March 2023

Tips for Music Teachers

My greatest satisfaction, after 70 years of musical experience, has been teaching piano to people of all ages. I’ve found it to be an art of empathy, perception, intuition and constant appraisal. Teaching is about preparing and encouraging a student to continue conscious and creative learning as a life long practice. Here are some tips that may be useful.

  1. Love and respect – Everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and encouragement. Having said that, chemistry is essential. For some students, you won’t be the right fit, and some won’t be right for you. Find out how your student thinks, what music they like. Are they left handed or right handed? How much music have they had before? Are there musicians in the family?
  2. Make it fun – I do not teach a one-size-fits-all method. I meet them where they are. I listen to my students because they often know what music they like. I use different kinds of music ranging from classical to rock, blues, surf, video games, movie and TV music, show tunes, pop songs, and jazz. I also encourage them to write their own pieces, and to be creative in everything they do, not just music. No one has to be bored learning how to play.
  3. It’s all in the hands – It’s harder to unlearn a bad habit than to learn the right way from the beginning. Good posture, relaxed hands and proper fingering technique means fewer mistakes. It makes playing and reading easier and more enjoyable.
  4. “Oops” not “no” – Mistakes are opportunities for learning. Kids hear “no” enough. Better to say “oops” when they make mistakes.
  5. Help your students discover their own way of learning – You don’t learn to walk by reading a book about it. At first, piano is all about listening, wiggling fingers, inventing and playing small pieces, doing exercises. Some students can play naturally by ear. Some will learn to improvise. Some will become good readers, especially if they learn another instrument. A few will be able to do all of it. Nobody learns the same way, but everyone can fall in love with music, because music is the language of the heart.
    Finally, if you’re teaching in your student’s home, make friends with the family dog. If the dog likes you, you’re in.
    David Larstein plays music all over Santa Cruz and teaches private, in home lessons. He can be reached at [email protected]

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