Finally! I’ve graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a Master of Arts degree in Piano Pedagogy. It’s got me thinking–what’s next? The plan, of course, is to run my own private piano studio. I’ve been working with piano students through private instruction throughout my past six years in my college town, and am now moving back to my hometown where everything is in motion for setting up shop. Along with running a studio, I intend to publish regular blog posts about pedagogy and my experiences in teaching.
First up…the benefits of obtaining a degree in music and reasons to seek out a teacher with advanced education.
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I remember throughout my childhood consistently telling adults that I wanted to be a teacher when I “grew up.” Until my last few years of high school, I never intended to teach music or piano. During my junior year of high school, however, I received the opportunity to start working with a couple of beginner students–a friend of my parents wanted me to work with her son, my little brother wanted to learn the basics, and a student of my piano teacher wanted some extra help. Suddenly, I had three students and I was responsible for their musical education. Instead of being intimidated or nervous, I was excited and exhilarated.
Over the following year, I worked with these students, even adding on two more, and suddenly I was able to pay for car insurance, gas, and social events without working at a fast food joint or ask my parents for money. (Note-There’s nothing wrong with either of those options! I just enjoyed having a different possibility for income.) While I had toyed with the idea of teaching piano as a profession and pursuing it in college, I had never been completely confident that it would be possible to make a living doing so. Fortunately, I now had enough of an experience with the gig that I was willing to dive into the field. (Naïve? Maybe at the time. Luckily, it worked out for me.)
Fast forward several years and I was graduating with my second degree, running a piano studio of twenty students, gained a waiting list of perspective clients/students, and was now turning my gaze towards the future. I was considered successful for the size and quality of my student roster in this small Midwestern town, and the education/involvement in my university played a huge role in that. Throughout my six years at UCM, I had worked with incredibly smart and motivating pedagogues, been inspired by hard working students and colleagues, and seen doors open towards opportunities that I doubt would have been possible without the networking which occurred at my school.
My advanced degrees allowed me to gain access to much more than classes about teaching and music. They allowed me to grow as a musician and teacher while maintaining access to the guidance of professionals with years of experience and success. They allowed me to meet people in my field who are world-renowned for what they do. They allowed me to develop my own teaching style, giving me the chance to experience trial-and-error and have careful observations of others. My time obtaining advanced degrees gave me the chance to both separate and combine learning and working so that I could best develop my skills as a pianist and instructor.
So…do you need a degree (or degrees) to teach piano? Obviously, the answer is no. Some great instructors with whom I’ve worked don’t have advanced degrees. However, many teachers with credentials from universities offer resources that cannot be found elsewhere. The number of brains I can pick for assistance with a teaching problem has exponentially grown as a direct result of my time attending a university. I’ve studied under a multitude of professors and have learned the importance of adapting to a student’s needs, as well as knowing and accepting my own limits. I understand the process of teaching and how students work on more than just an experience-based level, and fully believe this is a result of my time studying at UCM.
When searching for a teacher, know that those letters after a name and the degree hanging on the studio wall are not essential. They are, however, the result of a lot of hard work and will often have a huge, positive impact on the student’s experience in studying the instrument.