Traits of a Good Teacher

While attending a workshop on piano pedagogy recently presented by Dr. Susan Kindall, the students in the class were given the opportunity to describe in one word a good teacher by whom they had been positively impacted (these traits were not given exclusively as descriptions of music teachers). As each person in the class shared, it was both intriguing and inspiring to hear from students’ perspectives the positive qualities of those who guided their studies. Some of the adjectives given included the following, on each of which I have briefly expounded.

  • Caring
    Private teachers have an amazing opportunity to work one-on-one with students of all different personalities, backgrounds, and more. Take advantage of the opportunity God has given you to speak into these eternal lives.
  • Approachable
    We want our students to feel free to talk to us. When we ask a question, we ought to make sure that they know that if they don’t know the correct answer, it’s okay. They don’t have to be musically perfect, but they should be encouraged to discuss things over with us. Also, give them chances to ask questions. Many students will only ask about something if the conditions are just right, so endeavor to set up a comfortable, communicative atmosphere in the lesson.
  • Knowledgeable
    We all want to learn from our teachers, so having a teacher who has extensive knowledge about what they are teaching is invaluable. Obviously, no one can know everything, but we as teachers ought to 1.) Have a good foundation in what we are teaching and 2.) Continually seek for “gaps” in our own education and endeavor to fill them.
  • Precise
    Rather than listening to a student play something and then reassigning it for another week of practice to “finish learning” or “polish,” give them something specific to work on. If you are needing to reassign the piece, then there is obviously something not finished about it. What is it? Give specifics – “you need more dynamic contrast,” “double-check those notes,” “bring the tempo up gradually,” etc. Then explain the “how” for whatever is needed: “physically play into this section for emphasis on the fortissimo then drop the amount of weight you put into the keys to bring it back to pianissimo,” “analyze the chords and see what is going on ‘behind the scenes.’ Then you’ll have a more solid idea of the notes required,” “work with a metronome beginning at 60 on the quarter and work up 2-3 speeds at a time until you are at 120.” Precision is key!
  • Thorough
    Don’t settle for a perfect tempo with imperfect notes; be nitpicky about rhythms; don’t be afraid to reassign a piece (especially to an intermediate or advanced student) for work in one or two “little” areas or skills. If there is something amiss, do all you can to develop the student’s skill and repair the problem.
  • Exciting
    Get excited about the wonderful things your student is learning. Be enthusiastic about the progress you see each week (even if it’s miniscule!). Emphasize how much you love what you do: the instrument itself, the music you are studying, the thrill of training the next generation of musicians, geeky music theory… the list is endless! There is so much to be excited about; help the student see that!
  • Pushing
    Reach for new skills that will stretch the student’s ability. One of my favorite teachers has a saying: “Never say ‘I can’t.’ You may say ‘I can’t yet.’ Then I can help you.” In addition to always reaching beyond current limitations, insist that current skills be mastered thoroughly before moving on. Sometimes it’s better to plateau for a little while before beginning the next portion of the ascent up the mountain of music mastery.


Check out these excellent books by Jane Magrath, filled with graded standard repertoire purposefully selected for building technique for the pianist. These are amazing resources!

Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Classics (Level 1-2) Level 1-2. By perf. Kim O’Reilly. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Classics. Baroque, Classical Period and 20th Century. Collection and examples CD. With easy piano notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 32 pages. Alfred Music #00-6581. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6581).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Technical Skills Level 1-2. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection; Technique Musicianship. Technical Skills. Masterwork. Book. 24 pages. Alfred Music #00-6583. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6583).

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