Are you trying to find a piano teacher for your child but know nothing about piano? Here are a few questions that you might want to know and a few possible answers that you might hear.

1. What methods does the teacher use when he or she teaches? The teacher might mention some of the following.

Classical method:
This is the most common method for piano teachers. This involves teaching sight reading, rhythms, finger/hand technique and theory.
Pros: A student of the classical method has a very well-rounded understanding of music.
Cons: Students don’t learn how to play lead sheets (or real-life music) or improvise.

Suzuki method: this method is mainly training the child by ear and having much parental involvement.
Pros: The parent is highly involved in the child’s music training. The child focuses more on good technique and learns things by ear.
Cons: The child does not usually learn to sight-read notes. This is a major hindrance to children using this method unless it is combined with note reading exercises.

Simply Music (or the Australian method)
This method teaches how to read lead sheet and improvisational playing through chordal understanding.
Pros: the student can play many well-known songs quickly. The student learns chord use and lead sheet reading early, and eventually learn to transpose. Much is learned by ear. The student learns improvisation early on, jazz techniques and accompaniment techniques. It is recommended for children that struggle with normal piano techniques.
Cons: Although this method is strong on teaching in lead sheet format, students do not learn how to read traditional two-handed music. The area of classical techniques and sight-reading is very minimal.

Kodaly method: A method designed more for singing. Most know it as the Do-Re-Mi method. It uses speech patterns to help children connect with rhythm and notes. It’s unlikely that a piano teacher will mention this one, but there it is just in case.
Pros: It’s highly effective to help children feel and understand beat.
Cons: The names used for rhythms (like ti-ti to signify 1 and for eighth notes) and note names (do for c, etc…) is somewhat confusing for children if they are going to switch over to classical method at any point.

The next two methods are mainly used in the classroom, but I have heard teachers mention these methods when talking to parents interested in lessons. These teachers are taking advantage of the parents ignorance because the parents don’t know that these are not regularly used in piano lessons.

Dalcrow method: this method combines movement with music (used mostly in classrooms)
Pros: helps children to feel a steady beat.
Cons: You probably won’t do much dancing for piano lessons

Orff: Using musical instruments to play patterns of music.
Pros: It goes well with Dalcrow and Kodaly.
Cons: Again, not used in piano lessons.

I use a combination method of the kodaly method for beginners (to establish feel of beat), classical method for all, and Australian method for older students (after they are proficient with in their theory, rhythms and sight reading).

Many teachers say that they use a combination method. Don’t let them stop there. Ask them about specifics like those question 2.

2. Does the teacher focus on ear training, sight-reading, hand/finger/playing technique, rhythms and theory?
Each one of these is very important.

3. What books does the teacher use?
Although the books that they use do not matter so much, sometimes teachers use the books to describe their methods. For example, the teacher might say, I use Alfred’s basic piano library, Bastien series or the Piano Adventures series. There are plenty of other good ones out there, but keep in mind that you want to know what they teach.

4. How much do the lessons cost and how long is the lesson? Depending on the teacher’s degree, location, and demand, lessons can range anywhere from $15-65 per half hour or hour lesson. The current average for Lancaster, PA is between $20-35 per half hour.

5. At what age, does the teacher recommend giving lessons?
My personal preference is begin when the child can read or the age 6. Generally, they are much better equipped to start at 6 then at 5.

6. How much should you as the parent be involved?
Depending on the teacher, you might be highly involved or not. It depends on what you want and what the teacher allows.

7. What are the suggested requirements for the student’s practice?
For young students (6-7) that are just beginning, I usually recommend 10-15 minutes of practice a day. For most other students, 30-45 minutes, and those that are serious and able, 1 hour.