of it giving food for thought.


Piano Teacher Values


One of the earlier exercises that was encouraged was to write down what values you would hold as a piano tutor. Looking back at mine, I don't think they've changed. I still stand by these now;


  1. To always enjoy teaching and piano at the heart

  2. To encourage a student / pupil's strengths and passions

  3. To recognise problem areas and assist

  4. To instil passion over accademia

  5. To direct when necessary to useful sources of help

  6. To always radiate my own passion for piano

  7. To manage a pupil's expectations and be open and honest

  8. To encourage inquisitive thinking

  9. To develop a plan of action with pupils and not on my own for them

  10. To recognise my own limitations


Fundamentally, I needed (and still need) to ensure that my passion for piano does not dwindle and that I still play for pleasure myself.


Phase Two - Visiting My Teacher


I haven't had a piano lesson with my teacher since 2016, but I have been in touch every now and then. Regardless, I asked her if she was willing to give me some pointers as to how to approach. She was more than happy to oblige.


Whilst she confirmed that my own enthusiasm and passion for the instrument should always be forefront, along with ensuring that the pupil is doing things that they want to do (as well as their usual exercises), she gave me some useful tips on approaching different styles of teaching based around level of experience (if any), age and more.


Phase Three - My Pupils


Having put a few calls out on social media last week, I was delighted to received two enquiries that resulted in two taster lessons taken up on.


Both pupils proved to be extremely different. Whilst they both consider themselves as beginners, my pupil from Tuesday was an absolute beginner who had just decided - at 70 - that she wanted to delve into it!


Whereas my pupil on Wednesday used to play, favoured the violin more but equally hasn't played that for a long time now, yet because of this background she still has a good grounding of music.


The Taster Lessons


On Tuesday, my pupil had given me the heads up that she just wanted to learn for her own leisure. She wished to play for fun and be able to just play - specifically citing prior to the lesson that if she could just play 'Happy Birthday' at her grandson's birthday party in July she'd be thrilled!


Naturally, I used this as the 'theme' to base the lesson around.


Not giving too much by way of accompaniment (one note bass notes and chord names on the top) and ensuring I transcribed it in C major to ensure we didn't have to worry about black notes or key signature, it gave us something to focus on.


Of course, with it being a taster lesson we only got so far before our 30 minutes was up. Especially seeing as we spent about 10 minutes just on basis exercises to start to get her fingers moving properly!


However, whatever was picked up worked, and I gained a regular pupil! It is likely we'll have to strip it back to basics completely and start afresh, but all the while we'll make time for 'Happy Birthday', of course!


On Wednesday, my pupil had a little prior musical knowledge.


Those exercises we did on Tuesday were repeated except this pupil picked it up a bit quicker. In fact, she was able to do a one octave C major scale hands together from memory without any prior hints.


She wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to learn, but mentioned that she'd like to be able to play some classical pieces (if not too ambitious) by, for example, Debussy.


And I have an iPad!


With Sheet Music Direct subscription!


So up we fired a very basic right hand only with chord names transcription of 'Clair de Lune' and worked on it. She was way past the standard that it was, but she did mention that she was happy to strip it back to basics. We did a little chord work to give a little accompaniment to this piece.


And to both of my pupils this week I assured them:


A taster lesson is just you feeling as though you've achieved something. If you join me on your musical journey then we may strip it back a tad so that we work a bit more thoroughly through things until you are confident in each area. During the taster, things may still. That's great! Or they may not, but that's not an issue. This is just to see if you enjoy it before you commit!


Well, they both committed!


Encouraging Different Areas of Musical Skill


There are many areas of musical skill, but I will be trying in my teaching to develop the following:


  • Technique: this one goes without saying. This is literally the way that you play piano. How you sit. How hard or soft you play. Which fingers you play which note with. Tempo etc. - so this is a non-optional!


  • Reading Music: Whilst it's not essential to read music to learn piano, I don't feel that a student will be any better off for making the effort to come to a piano teacher if they don't. You could easily teach yourself piano by ear or based around notes without reading music. However, if you do read music - even if only a little - you'll open up your repertoire massively, not to mention it actually makes it easier to teach piano!


  • Ear: We don't all need perfect pitch. I regret to say I don't have it! But being able to pick out just basic chord progressions is a strong skill! In order to achieve this, I'll encourage my pupils to be inquisitive (remember by point from earlier!). If I teach chords, don't just take my work for it that they exist! Play around with them. On their own. Invert them. Play them in a different order or different pitch and see how they sound different! It all develops an ear!


  • Instinct: Related to playing by ear, instinct is just knowing what will sound good - even if you can't imagine. The most obvious was to develop this is through standard technical exercises such as scales etc. - if you recognise you're in the key of G major and wish to improvise a passage, for instance, then playing the note F (natural) will create some bizarre sounds that you may wish to avoid. That's instinct.


Find out more about my private piano tuition services in the Macclesfield and Congleton areas.


 

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