Piano teaching

Moving on – when it’s time to leave your piano teacher

They say that goodbye is one of the hardest things to say, and saying goodbye to your piano teacher can be a difficult decision, especially if you have been taking lessons with that teacher for some time.

There are many reasons why it may be necessary to leave a teacher. For children and teenagers, sometimes it is simply expedient to cease having lessons. When I was teaching regularly, I found there was quite a high drop out of students when they moved from primary to secondary school, with additional time pressures and commitments. Similarly, the transition from Grade 4 to 5 often prompts students to stop taking lessons as the step up to late intermediate repertoire/technical work can be challenging. Very occasionally one has to ask students to leave: those who are coasting, not practicing and not really engaging with the piano; or, in the rare cases, they are time-wasters or regularly skip lessons.

Good teachers know that there will come a time when a student needs to move on, and the best teachers aim to equip their students with the necessary skills to be confident, independent learners who are able to make their own decisions about their learning. Some students recognise this as a goal themselves: as one of my longstanding students once said, when he was about 12: “I want to be able to open any book of music and play any piece I like.

For the adult amateur pianist, the decision to move to a new teacher can be a difficult one. Some people feel a very strong loyalty to their teacher, especially if they have been taking lessons with that teacher for a number of years, or the teacher has supported them through significant points in their musical development. It takes a leap of faith to seek someone else’s support and mentorship; it can be a step into the unknown and is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you have enjoyed a good relationship with your existing teacher, you will want to be certain that you are likely to feel similarly comfortable with a new teacher; also that a new teacher will stimulate and inspire. The teacher-student relationship is incredibly important, regardless of the age of the student, and a positive, supportive and mutually respectful relationship will lead to good learning outcomes and progress, in addition to enjoyable lessons.

So why would you choose to leave your piano teacher? Maybe you are no longer sufficiently challenged or stimulated by the lessons, or you feel you have reached a plateau in your learning. Or you find you need a more experienced teacher who will push you further and help you extend your musical capabilities. Do not stay out of a missplaced sense of loyalty: a good teacher will appreciate and respect a student’s decision to move on and will not be offended.

Many adult amateur pianists attend piano courses and summer schools where they are able to take lessons with a range of teachers, including some of the leading pianist-teachers in the UK, and beyond. This can be a very useful opportunity to gain new or different insights on the music you are playing, seek advice on aspects such as effective practising, technique, interpretation, and performing, and get a flavour of other teaching styles and approaches. Such stimulating encounters with different teachers can be the impetus to consider where you are with your regular teacher and whether it might be time to move on.

Finding a new teacher can be a challenge. Your existing teacher may be able to recommend another teacher, or you may have encountered a teacher with whom you would like to study regularly at a piano course or masterclass. It is always worth sounding out a prospective teacher to find out whether they take private students and many teachers offer trial or consultation lessons, which will allow you to get a sense of the teacher’s approach.

Moving to a different teacher can be like shining a new, brighter light on one’s practice, technical skills, artistry and indeed entire attitude to music-making. Taking the decision to move to a different teacher, or in my own case, to cease regular lessons altogether when I moved away from London, can also mark a significant step towards a goal that is imperative for the confident, self-determined musician: autonomy. It is at this point in our learning journey that we begin to create our own pianistic tools and validation methods, either with the support of a teacher/mentor, or independently.

One thing is certain and that is the enduring influence teachers have on us. A good teacher’s wisdom stays with us throughout our musical journey, reminding us that everything we do was the result of a teacher showing, guiding or encouraging us, and equiping us with the skills and confidence to teach ourselves.  We find ourselves referring back to that wisdom over and over again, and if we become teachers ourselves, we pass on that wisdom to our own students.

I may have left them, but they never left me; every single thing I know how to do, I know how to do because one of them showed me. Teachers are eternal – Daniel Grimwood, concert pianist

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