Why I thought finding a music teacher would be hard

When I first tried to find a violin teacher two years ago it was very hard (but that’s another story). One of the things I feared is that no one would take me on because I’m an adult learner with some but not a lot of experience. A quick search of online forums would give you a glimpse of why some teachers do not take adult students, and many of their reasons are legit. But recently I remembered an experience I had years ago that preconditioned me to think that finding a good teacher for me would be hard.

I took piano lessons for a year when I was a senior in college. It was a music class I took for credit, and as part of the class we got weekly half-hour lessons from the instructor. It was an important part of my life at the time. Music saved my sanity as I was trying to get into grad school, do research, and write my senior thesis. Naturally after I graduated I wanted to continue my piano journey, and I thought about continuing piano lessons in grad school.

I researched my options. My grad school has a music department. It has a bunch of practice rooms in the basement of the music hall that were unlocked and first-come-first-serve for all students. There are several piano instructors on the faculty list, and non-music-majors could potentially take lesson with them, even for credit (less fee). So I thought it was perfect, and I emailed one of the instructors (I don’t remember why I picked her or why I didn’t contact anyone else).

She was very nice over email, asked me to sign up for an interview slot during orientation week, and gave the impression that she might potentially take me on after talking to me in person. I treated this interview as an audition, and practiced all the things I was working on at the time and did everything to prepare so I would give a good impression.

The day came. I remember I signed up for sometime in the late afternoon, like 4:45pm. I was working at a lab at an off-campus site at the time, which meant I had to leave work early that day to come back to campus to make my interview. And I did. But when I got to her office at my time slot, I saw a row of students sitting outside her door. I was running and out of breath because I was just on time. I rushed pass the row of students and turned the door knob. It was locked. A student told me that someone was in there. And I said I know but I’m next and it’s my time now. They then told me that the interviews were running late and they were all waiting. Apparently the student before me hadn’t gone in yet.

When it was finally my turn, I walked in and sat down on the piano bench, ready to pull out my music and play at any notice. The instructor was sitting on the couch across from the room, and she had no intention of hearing me play. We just talked and it was a short meeting. She essentially told me (not even a discussion, not even an interview, not even a chance for me to explain anything) that I wasn’t advanced enough, that she only took intermediate students or above especially for non-music majors, that I should contact a music student in the department and ask if they teach, that I could come back to her in a year or two when I get more advanced and discuss our options again. And then we were done.

I was very discouraged and disappointed at the time. I had no intention of somehow getting a list of piano performance students, sift through each of them to find someone suitable to take lessons from, negotiate a somewhat regular lesson routine (between my first-year grad school and their busy undergrad schedules), negotiate a price, and try to figure out if they are a good fit.

Later I became very angry with the instructor. I’m still angry today. She essentially wasted my time by having me leaving work early to make her pointless appointment so she could tell me to my face that I wasn’t good enough for her teach, when all of it could be said in her first email and save both of us the trouble. I never heard her play the piano. I have never seen her teach. From the way her meetings ran late she seemed to have terrible time management. I didn’t know it then but I subconsciously already decided to never go back to her. And I never did. The sad thing is that I also stopped playing the piano all together not too long after the meeting. It really affected me even though I kept telling myself that she had every reason to not take me on. It was just the way she did it that really added salt to the wound.

At the time it was my first and only experience of finding a private teacher. I think from that experience I just assumed that any real professional musician is out of reach for someone like me. I felt that either I have to wade through many candidates to find a great teacher, or I would have to settle for someone who plays better than me but may or may not able to teach. So when I was able to study with my current teachers, one I didn’t even have to look for and the other I found on the first try, I feel so immensely lucky and grateful.

 

6 thoughts on “Why I thought finding a music teacher would be hard

  1. Thank you so so much for this post! I totally understand where you are coming from and it is such a shame that this experience spoiled the piano for you!

    I felt like that as an adult violin student as well. Really nervous, and wondering if anyone would want an adult student at just about intermediate level. I found one guy online, and felt really fortunate that such a great violinist was prepared to teach me. For almost three years I struggled, but nothing was ever good enough for him. Eventually, he admitted that he never knew what level I was at, and didn’t really care. Sounds silly now that I kept trying and increasingly felt like a failure, but at the time I had so much trust in him, because he was such a good violinist. He just wanted to get paid for showing off, and I was so naive I did just that!

    I am really pleased that you have continued your musical journey, at least with the violin, and found good teachers! Would you ever consider piano again do you think?

    Like you, I did find a great violin teacher and am slowly falling in love with my violin again. But I still hear my previous teacher, mocking, belittling and trivialising my efforts, and it is a slow process to get past that.

    In the future, I want my blog to be about the delights of music, the violin, playing an instrument. For the moment it is still about my previous experience, that was so painful I am determined to try to prevent it happening to anyone else.

