Finding your 'right fit' teacher and how I came to study with my "Inspirational Teacher"
By Sandra Low
I wrote this piece as a homage to the music teacher and tell the story of how I came to be the student to my great music teacher. I think the single most important task of anyone embarking on a music learning journey is finding a 'right fit' teacher. The definition of a "right fit" teacher differs for each person but I believe that he/she is a teacher with a high level of music knowledge, who has a teaching style that is a good match for the way you learn, who teaches you with an eye to the long term goal of you realizing your potential and who you find compatible in terms of personality. It is a good idea to have trial lessons with different teachers as it is only during a lesson that you will be able to experience his or her teaching. You should be able to get a sense of whether the teacher is right for you by the end of the first or second lesson. Each teacher is different in their focus, perspective and style. A good music teacher is your guide into the musical world and it is through your teacher that you start to see, hear and “feel” music.
As you get to know your teacher and your teacher gets to know you, your relationship with him/her will deepen which is a natural evolution. In a conversation that I had with Rhona Mae Arca who is Edel's (our current president) teacher, she mentioned the word 'chemistry' which she thought was important. "Chemistry' is usually used to describe romantic relationships but it can apply to working relationships, friendships and I agree with Rhona Mae, it can apply to the teacher-student relationship also. Another word that could be used is 'connection' - as your 'connection' with your teacher grows, you develop a rhythm in the learning-teaching exchange, and when you and your teacher are totally in sync, it feels a lot like 'magic".
In a masterclass with Joseph Fridman, he told us that it was because of his music history teacher that he fell in love with music at the age of 10-11. Before that, he was ready to quit music - even he, being the master teacher that he is, had had thoughts of quitting when he was young. So this further illustrates how important finding the right teacher actually is. If, in addition, you are lucky enough to encounter that "inspirational teacher' that ignites your passion for music as Joseph did, then you are ultimately blessed. I am happy to say that I have been that lucky and it was due to a couple of chance occurrences. My first teacher, who I consider a very good teacher and who I studied piano with, for two years, was leaving Chinook School of Music (CSM) in June 2015. I had to find another teacher for my third year of piano studies but I was at a loss about who to choose to study with. I talked to a CCM administrative staff member, Eloise, who recommended my second teacher to me.
So it was in this random way that I came to be the student of the teacher that would change the fundamental way that I would view myself and the piano. Our 'connection' made it possible for me to morph from 'a person with a hobby of learning piano' to that of an 'awakened and engaged student of the piano'. My second teacher moved away from Calgary the following year so I only had him for my regular teacher for 10 months but it was an intense, enlightening, and really joyous time for me. He gave me such a special gift for which I am forever indebted. I now love piano and learning music so much that it has become very central in my life, which is the reason why I founded this group and why I continue to search for opportunities to learn and grow my musicianship.
Now, I know that I really lucked out in finding my inspirational teacher and his teaching for that year stays with me and inspires me, still,to this day. And I will admit that it was really difficult for me when I could no longer learn from him regularly. But I eventually was able to find piano teachers that I could learn from. Apart from the criteria I listed at the beginning. I have also learned that there are other important things to consider when searching for a teacher. It is very important that they be able to communicate with you honestly while respecting you at all times. Sometimes you stay with a teacher only until you reach a certain goal or until you are ready emotionally to discontinue the relationship. Your learning goals will change as you progress and what you wanted in the beginning will change sometimes in very surprising ways. Sometimes, you will find your answer in learning from multiple teachers. No matter what, you will be able to find a good teacher to learn from and who will be able to inspire you in your learning, you just have to do your research. Part of this research is networking and talking to other adult students to get referrals and being willing to trial different teachers.