Is an Inexpensive or New Teacher OK for Beginners?

Is an inexpensive or less-experienced (or no-experienced) teacher "ok" for a beginner?

Not really.

In fact, no, not at all.


In a nutshell, an experienced teacher will give you more value for your dollar, even if you have to pay more.

Think back. Were you not thrilled when your child got "the best" kindergarten teacher? (Or, conversely, wishing your child had gotten the best one?) In fact, you may have jumped through hoops and even visited the principal to make sure your child had the best one.

Why? Because you knew that the teacher would give your child the best foundation skills. That teacher would make your child love going to school. That teacher would acquaint your child with his innate curiosity and explore ways to enhance that but to channel his natural enthusiasm and physical energy.

An experienced teacher, by definition, has dealt with a variety of children and a variety of problems and knows how to address each.

Probably the teacher has better academic credentials (a master's degree or a special certificate in early childhood development).

As in all else, you get what you pay for. Of course, there may be superb teachers who, for some reason, are way under-priced. Usually, however, the superb teachers know it and can command a fee commensurate with their skill, experience, and credentials.

If you think a teacher sounds wonderful but is shockingly expensive, do this.

In my pedagogy question-and-answer section for teachers elsewhere on this site, I am often asked whether X credentials are ok to "just teach beginners." Usually this question is from someone who has "played piano for several years as a child/in high school" and who doesn't have a music degree or even any college-level music study. Although usually not stated, my belief is that the motivation to teach is probably to supplement the family income with a job that can be left the moment something more lucrative comes along. Or, it's something the person can do "while the children are young and at home." Or, that it's easy to do and requires little if any investment in training, etc.

I don't know where the idea came from that un- or poorly-trained teachers are acceptable teachers for beginners or that it's perfectly ok for beginners to receive sub-standard teaching.

The opposite is true! Beginners need the best teachers and teaching available.

I advise these prospective teachers to teach only at the intermediate level. Those students already have an understanding of how to read notes, count, etc. A teacher who is learning on-the-job will not have to deal with these basics and can concentrate on perfecting the students' music skills. I also strongly recommend those who write me questions like this to begin private piano immediately away with a competent, experienced teacher and to pursue a degree and proper training in music. To do less is a disservice to themselves, as well as their students.

My hunch is that some people who want to teach only beginners are not confident in their own ability to play and feel that beginner-level study is the only level they can teach without being "found out." Obviously, someone who can't play well enough to play a Beethoven sonata will be unable to teach a student who is ready to study this level literature. Any teacher who cannot play intermediate-level music should not be teaching - - for any level and at any price!

These people don't set out to do a beginner damage, of course. It's just that they do not know they are not properly equipped to teach novices. I applaud those who write and ask for advice on training. For every one of these, however, there are hundreds who are clueless that they need training and are putting beginners at risk by their own lack of knowledge.

This file for teachers on my pedagogy page delves into this subject. Also see this file, again, written for teachers, on what beginners need.

Here is another file, also intended for teachers, that discusses teaching and learning styles. You want a good match between the teacher and your child.

If price is an on-going concern - - the best teachers command the highest fee, and price is the reason 90% of the time that beginners end up with inadequately-prepared and inexperienced teachers - - stick with the expensive teacher until there is a good foundation laid (at least one year, if at all possible) and then change if need be. by that time, I'll bet, you will see that the better teacher is a good value for your child and your dollar.

Please contact as many teachers as you can find, as this will give you good data with which to make your decision. Take your time and do this thoroughly! This is your child you are entrusting! Maybe the expensive teacher truly is superior to the others. (Maybe not!) Maybe you can find someone who is nearly as good but far less expensive.

See also this file, which discusses how to find a good teacher and includes several lists of questions for you to pose to each prospect.

For your child's sake, please don't choose based on price.

Thank you for giving your child the wonderful gift of music! Your child will thank you for it forever.

copyright 2004, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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