    Sorry for the hyper long comment! Just wanted to say that I really appreciate your blog!! X

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    1. Thanks so much for liking my blog and for commenting! I’m really glad you have a teacher now that you are happy with and that you are loving the violin again! I read some of your posts and it’s such a shame you had an experience like that. I do hope in the future you will write the things you enjoy about music and violin playing, but I also understand you using a blog to vent and to organize and document your experience. It was very enlightening to read, and should serve as warning signs for anyone else trying to find teachers. I understand that not all teachers and students are good fit, but someone who blatantly abuses your trust and wastes your time just to get paid is just awful.

      As for me, it’s unlikely that I will go back to the piano. I learned the violin when I was young and it’s still something I’m deeply attached to, and now I’m also learning the cello. There’s just no time for another instrument lol! (Plus there are logistical hurdles like getting a piano when I’m not sure if I’m actually settling in my current city). Playing the piano was a very accidental experience I stumbled across when I was in college, and because it happened in a very critical time in my college career, it has its special place in my heart. But I don’t think I love it the same way I love the string instruments. It’s a shame I didn’t continue but it’s no longer a regret I carry :).

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      1. Thank you so much. I really enjoy your blog! It is very interesting, and always nice to know that we are not alone in our struggles! I particularly liked your post about telling your right arm what to do! I tried telling mine, but like my kids it doesn’t want to listen 😂

        Thank you also for the supportive comments about my previous teacher. It’s really hard, as a student, to criticise a teacher even when the issues are so blatantly obvious. I wanted to do it because it wasn’t just about getting paid, but about gaining superiority if you know what I mean? By the time I ended my lessons with him, he literally said to me “I don’t listen to anyone unless they are as good at the violin as I am,” and I was so used to his behaviour I took this as normal! He was lovely to talk to about the weather, or a film or whatever. But anything to do with the violin, he had this sense of superiority that was belittling and humiliating to be subjected to as a student. This guy teaches kids, and I hate that children could be subjected to that. I just feel compelled to do my bit to prevent it, in any way I can.
        But I’m having a great time with my new teacher! I had almost forgotten my love of the violin, so I appreciate it even more now. But it is my worst enemy at times, especially when I can’t tell my right arm what to do! How advanced are you? Three octave scales are relatively new to me, so maybe we have something in common?

        I understand what you mean about the piano. It is a shame that you were treated that way though. Any teacher should, at least in my opinion, be the one person a student can rely on for support. Not to be trivialised and looked down on!

        But cello…you are braver than me! I considered viola, but even that seemed too big for comfort!!
        I hope your journey continues to bring you joy, and look forward to reading more x

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      2. Sounds like your old teacher is either a narcissist or super insecure about himself. I’m glad that you are no longer his student.

        I just started 3-octave scales maybe 3.5 months ago (right before Christmas), and I’m playing out of Wohlfahrt and doing Vivaldi concerto in A minor. So just about intermediate I guess. I started playing again about two years ago and really had to re-learn almost everything, but I’m the most advance I’ve ever been so I’m happy with my progress now.

        Yea playing the cello is always a dream of mine. I briefly considered the viola as well, because you can pretend you are playing the cello while still using your violin technique lol, but my hands are small and my pinky is super short, and I figured if I started playing the viola I would end up playing two instruments out of tune so I’ve since given up on the idea lol.

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  2. Hi, I really liked reading your blog post about your experience. Though I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience with that teacher… Unfortunately, it saddens me to say this but to be honest, some people should not teach. Especially if they are going to treat students like that. I’m a cello (and piano) teacher myself and I find it admirable whenever I see adults wanting to learn a musical instrument for the first time or they’re coming back to one. Especially with how busy the world is today, for someone to have the heart and determination to pursue the learning of a musical instrument…it’s amazing! I’m glad you kept on learning and didn’t let that experience stop you. Take it from someone that has been in the professional music performance and music teaching world for many years, there are many professional musicians out there that love to teach ALL levels, it doesn’t matter how advanced you are or can’t pluck a string, they teach because just like music, it’s another way to communicate and make a difference in their students’ lives. Then unfortunately there are musicians who have a rather inflated ego… I know it’s tricky figuring out the right teacher but if there’s something you love to do and learn about then just by continuing to pursue it, eventually the right teacher does come along.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and for liking my blog Eriona! This teacher is a faculty in the music department of a college so I understand if she had limited time with her teaching and performing commitments and that she had to be responsible for the music majors first before getting to an amateur like me. I just really resented her way of handling the situation, which had lasting effect on me beyond just that incident. I’m also glad that it ultimately didn’t affect my interest to pursue music when I was able to have the time and money to do it properly later, but it did kept me away from believing that most teachers, even university faculty, are actually willing to teach adults of varying skills.

      I’m very lucky now that I’m able find teachers for the violin and the cello who are, like you say, happy to teach adult amateurs and who are excited to help those who are committed to learning a musical instrument as a serious hobby. Having teachers like that are just so special. You are doing good work and your students are lucky to have you 🙂

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