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Matova Music School

Champaign-Urbana-Savoy, IL  

Matova Music Studios
   Champaign-Urbana-Savoy area IL

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When being cheap for piano lessons has a big price tag

Posted by Nelly Matova on July 5, 2020 at 1:45 AM

Every time I get a prospective student who is very interested in piano but has already been damaged by a previous teacher, I get angry at the parents, because they do not think from the right perspective, because they want all to be fun, because they cultivate the idea in their children that as soon as you move your fingers it is all good. IT IS NOT.

I get angry at these self-styled “teachers” too. Deep down they know their limited knowledge, to put it nicely, which is why they charge little and offer lots of fun. They have nothing else to offer. They compensate in this way for their own shortage of knowledge. They have no moral or human integrity. I do not even say “professional integrity” here, because I do not consider them to be professionals.

How to find a good teacher? Educate yourself. See how a concert pianist’s hands move, and compare this with videos of the prospective teacher’s students. Check many teachers, and compare them. Not in terms of price, but of their students. Ask to sit in a lesson to observe. When you see enough different teachers in action, you will know who is the good teacher. Your teacher.

A good teacher is expensive. They value their knowledge (accumulated through years of learning and practicing), their time, and their profession. They teach for a living, not for “going out” money. They want to be treated professionally and to have same benefits as you: sick/holiday/vacation days. Pension and insurance. Often, they don’t, because of parents who are not willing to pay for it and therefore look for a cheap substitute, a teacher who is mom at home, student, or anyone else seeking to make some money on the side.

The common way of thinking with many parents is that parents want to see first if their kid would like to play an instrument. They think “we will get a cheap teacher to teach only a few songs, then will see”. We will buy some low-quality instrument, then will buy a better one.

What is wrong with it? Everything. It is a waste of money, time, effort and often demoralizes children who have real talent. But why does all this happen? Here is the breakdown.

You search for a cheap teacher since knowledge and education are not really a concern, only to pay as little as possible “to see” if your child will like it. This is the moment your precious child accumulates wrong habits, or wrong hand movements. Most often this shows in a very stiff hand (because the child is often forced to play fast to show off, but also because the teacher has no knowledge of how to adapt a child’s hand to the complicated task of instrument playing). While parents are proud that their child is learning fast, in fact the child is quickly absorbing very dangerous movements; even worse, in many cases these become bad habits that a different teacher will need years to correct if the child turns out to be interested in music, or even to have the gift to become a real musician.

So here we already see the waste of effort of your child, but so often parents don’t think about it.

Then there is the waste of time and money. At one point you figure your child is actually more interested than expected, so you start searching for a better teacher. That teacher sees a lot of accumulated bad habits, but also sees a musical kid. So the struggle to correct problems starts. Changing hand position, constantly trying to convince the child to move his/her hands in a new way. The child starts to feel frustrated and also discouraged. Where he/she once felt a good start had been made, now he/she is corrected all the time. And the teacher does it because there is optimal (ergonomic) way for hands to move in order to achieve what is needed as final result: high-speed hands, and very sensitive fingers that are able to execute a variety of touch on the keys to make breathtaking sounds.

Often the new teacher has to take the child back to easier music so that the rehabilitation work on hands is less obvious, but the child wants to play difficult stuff. See where the waste of money and time is? All the hours now required to repair bad habits? You are paying for them, after first paying to accumulate the bad habits. Here we get to two outcomes: either the parents are not happy and leave for yet another teacher who promises fast results (along with bad habits, which with more advanced level students are a sure recipe for hand injuries), or the child suddenly loses interest. We cannot blame this young soul. Intuitively they feel something is not right, but they do not have power or knowledge to fix it.

The third outcome is rare, but happens: the parents stick with the demanding, knowledgeable new teacher, suffer the months of transition to better hands (paying for them, often with extra lessons to somehow make the process not that long). Once on the other side after many months, the child starts to blossom.

Why all this problem? Because parents think when starting that any teacher will do. It is their fault. Because of the way they think. So let’s see: would you give your child to an inexperienced driving instructor? Or martial arts instructor? Or swimming teacher? Or horse-riding instructor? No, because there is a danger for the child’s life. But parents don’t see the danger for the hands and the soul. These are invisible, but equally devastating.

Hand injuries are usually acquired in the early days of learning an instrument using improper movements. These injuries linger for years, or for longer if not corrected. They manifest themselves in painful touch, swollen fingers, tension in the forearm, pain in the shoulder or the back, contracted fingers, carpel tunnel, inflamed tendons, and so on.

The price to fix these is much higher (by thousands of dollars) than the savings arising from a first year of cheap lessons. It also takes years to cure.

The damage to the soul and the suffering of a child have no price.

How about the instrument? There is an absolute minimum requirement for piano: 88 weighted keys, or your child is learning nothing, no matter what the “teacher” is promising. It would be the same as asking your child to learn horse riding on a dead horse, or swimming with no water in the pool. How will you learn proper hand movement if you have no proper instrument? I know the arguments: we have no space, no money for a good instrument, we don’t know if our child will be using it. Well: is space more important than kid’s proper learning? No: so move things around and open up space. No money, then rent the instrument for a while to see which way your child will develop. This is the best if you want to offer a fair start to your child.

So think again: is the better choice a teacher offering fun and letting the kid play as they wish? Or the one who insists on teaching proper movement, even though the child might never take music to a high level?

So what about if your child gets a good teacher but does not want to play after a year? That child has developed proper hand movement, you spent some extra bucks, but this investment might continue to pay off at any time. Often, growing up that same child will develop musical interests again. The new teacher will not have to fight bad habits, just take the education further. NO frustration, no waste, no pains of any sort.

Don’t you prefer this?

Think twice!

© Nelly Matova, DMA


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